Last week the D.C. Council amended the School Reform Act of 1995 in an attempt to prevent the kind of financial mismanagement that plagued the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School. The legislation was sought by the DC Public Charter School Board’s executive director Scott Pearson in the aftermath of the closing of Community Academy PCS and another charter, Options PCS, that was also shuttered last year amidst serious issues regarding the use of public funds. The law was drafted with the input of schools and FOCUS.
Mr. Pearson had complained publicly that although his organization had the power to examine the revenue and spending records of charters it lacked the same authority when it came to charter management organizations. Remember that what got CAPCS into so much trouble was the exorbitant salaries being paid to Mr. Kent Amos, his wife, and stepson for services his management company claimed it was providing while the school also hired staff to accomplish the same duties. Now, as a result of the new four-page law, the PCSB can review the books of “an organization that has a contract to provide management or educational services to a public charter school to which the eligible chartering authority has granted a charter when the annual value of the payments to the organization is equal to or exceeds 10% of the school’s annual revenue” or when “the total revenues of the organization derived from any public charter school in the District exceeds 25% of the organization’s total revenue.”
The Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act of 2015 also specifies when a conflict of interest exists between a charter and an entity with which it enters into a contract for services, and the reporting requirements of this conflict to the PCSB. The language is identical to standard conflict of interest policies already in place in many charter schools.
What is not clear is if this bill would have prevented the situation uncovered at Options PCS. Certainly the money being paid to the two companies that stole money from the school could have met the requirements under the law for contract review. However, you have to remember that at that time Jeremy Williams was working for the PCSB as its chief financial officer, and was hiding information about Options spending arrangements from his superiors while simultaneously serving on Option’s board of directors. He then went on to work for one of the companies involved in the theft. Perhaps in a highly unusual situation like this there is no way to uncover the criminal activities of exceedingly unethical individuals.