OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There is new scrutiny and legal battles involving Oklahoma’s largest online charter school.
Epic is facing a state investigation after the vice-chair of the governing board resigned, and blew the whistle on what she calls “alarming” behavior behind-the-scenes at the school.
In a three-page resignation letter, vice-chair Kathren Stehno claims, “Several women, both former and current employees approached her with complaints of intimidation and harassment by board chairman [Paul] Campbell.”
Paul Campbell took over at Epic in May… and previously opened a charter school in Seminole.
Stehno stated the women are too afraid to come forward due to fears of retaliation by superintendent Bart Banfield, who they claim was “well aware” of the allegations.
KFOR reached out to chairman Campbell and has yet to receive a response.
Another allegation made by Stehno claims, “extremely large and unapproved bonuses that exceeded employee contracts without board approval,” were made to board members.
Stehno claims, “the entire internal auditing team was terminated on November 12,” after the data was reported to administrators who she says did not want it shared with the board.
The State Department of Education sent Epic notice stating it would be investigating all of Stehno’s allegations and wants the superintendent’s cooperation.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also released this statement in response to the allegations:
“For a school district that has faced years of federal and state criminal investigations, a 19-month state audit that resulted in a demand to repay more than $11 million, OSDE identifying 16 areas of non-compliance and recommending probation for the district, and a separate $10 million withholding by our department because of improper administrative costs to now have additional allegations of fraud, improper board governance and a hostile work environment is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. We are on the side of students and taxpayers, and that’s why OSDE immediately began its investigation into these very serious allegations.”State Supt. Joy Hofmeister
Stehno also released a statement to KFOR:
“It was with great difficulty that I made the decision to resign from Community Strategies Inc. DBA Epic Charter Schools Board. My desire for joining the Board was to serve the families and staff of Epic by providing support at a time where the existence of the schools was in question. As a long time, educator who had served in many capacities in PK-12 schools and later at OEQA, I felt I could contribute my knowledge and experiences to ensuring the families, students, and staff of Epic, that together, we would forge ahead in meeting the challenges set before us. The battle was won, and the school was able to continue. Unfortunately, it came to my attention that a new set of concerns from the staff (and former staff) that there were activities occurring, which demanded investigation. My letter addressed those concerns. I want Epic families to know that they are still in a great school because they have a voice in this school model. The school will continue but issues must be addressed in order to be what our families, students and staff need for success.”Kathren Stehno
Epic is also facing a new lawsuit from the school’s two original founders– Ben Harris and David Chaney–who they’ve parted ways with.
In the new lawsuit filed this week, the founders of Epic are now claiming they’re owed 7-million dollars for their work with Epic before they parted ways.
They left after a scathing audit by state auditor Cindy Byrd.
The State Department of Education plans to have its investigation wrapped up within 30 days.