Administrator shares documents — but no receipts — to explain financial transactions

(Updated, Jan. 16 at 3:49 p.m., with Ball’s claim that the charter commission has original receipts for his reimbursements, and commission director Tamara Basinger’s response that the commission has yet to find any such receipts.)

BLACKFOOT — The administrator of two Blackfoot charter schools who received nearly $39,000 in reimbursements over 12 months has shared some documents — but no receipts — to explain part of the payout.

Idaho Education News reported earlier this week that Fred Ball, head administrator at both Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center and Bingham Academy, cashed checks totaling $38,805.09, which he received from the schools between August 2017 and August 2018.

Hours after the story published, Ball’s attorney, Chris Yorgason, said Ball did not have time to produce the receipts tied to the reimbursements. EdNews first asked for documents related to the schools’ finances on Dec. 3. Since then, EdNews has made five other public records requests to the schools. Idaho requires public officials to produce records within three days and within 10 days under certain circumstances.

Ball emailed EdNews a PDF with some new documents on Monday — but no receipts, purchase orders or bills of sale. Rather, the documents include pictures of Ball’s bank and credit card statements and an estimate from Lowe’s home improvement store. Only Ball’s signature appears on the documents.

Ball’s PDF includes the following:

  • A $16,000 “invoice,” dated July 26, 2017, from Ball to Blackfoot for two “modular classrooms” he bought and resold to the school. The document has no purchase order and is labeled an “invoice” but it has no assigned number. Ball’s signature shows up near the top of the document.
  • A personal online bank statement showing a $3,500 check withdrawal on May 8, 2017. A handwritten note scrawled across the middle of the document reads, “payment for middle school carpet $3,500,” with Ball’s signature below it.
  • A $1,075.56 Discover Card payment, dated June 21, 2017. The statement bears the category of “merchandise” but no details about what Ball purchased and why. A handwritten note on the statement reads “modular tie-downs,” with Ball’s signature underneath.
  • A $791.31 estimate, dated June 6, 2017, from Lowe’s for a “solid cap block” and “normal weight block.” The estimate includes only Ball’s signature near the bottom.

Further review of the schools’ expense reports show Ball received reimbursements for a snowblower, a French horn, driver’s training and items explained as “other expenses.”

EdNews asked again Monday for receipts and purchase orders related to the reimbursements. Ball responded Wednesday claiming that receipts tied to documents sent to EdNews were in Boise with the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The commission began its own investigation into Ball’s schools in December over a range of allegations from current and past Blackfoot board members.

On Wednesday, EdNews requested from the commission any receipts it has found tied to the documents in Ball’s PDF. Director Tamara Baysinger said the commission has examined about half of the documents it received from the schools on Friday, including a folder with the same documents included in Ball’s PDF. In addition to these items, Baysinger said, the folder contains a $670.47 check stub for “carpet adhesive” and three receipts for purchases ranging from $5 to $24.50, but no other receipts.

Baysinger said its possible other receipts related to documents in Ball’s PDF could surface in folders marked for other transactions, but she said that seemed “unlikely” at this point.

EdNews’ inquiries into the financials at the two charter schools stem from an ongoing investigation by the commission and news tips from a former board member at Blackfoot.  These allegations included “inappropriately addressed allegations of sexual misconduct by school employees,” a lack of transparency regarding school finances and “questionable internal controls and financial practices.”

EdNews discovered the payouts to Ball — along with eight checks, each worth $939.07, written to the schools’ business manager Randy Ruger — after examining a year’s worth of bank statements and checks.

Ball — who received his own series of eight checks, each worth $855.60 — said the series of payouts were payroll checks that he and Ruger decided to hold for months before simultaneously cashing all of them on Aug. 21, 2018. Ball said Wednesday that a “large number of upfront expenditures” prompted the men to hold the checks until “we were sure all was well.”

Over a 12-month period, Ball and Ruger received a combined $46,317.65 from the two schools.

Another business manager at the schools, Layne Miller, resigned earlier this month amid the financial investigations.

This is at least the third time Ball has come under the commission’s scrutiny for his financial practices.

  • In 2010, when Ball was the director at Blackfoot-based Idaho Science and Technology Charter, he failed to provide requested financial documents to the commission, according to commission meeting minutes. The commission put the charter school on a “corrective action plan.”
  • In 2016, the state placed Blackfoot on financial notice after the commission deemed the school at risk of a midyear financial collapse.

EdNews also discovered on Tuesday that an independent 2018 audit of Blackfoot’s books concluded administrators needed to improve the school’s accounting procedures.

Kurt Folke of Quest Certified Public Accountants outlined recommendations for improvement, including the implementation of a “purchase order system.” Folke told Blackfoot to “(i)mplement a purchase order system for purchases over a certain amount (i.e. $500 / $1,000) that must be authorized by the business manager and administrator,” in an Oct. 5, 2018 email obtained by EdNews.

The email from Folke also said: “The business manager must be involved in this process since he would be in charge of ensuring the purchases are within the budget and if not, disallowing them on those grounds.”

EdNews is still awaiting requested public records from the charter schools, including bills of sale for at least nine modulars, expenditure reports that align with bank statements and explanations of checks and electronic transfers between the two schools.

EdNews first formally requested public records on Dec. 3, asking for all electronic communications between the schools and the commission. EdNews asked for expense reports two other times in December. On Jan. 9, EdNews requested bank statements, canceled checks and bills of sale for modulars. On Jan. 14, EdNews asked for purchase orders and receipts to back up documents sent by Ball.

EdNews has not received all of the requested public documents.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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