Following the June release of an investigative report that lead to the State Board of Education placing Epic Charter Schools on probation, Epic board members unanimously approved a new corrective action plan Wednesday night.
According to the draft document of the plan, which was approved without change and is embedded below, Epic has already corrected seven of the nine deficiencies laid out by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The virtual charter school will correct two others, relating to Open Meeting Act issues and board governance, in the next few months.
“I just want to highlight the fact that, of the nine areas where the State Department suggested improvement with Epic, we have made substantial improvement in seven of those, to the point where I believe we’re in substantial compliance,” Brandon Webb, executive director of legal services, told board members. “So that means there’s two more items that we will work on over the next few months, and I think we’ll have 100 percent completion.”
After Webb’s remarks, the four board members present, Chairwoman Ginger Casper, Vice-Chairwoman Susan Agel, secretary Renee Porter and member Ed Long, unanimously approved the plan.
‘Overly vague’ agendas noted by OSDE
According to the corrective action plan, Epic’s issues with the Open Meeting Act, an Oklahoma law which gives rules for public governing boards to conduct transparent meetings, arose “following a miscommunication between the board and the staff.”
To correct the deficiency, board members will continue to put new procedures in place “as needed.” Epic will also provide Open Meeting Act training to board members.
According to an OSDE investigation report released in June, Epic had a number of Open Meeting Act violations, including using language on agendas that was “overly vague,” changing agendas less than 24 hours before meetings and allowing individuals in executive session who had no reason to attend. In the agency’s report, OSDE suggested that the board update its policies to better comply with the act and that board members attend training so they understand the law.
The corrective action plan also outlined a deficiency with “governance policies and practices not aligned with law.” The plan does not specify what caused the deficiency, but OSDE’s report said that “serious deficiencies continue to exist in Epic’s bylaws, governance manual, board training, processes and procedures, and leadership boundaries.”
According to the OSDE report, some of those deficiencies stem from the fact that “employees and members of the board are uncertain of their roles and responsibilities, and who is making decisions for the schools.”
OSDE also found that board members “lack the basic understanding of school finance, operations, ethics and legal compliance needed to effectively govern Epic.”
To correct the deficiency, “Epic is doing a complete review of its governance policies,” and it is working with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association for help in developing policies, according to the corrective action plan.
In 2020, Epic went through separate corrective action plans and overhauled its leadership under OSDE’s direction. The new plan approved Wednesday plan comes after the State Board of Education placed Epic on probation for the 2022-2023 school year in response to the June investigation report.
According to the new corrective action plan, some of the deficiencies seem to stem from the fact that, until July of this year, most Epic employees worked for two separate districts, leading to reporting issues.
At a meeting in March, board members voted to consolidate Epic’s two districts, Epic Blended and Epic One-on-One, into one district. Reporting practices that caused deficiencies ended when the consolidation took effect in July.
The other seven deficiencies that Epic says it has already corrected involved:
- Special education;
- The State & Education Employees Group Insurance Act;
- Requirements for employee health insurance plans;
- Requirements for procedure of payments;
- Payments of additional salary;
- Unlawful bonus payments; and
- Inaccurate data certification.