Oklahoma superintendents applaud state auditor’s Epic report as Epic officials respond

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On Friday, Epic Charter Schools officials rebutted a state auditor report finding millions of dollars mismanaged or unaccounted for by the the online charter school. Meanwhile, superintendents across the state are applauding the auditors efforts.

“We have to account for everything,” said Pauls Valley Public Schools Superintendent Mike Martin, talking about the responsibility to accurately account for all local, state, and federal dollars spent on his school district.

He was one of many in Oklahoma frustrated after State Auditor Cindy Byrd’s 120-page report on what is now the state’s largest school district. The findings include millions of state dollars owed to the state, unaccounted for, and transferred to the Epic’s for-profit company.

“Transferred into a for profit management company with no transparency and no accountability,” said Byrd at a Thursday press conference.

The Epic assistant superintendent, Shelly Hickman, said in a statement in part, “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.”

Findings that thousands in Oklahoma taxes were spent on its California operation left El Reno Public Schools Superintendent Craig McVay vexed.

“We received documents from the state of California, confirming EYS for profit used $203,000 from the learning funds to help with expenses for Epic California school. That money was dedicated for Oklahoma children,” Byrd said. “That’s something that, I had no idea that was even a possibility. I mean you can’t take el Reno money and use it in Yukon, much less out of state. That just seems inappropriate. It also seems inappropriate that some public money is being used in a manner that can’t be audited. That’s vey frustrating.”

Epic officials wrote that that transfer came from a private account, and that the transfer was repaid before the auditor asked about it.

As for the $8.9 million the auditor said the district owes the state, Epic officials wrote that the state is simply mistaken about Epic’s payroll costs because of a disagreement over the meaning of the title “manager.”

But for public school officials whose districts split a limited amount of state funding with one another and Epic, the findings only confirm their beliefs that the online charter school takes advantage of tax-paying Oklahomans and their kids.

“It doesn’t matter how you cloak it or frame it, it’s public money that they’re using and if that public money can go to a private business for profit,” McVay said. “It’s very frustrating to those of us that operate within the public eye and we’re able to show every cent.”

Here is the 116-page audit that State Auditor Cindy Byrd released on Thursday:

Sharp says after the audit he feels vindicated.

“Definitely,” Sharp told KFOR. “All the problems I said Epic Charter School was manipulating their enrollment, it was clearly the auditor’s same response.”

Sharp says all he did was ask questions about how Epic was using tax payer dollars. He says the audit confirms everything he’s been saying.

“If you want to go private then I cannot question a thing you do as a private citizen, or if you want to run a private school,” Sharp said. “If you’re running a public school, every single dollar you spend is transparent and should be known to the public.”

Hours after the audit went public, Epic released a statement calling the audit “political theatrics.” Epic representatives accused Byrd of attacking parents’ rights to “choose the public school they think is best for them.”

“It seemed very frivolous for them to say the parents sure like the school, and the auditor is attacking us,” Sharp said. “Tell us exactly where the auditor is wrong.”

Epic issued a 132-page rebuttal to the audit on Friday. That rebuttal is as follows:

Byrd responded to Epic’s rebuttal with the following:

“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 can not support the abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

CINDY BYRD, STATE AUDITOR & INSPECTOR

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