Auditor details additional findings on EPIC Charter Schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma state officials say it looks as though EPIC spent even more on administrative salaries than previously thought.

In October, the Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector released a 120-page report showing her findings in the audit of Epic Charter Schools.

In the audit, Auditor Cindy Byrd said they reviewed Epic Charter Schools finances from 2015 to 2020.

“Epic Charter Schools was given almost a half a billion dollars during the audit period,” Byrd said. “They take 10 percent of every tax dollar that comes through the school’s door.”

According to Byrd, at least $200,000 worth of that tax money was being sent to an Epic California school.

“That money was dedicated for Oklahoma children,” she said.

Byrd added that Ben Harris and David Cheney, the co-founders of Epic Schools, were having Oklahoma teachers teach for the California school.

“Harris and Chaney used state resources and state employees to further their business interest,” she said.

Byrd also claimed the school was forced to pay the state a half million dollars from under reporting the administration costs. However, Byrd said that was just a slap on the wrist.

“By our calculations, EPIC owes the state of Oklahoma $8.9 million,” she said. “I have seen a lot of fraud in my 23 years and this situation is deeply concerning.”

“The State Auditor, an elected politician, stood behind a podium and a gaggle of reporters and told a story. This isn’t the first time we’ve been subjected to political scrutiny, nor were the allegations new. The findings were presented with over-the-top sensationalism guaranteed to stir up defenders of the education status quo because we are growing, and they are struggling,”  said Shelly Hickman, Assistant Superintendent for EPIC.

Now, officials say it looks as though EPIC spent even more on administrative salaries than previously thought.

After reviewing EPIC’s financial reports for a second time, Byrd said on Wednesday that $9.7 million was incorrectly classified as non-administrative payroll. However, she determined that money was used to pay the salaries of school administrators.

The original audit showed that EPIC improperly classified $8.9 million to bring the school under a state mandated cap on administrative spending.

The latest report uncovered an additional $800,000 in administrative spending.

Officials with EPIC sent KFOR the following statement on the findings:

“We can’t directly speak to any recalculation because the work papers have yet to actually be provided to us. The SAI must have placed a higher priority on media attention because we were just informed in email we must go to the SAI’s offices to retrieve a CD of the work papers you are referencing and no notice of any ‘recalculation’ was given in that email. A ‘recalculation’ of a final audit report proves the SAI’s processes are prone to huge errors. Moreover, we already know from what we previously obtained through an open records request that SAI’s processes caused the final audit report to have material errors that call into question the reliability of the document and its calculations. We remain confident of proving that once we have all the work papers in hand.”

Shelly Hickman, Assistant Superintendent for Epic Charter Schools

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