During a packed Epic Charter Schools Board meeting Wednesday evening, board members approved the proposed Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget for both Epic Blended and Epic One-on-One. The board also approved a motion to continue the employment of Superintendent Bart Banfield for one year.
Epic teachers, administrators and some parents donned Epic t-shirts and stood in line to enter the evening’s meeting in order to show support for Banfield, erupting into cheers when board members exited executive session and voted to extend the superintendent’s employment.
“We’ve always felt really supported by Bart, and therefore we want to show our support for him,” three-year Epic teacher Joan Raney said. “We feel like he’s the right person to continue to lead our organization.”
It’s not immediately clear why some Epic educators feared Banfield’s employment could be in jeopardy, but rumors of questionable bonuses and further concerns about Epic’s enrollment numbers reached the State Capitol last month.
Three Epic teachers signed up to speak during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, and they said positive changes have occurred since Banfield took on the role of superintendent in 2019.
“Through all the trials we have faced, controversy upon controversy, COVID, a huge influx of students during COVID, a split with our founders and the loss of processes, Superintendent Banfield has navigated it all with calm strength and grace,” Epic One-on-One teacher Erin McAdoo said during public comment.
However, the board’s decision to cut ties with Epic Youth Services has not solved all of the charter schools’ problems.
In December, the State Department of Education began investigating “allegations of fraud, suppression of fraud, intimidation and harassment in the workplace” following accusations from the board’s former vice chairwoman, Katherine Stehno. A report from the OSDE on its investigation is still pending. The matter is separate from the criminal charging decisions still pending before Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater regarding Epic co-founders and Epic Youth Services co-owners Ben Harris and David Chaney.
Officially called Community Strategies, the board voted to retain Banfield as superintendent following an executive session, with Chairman Paul Campbell saying he was honored to make the motion.
“At the center of your leadership, and this is why I know you’re perfect for this job, is you really do have the heart and desire to empower students and that’s what it’s going to take,” said Campbell, who has faced harassment allegations from Stehno.
During executive session, board members also discussed ongoing litigation with the OSDE, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, former state Sen. Ron Sharp, Epic Youth Services and Community Strategies-CA. However, no action was taken related to those cases.
Proposed FY 2022-2023 budget approved
During an update from the board’s finance committee, board member Trevor Hammons discussed an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit of the charter schools’ former management company, Epic Youth Services.
“One interesting thing that is going on is the IRS is doing an audit of Epic Youth Services, and initially that was limited to 2019,” Hammons said. “That has since expanded to include 2020 and 2021, which we welcome and feel is a very good thing.”
The board also held a public hearing during the evening’s meeting to discuss and answer questions about the FY 2022-2023 budgets for Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended. However, no one from the public signed up to speak.
Epic deputy superintendent of finance Janice Wynn said the budgets are conservative projections based on considerations that include current enrollment estimates and expected temporary appropriations due to Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended’s potential consolidation, which was approved by the board in March.
“This budget we can change,” Campbell said. “Janice and the finance team’s guidance is that we go in with a conservative budget — conservative being lower right now in terms of revenue and cost — because we can adjust that in the next couple of months. In the next month or two, Bart and team will present a budget and forecast. What I’m super interested in is how you’re going to use this strong financial position to be innovative.”
The revenue portion of the Epic One-on-One budget is currently sitting at $153,793,206, with expenditures — the amount the school can legally spend — sitting at $138,939,347. The revenue portion of the Epic Blended budget is currently $112,487,377, with expenditures at $101,924,990.
Wynn said the biggest question surrounding budget planning has been what will happen if the planned merger is approved by the OSDE.
“I think we’ll be back here two or three or four times in the next few months having this conversation,” Wynn said. “This is kind of a muddy crystal ball for me right now, especially with consolidation being on the horizon. Our current understanding is, based on what was presented to the State Department as far as what our intentions are, the budgets for Epic One-on-One and the budget for Epic Blended will be combined and become the budget of Epic Charter School.”
During the evening’s meeting, board members also approved new board leadership. Board member Ginger Casper will serve a one-year term as the board’s vice chairwoman, and Renee Porter will serve a one-year term as secretary.