Ohio Auditor Dave Yost has come up with yet another example of why state lawmakers and Ohio Department of Education officials must clamp down on how publicly funded, privately operated charter schools are policed. It should not have to fall to the state auditor, long after the fact, to uncover misspent funds and missing dollars.
In some cases, especially after a school closes, the officials themselves may be hard to find.
Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell, for instance, could not locate two of the individuals identified in Yost’s latest audit: David Schneider, who was the treasurer of now-closed Elite Academy of the Arts on East 93rd Street in Cleveland, and who was ordered to repay $18,100 in the audit since he authorized the expenditures; and Elijah Scott, the school’s superintendent, who owned the firm to which the school paid management fees. Yost determined that there were overpayments of $25,197 that Scott must repay, along with $1,716 in duplicate payments.
Yost called the missing money and undocumented expenses at Elite “theft from children” in a written statement Tuesday.
“It turns out the ‘Elite’ in their name refers to their personal tastes when spending public money intended for education,” Yost added.
The findings on Elite pale beside more than half a million dollars that Yost determined in 2012 Scott and his firm, Greater Educational Service Center, misspent at another now-closed Cleveland charter.
The findings underscore the lack of adequate oversight of charter schools in Ohio. The schools are answerable not to a state regulatory body but to a “sponsor” that may not be motivated to exercise independent oversight. In some cases, as with Scott’s reported role at Elite, there may be family and inside deals that muddy the water. And many of the most poorly run charters also fail to offer adequate education to their students. Elite was closed in 2012 not because of financial irregularities, but because it was in academic emergency — effectively, an “F.”
A separate inquiry by a consortium of professional news outlets and journalism students in Youngstown and Akron recently found that a majority of the state’s nearly 300 existing charters failed to provide governance information readily over the phone — or at all, in many cases.
That is simply unacceptable. Ohio’s charters are paid with taxpayer dollars; the oversight should be ironclad and so should their responsiveness to the public that pays their bills.