Travesty of justice regarding Options Public Charter School

Today, the Washington Post’s Emma Brown reports that United States Attorney Channing Phillips has closed the criminal case against the past managers of Options Public Charter School without bringing charges.  These are the individuals who were accused of diverting over $3 million in public funds for their own benefit from the school serving severely emotionally and physically disabled children.

The case started in 2013 when it was revealed that Donna Montgomery, along with David Cranford and Paul Dalton, established two companies, Exceptional Education Management Corp. (EEMC) and Exceptional Education Services (EES) that then struck highly lucrative contracts with the charter.  For example, according to Ms. Brown, EES charged $981,250 for transportation services that previously cost the school $70,000 from another vendor.  At the time Ms. Montgomery’s salary and bonuses to run the two for-profit firms was about $425,000.  There was also a $2.8 million management agreement between EEMC and EES to run Options PCS.

The situation engulfed others in our community.  Former Channel 9 newscaster J.C. Hayward was chair of the Options board of directors when the contracts with the private companies were signed.  It was alleged that Ms. Hayward was paid $8,500 every time she attended a board meeting of the school.  The criminal complaint also said that she helped incorporate one of the involved organizations and held stock in it.  Ms. Hayward was placed on leave when the news about Options broke, and retired at the start of 2015 after 43 years on the air.  She was removed from the court case last year.

Also involved was Jeremy Williams, the highly respected member of the staff of the DC Public Charter School Board.  He was believed to have been paid $150,000 when he was the chief financial officer to hide the agreements between Options and the two companies from PCSB oversight.

Josh Kern, the co-founder of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, became the Court’s Receiver for Options once the legal matter started.  In his role at the Ten Square Group he expertly guided the charter to its eventual strong resurgence as Kingsman Academy PCS.  Joe Bruno, the president of Building Hope, became the Court-appointed Receiver for EEMC and EES.

The mess at Options and at the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS resulted in legislation being passed this year by the D.C. Council giving the PCSB power in certain circumstances to look at the financial records of charter school management organizations.

It is horrible that after all of this time and effort by so many good people to fix the problems around Options, and to properly serve those kids that few want to serve, that Ms. Montgomery and the others would get off so easily.  It practically broadcasts a message that what they did with public dollars was perfectly fine.  Let’s sincerely hope that this decision by U.S. Attorney Phillips does not establish precedent for others to emulate.

Ms. Brown indicates that the city is still pursuing a civil case against Options.

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