By Thomas Himes, San Bernardino Sun | http://bit.ly/1fa4qPp
4/22/14, 1:03 PM PDT | UPDATED: 4/23 :: Charter High School of the Arts officials have 10 days to convince Los Angeles Unified they’ve fixed mismanagement that let a former staffer rack up $27,000 in personal expenses on her school charge card and quit without repaying it.
LAUSD’s board Tuesday unanimously voted to send Van Nuys-based Charter High School of Arts Multimedia and Performing (CHAMPS) a notice of violation — the legal step could lead to the school’s shutdown.
LAUSD officials took issue with school officials’ failure to immediately report the matter to police and LAUSD.
“I would just like that to be on the record as saying that’s something, I think, is an appropriate move regardless of whether it’s spelled out somewhere as an appropriate move,” board member Monica Ratliff said of the school’s failure to promptly tell law enforcement officials.
While LAUSD authorizes CHAMPS to operate under a charter, the district does not have control over its day to day operations.
Speaking to the board, CHAMPS Executive Director Joanne Saliba took responsibility, saying she was “naive” to trust the school’s former fund development director.
Kathryn Berry, was hired to raise funding for the school. But she went to work before CHAMPS conducted a background check, Saliba.
Saliba, however, said she discovered Berry’s criminal past, before she received a credit card.
Berry was convicted of grand theft in 2011, District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. Berry claimed she had cancer and raised $20,000 from unsuspecting donors, according to LAUSD documents. Berry was sentenced to five years of probation and a day in jail, Ardalani said. But there’s a warrant for Berry’s arrest, because she missed a May 8, 2012 court date, Ardalani said.
Saliba didn’t take Berry’s card after an initial $3,000 in personal expenses were discovered in September. Berry told Saliba she had mistaken the school’s credit card number for her own and would repay the money, according to LAUSD documents.
A month later, Berry had charged another $24,000 in personal expenses and, again, agreed to repay the money.
But after bouncing a check, Berry quit her job without repaying any of the $27,000.
Once Berry left, school officials reported the matter to police. But prosecutors and police have not pressed charges, because CHAMPS officials were handling it as a civil dispute, according to LAUSD documents. An LAPD detective could not reach Berry, as her address was not accurate and phone calls went unanswered.
It wasn’t until March that CHAMPS officials told LAUSD about the spending. At the time, school officials said $15,000 in charges were racked up. LAUSD staffers later discovered an additional $12,000, according to LAUSD documents.
CHAMPS Board Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Fink said the school’s insurance will cover the $27,000 with no deductible or rate increases.
“It’s fairly clear that (the board) wanted to issue a violation,” Fink said.
The only cost incurred, Fink said, was paying lawyers to represent the school against LAUSD.
CHAMPS response to the notice of violation will be sent to LAUSD officials, who will inform the board at a future meeting. Should school officials fail to sufficiently address LAUSD’s concerns, the board could move forward with revoking CHAMPS’ charter.
I watched CHAMPS present their case at the Board Meeting Tuesday, and heard an LAUSD attorney say that that the CHAMPS story changes with every presentation – including the presentation of “facts” made in their public comment that day.
As to: “CHAMPS Board Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Fink said the school’s insurance will cover the $27,000 with no deductible or rate increases”
I have never heard of an insurance company paying out on this sort of a claim when:
- an employee who was not bondable was hired to handle money – and Ms. Berry was not bondable because of her felony conviction.
- especially as Ms. Saliba was aware of Ms. Berry’s past . “Saliba, however, said she discovered Berry’s criminal past, before she received a credit card.” Ms Saliba hired a known felon and gave her a credit card!
No public funds were lost, Mr. Fink represents, because the insurance company is paying the claim. This is utter balderdash – as would any claim that fundaised funds are somehow different from the public funds. Public funds were used to buy that insurance … and the CHAMP’s board is simply passing the bill for their mishandling of public funds and the cost of Ms. Berry’s fraud onto the insurance company.
Although Ms Berry’s alleged actions are reprehensible, the actions and inactions of the CHAMPS board – and Mr. Fink as CFO and a CPA - reeks of utter fiduciary failure.
Charter schools generally get the same amount in public finds from the state as traditional schools. That almost-if-not-all of them must secure additional funding (even as they cut expenses by hiring non-union labor and locate their schools in inferior facilities*) from foundations, benefactors, grants, fundraising or bake sales to do their job points out just how miserably funded the whole public school system in California is.
That a school would resort to the hiring of a known felon – especially one with an outstanding warrant – as a fundraiser to supplement the inadequate public funding screams from the page how desperate the situation is.
It is the gross underfunding of Public Education that is the first and worst injustice in the litany described by this story.
*:“inferior” as in “not superior.” Traditional public schools’ building, occupancy and safety standards – which are regulated by the Division of the State Architect and governed by the Field Act, provisions of the Ed Code, and increased fire and safety regulations are far more stringent than those of independent charter schools – which must only comply with local building codes.