OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Epic Charter Schools and Epic Youth Services agreed Wednesday to end their 10-year contractual relationship following several months of controversy stemming from a state auditor uncovering what she said was extensive financial impropriety.
The contract between the two entities will conclude on June 30.
Epic Youth Services is a privately-owned, for-profit management organization that oversaw Epic Charter Schools day-to-day operations since it was established in 2011.
Ben Harris and David Chaney, co-founders of the school and the management company, released the following statement:
“Starting this school, watching it grow and flourish, and seeing the profound and positive impact it has on students has been the honor of a lifetime. We could not be prouder of our student body, our talented and hardworking teachers, or our administrators and staff.
Over the last ten years, virtual education has transitioned from a small niche to an essential option that now exists in all 77 Oklahoma counties. That growth is nothing short of a revolution in public education, and it is one that has benefitted tens of thousands of families seeking safe, high-quality educational experiences that can be customized to their unique needs and expectations. None of that would have been possible without Epic, EYS, and especially the tens of thousands of families that have trusted us with their children.
At this time, we feel it is best for EYS and Epic to pause our professional relationship and to give each entity a chance to determine how to best serve families moving forward in light of the recent settlement agreement. While this is a sad and difficult decision for us, we believe it is in the best interests of EYS and, most importantly, the 50,000 plus students Epic Charter Schools and EYS currently serve.”BEN HARRIS AND DAVID CHANEY
Epic Charter Schools officials signed a settlement with the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board in April that required Epic Charter Schools to separate from Epic Youth Services.
The agreement, however, allowed Epic to continue serving the more than 35,000 students enrolled in its One-on-One charter, which has students in 75 Oklahoma counties.
The Board of Education for Epic Charter Schools (Community Strategies) voted Wednesday to expand to six members based on recommendations from a consultant “hired to recruit experienced, independent board members for the organization,” an Epic news release states. Betsy Brown and Doug Scott, both who had served for a decade each, and J.P. Franklin each resigned.
The board elected new officers, making the following selections:
- Paul Campbell, Oklahoma businessman and Academy of Seminole founder, elected board chair
- Jon Tatum, forensic accountant Jon Tatum, new board member
- Danny Williams Sr., attorney, new board member
- Ginger Casper, attorney, new board member joined him as new Board members
Dr. Kathryn Stehno and Wyjuana Montgomery, who joined the Community Strategies Board in recent months, will remain on the board. Stehno was elected vice chair and Casper was elected secretary.
Immediate past Board Chairman Doug Scott praised Campbell while reflecting on the findings of a state audit.
“It’s no secret the Community Strategies Board was criticized in the state audit,” Scott said. “Like many volunteer, nonprofit boards, we relied on the information provided to us to make decisions for a very complex and unique school system. As soon as we knew the information provided to us was lacking or not accurate, we took decisive, bold actions. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the last year and I’ve always been proud of the mission of this school and of the work of its dedicated teachers and administrators. We have transformed thousands and thousands of children’s lives and it gives me a deep sense of peace to know that work will continue under the governance of this board.”
Cindy Byrd, the Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector, released a 120-page report on Oct. 1, detailing the first part of an extensive audit into Epic’s finances.
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 previously said. “They take 10 percent of every tax dollar that comes through the school’s door.”
Epic was sending at least $200,000 worth of Oklahoma tax money to an Epic California school, according to Byrd.
Byrd, earlier this month, detailed to Oklahoma school leaders the findings of her investigation into Epic.
Much of the scathing report focused on the funds spent on Epic Youth Services, which schools contracted with.
A PPP-loan report showed that last year, Epic Youth Services received a loan of $42,700 for its three employees.
Byrd pointed out the company was paid $46 million in tax-payer dollars from 2015 through 2020, even though it had zero employees besides the two founders for most of that time.
“In 2019, they hired two lobbyists and a security man, but we are unsure how these positions helped the management of the school,” Byrd said.
Byrd went on to spell out what she called falsified monthly invoices from EYS to Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended, including invoices for certified and non-certified employees – even though there were only the three – and food services for virtual-only students.
“See the food services management?” Byrd said. “How does a virtual only school have $37,000 spent every month, that same exact amount, $37,000 for students that require no child nutrition costs?”
One of Byrd’s biggest points of frustration is $125 million in tax payer dollars unaccounted for from 2015 to 2020.
Epic administrators have long maintained that the audit was politically driven.
“While we have objected to the politicization of the audit and some of its findings, we have implemented many changes it recommended to strengthen our school and make our operations more transparent,” Epic School Board President Doug Scott is quoted as saying in Epic’s Wednesday news release. “We’re in a different, stronger and better place than we were six months ago, and I’m proud of the hard work of this Board and our school leaders. I want to thank the SVCSB and Executive Director Dr. Rebecca Wilkinson for her leadership during this period of time. Everyone involved has a servant’s heart and wants to serve children and families to the best of our ability.”
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The news release states there will be greater transparency, including changes that will “allow for a more detailed, public view of the school’s expenditures.”
The news release said the greater transparency will include public access to EPIC Learning Fund expenditures for the highest level of public transparency by July 1 and on a go-forward basis.
“We worked toward this settlement with one goal in mind: improve where we needed in the interest of continuous school improvement to better serve our 2,200 staff members and our approximate 55,000 students and families,” said EPIC Superintendent Bart Banfield. “Our team is now excited and ready to turn the page on what has been a turbulent chapter. We believe the 2021-2022 school year will be our best yet and show our commitment to having a positive, collaborative relationship with the SVCSB, the State Department of Education and our other partners and sponsors.”