OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The state auditor laid out her investigation into Epic Charter Schools for Oklahoma’s school leaders Wednesday. Much of the point-by-point indictment repeated accusations of questionable practices first reported in October, but she included projections for this year and a defense of the report and her office’s authority.
The virtual presentation was for the benefit of groups, including the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the Oklahoma State School Board Association. But the 45-minute video has been shared widely on social media.
The scathing report spends a lot of time on the funds spent on the for-profit branch of Epic Charter Schools, Epic Youth Services LLC, the company the schools contract with.
A PPP-loan report showed that last year, EYS received a loan of $42,700 for its three employees.
Byrd pointed out that this 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,” she said, “but we are unsure how these positions helped the management of the school.”
She goes 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?”
From 2015 to 2020, one of Byrd’s biggest points of frustration is $125 million in tax payer dollars unaccounted for.
This year alone, that amount is expected to be $90 million in tax payer dollars.
Earlier this year, pending legislation was written that would allow state agencies to choose their own auditing agencies rather than that authority falling on the state auditor. Tulsa World pointed out that the author of the bill was also a recipient of a campaign donation by the wife of one of Epic’s founders.
Neither Byrd nor Epic officials were available for an interview Thursday, but Epic Charter Schools Assistant Superintendent Shelly Hickman said the following in a statement:
“We have said since October that there are serious flaws in the auditor and inspector’s audit of EPIC. The auditor has already revised the audit once since October and, in doing so, acknowledged an error rate of 36 percent. We can prove the error rate is actually much higher than that and have been making our case to the State Department of Education.
We published a point-by-point response to the audit months ago and posted here https://epiccharterschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Response-to-Audit-.pdf and attached is a recent presentation that we made to representatives of the State Department of Education about the audit’s errors.”SHELLY HICKMAN, EPIC CHARTER SCHOOLS ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT
The deadline has passed for Epic to repay the $11.2 million it allegedly owes the state.
The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board will hold a termination hearing for Epic One-on-One on May 12, during which they will review alleged violations of the virtual charter school’s operating contract.