(Update: The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board met on Monday, April 26, where members voted to approve the settlement agreement with Epic One-on-One Charter School, ending charter termination proceedings.)
The governing board of Epic One-on-One Charter School agreed to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s proposed settlement terms Wednesday night, one day after the SVCSB rejected Epic’s initial proposal.
The new settlement agreement (embedded below) still needs to be approved by the SVCSB, but Epic released a statement Wednesday night saying its new “settlement agreement reflects the exact terms proposed by the SVCSB at its April 20, 2021, meeting.” If approved, the Epic settlement would conclude the SVCSB’s charter termination proceedings, which began months ago in the wake of a state audit of Epic’s governance, finances and controversial “learning fund.”
“While we have objected to the politicization of the (state) audit and some of its findings, we have implemented many changes it recommended to strengthen our school and make our operations more transparent,” said Community Strategies Board President Doug Scott in a statement. “We’re in a different, stronger and better place than we were six months ago, and I’m proud of the hard work of this Board and our school leaders. I want to thank the SVCSB and executive director Dr. Rebecca Wilkinson for her leadership during this period of time. Everyone involved has a servant’s heart and wants to serve children and families to the best of our ability.”
Wilkinson did not return a phone call seeking comment about the Epic settlement agreement prior to the publication of this story.
“We worked toward this settlement with one goal in mind: improve where we needed in the interest of continuous school improvement to better serve our 2,200 staff members and our approximate 55,000 students and families,” EPIC Superintendent Bart Banfield said in a statement. “Our team is now excited and ready to turn the page on what has been a turbulent chapter. We believe the 2021-2022 school year will be our best yet and show our commitment to having a positive, collaborative relationship with the SVCSB, the State Department of Education and our other partners and sponsors.”
The Epic settlement would implement the following changes for the school moving forward:
- The SVCSB’s compliance auditor will oversee Epic One-on-One’s compliance with the settlement order’s terms and report monthly to the SVCSB while reviewing agreements, policies, procedures and financial documents.
- Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended — which are two variations of virtual schools governed by Community Strategies — will be considered separate school districts and will be treated that way regarding financial and governance matters.
- All of Epic One-on-One’s finances will be maintained separate and apart from Epic Blended’s finances, and Community Strategies will assign an internal auditor and a chief financial officer for Epic One-on-One.
- Epic’s “learning fund,” which offers state funding to individual students for purchasing educational items or services, will be moved to a school bank account July 1. Currently, the private company Epic Youth Services — owned by Epic’s co-founders — manages that money.
- Epic One-on-One will contract with an educational management organization to assist with the school’s operations and compliance requirements.
- Epic’s governing board will be reformed to require separate boards for Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended if the schools use shared service agreements.
- Epic One-on-One will be subject to requests for audit by the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office and “shall cooperate fully in all aspects of any request made pursuant to such audit.”
‘Still a lot of remaining questions’
House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore) attended the April 20 SVCSB meeting and exercised legislative privilege to attend the meeting’s executive session.
Informed that Epic’s board had agreed to SVCSB’s proposed settlement terms, McBride said Thursday that the agreement resolves one pending legal issue and that lawmakers are waiting for the conclusion of other legal issues — such as a lawsuit involving the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office and an ongoing criminal investigation — before deciding on potential law changes regarding virtual charter schools like Epic.
“I’m glad it looks like we finally have a resolution on one of the Epic issues,” McBride said. “There are still a lot of remaining questions that need to be answered, and the Legislature is watching to see what we need to do at the appropriate time to keep these issues from happening again.”