OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Epic Charter Schools released their 132-page point-by-point response Friday to the Oklahoma audit released Thursday.
Here’s news release from Epic regarding the audit:
Epic Charter Schools is fighting back today, calling an audit report released yesterday “a work of fiction written by a former reporter.”
EPIC released its own report today, refuting in detail each of the seven allegations levied yesterday by State Auditor and Inspector, Cindy Byrd.
“Yesterday, we witnessed pure politics on display,” said Shelly Hickman, Assistant Superintendent for EPIC. “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.”
Among the auditor’s allegations was her claim that EPIC should’ve paid the state $8.9 million due to the school incorrectly categorizing administration costs in the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.
“Completely ignored by the auditor is the simple fact that the process she’s talking about is overseen and approved each and every time by the State Department of Education,” Hickman said. “If at any point, SDE thought we were doing it wrong, they could’ve raised objections, and in fact at times, they did, and costs were categorized according to their feedback. For an unrelated state agency to come in years after the fact and claim costs were categorized incorrectly shows a complete lack of understanding of the process. This should concern all public schools, who follow this process and trust that when the results are certified, they are final.”
EPIC’s leaders also took particular offense to Byrd’s allegation that the school’s method of counting the number of students on its roster is “a mystery.”
“When the auditor said that our student count is a mystery, we were floored,” Hickman said. “It isn’t a mystery. Our student count is calculated the same way all schools’ student counts are calculated – and then approved by the State Department of Education. We explained this to the auditor’s main staff person, Salesha Wilken, many times throughout this process, but she seemed unable to grasp the concept.”
Hickman believes there’s a reason for that.
“Salesha Wilken isn’t an auditor at all,” Hickman said. “She’s a former reporter. Her LinkedIn page lists skills like public relations and graphic design. She’s a storyteller by trade, and we saw that on full display in this audit report, which weaves quite a tale. That tale is fiction, and the State Auditor used it to further what is a clear, personal anti public school choice agenda. That is apparent in her final thoughts section of the report.”
“There’s a reason 61,000 students and their families have chosen EPIC. They like that our learning fund allows parents to have a say in their children’s education. Auditor Byrd doesn’t like that, and she criticized us for using that fund as a marketing tool to attract students. Of course parents and students like the learning fund. It’s provides for flexibility and individualizing their child’s education. Auditor Byrd’s personal preference has no bearing here.”
“The auditor said yesterday that she’s seen a lot of fraud, but she stopped short of accusing Epic of fraud. She chose those words carefully, because she knows there’s no fraud here. The real story of EPIC Charter Schools isn’t the political farce presented yesterday. EPIC’s real story is a success story. We have grown over our 10-year history from 1,700 students to the 61,000 students and families who have chosen EPIC this year. They remain our focus.”
Here is Epic’s statement in its entirety:
Epic released the statement as a rebuttal to the following 116-page state audit of Epic’s alleged mismanagement of tax payer funds:
Byrd, on Friday, released a statement in response to Epic’s rebuttal. That statement is as follows:
“Epic’s response is a smokescreen to, once again, distract taxpayers by changing the subject. This audit is not an assessment of the quality of their services, it’s an investigation into their finances. The facts provided in the audit speak for themselves. As I’ve said repeatedly, I am not against school choice. I support every child’s opportunity to get the best education possible. However, I cannot support the abuse of taxpayer dollars.”CINDY BYRD, STATE AUDITOR & INSPECTOR
“I have seen a lot of fraud in my 23 years and this situation is deeply concerning,” Byrd said in her Thursday news conference while revealing her audit findings.
Both responses come about 24 hours after this statement by Byrd was made when discussing her findings in her audit. Byrd said the findings included Epic Charter Schools sending over $200,000 of Oklahoma taxpayer money to a California Epic school, and also having Oklahoma teachers teach there. In the report, she named Superintendent of Epic Charter Schools David Chaney and founder of the schools Ben Harris.
“Harris and Chaney used state resources and state employees to further their business interest,” Byrd said.
In the report, she also alleged Epic Charter Schools underreported an Oklahoma state legislative placed five percent in administration costs year after year.
“By our calculations EPIC owes the state of Oklahoma $8.9 million,” she said.
Other Epic critics, like Oklahoma State Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), spoke out Friday. Sharp was in a legal battle with the school just months ago.
“If there were dollars placed in there for profit improperly, they need to be returned,” Sharp said. “If there is criminal activity, those individuals participating in criminal activity to defraud the taxpayer of the State of Oklahoma need to be held accountable.”
Byrd said they will share their findings with multiple agencies, including the FBI, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Internal Revenue Service.