Bingham Academy rejects city’s request

BLACKFOOT — Bingham Academy says it’s “under no legal obligation” to apply for a conditional use permit from the city of Blackfoot — and that the city’s planning zoning commission made “serious legal missteps” in its quest to bring the school into compliance with city code.

“We object to having this requirement being placed upon us, or the city of Blackfoot having a say in our operations, after five years of educating students in the Blackfoot area,” the embattled public charter school said in a statement posted on the Bingham County Chronicle’s Facebook page.

The statement, which prompted a response from the city Wednesday, represents the latest development in a lingering feud between the school and the planning and zoning commission. City officials say Bingham administrators have had ample time to produce the paperwork needed to obtain a permit and a detailed plan for transitioning out of its current facility, a former theater housed in a strip mall.

Citing noncompliance, the commission last week ordered Bingham, which typically enrolls around 100 local high schoolers, to discontinue further use of the facility.

In its statement Wednesday, the school criticized both the commission’s process and required fee for obtaining a permit and the “lengthy” requirement to provide a transition plan. The school did not detail its claim regarding the commission’s purported legal missteps, but stressed it will appeal.

“We look forward to sharing our concerns with the City Council, and feel confident that after a review that body will agree with us,” the school said.

Bingham also said this is the first time the city has required the school to apply for a permit, even though it has occupied the former theater for five years.

Issues between the school and the city aren’t new. Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll last month told EdNews that he spent nearly a year trying to help  Bingham and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center meet paperwork requirements for conditional use permits. In August, the commission expressed regret in allowing the schools to remain in their current facilities, according to meeting minutes.

On Tuesday, the commission approved conditional use permits for Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, which operates an elementary school and middle school at two separate locations in the city.

Bingham’s first scheduled day of class is Aug. 19.

City responds to Bingham’s response

Moments after Bingham’s statement appeared on Facebook, the city issued its own news release.

The city acknowledged not requiring Bingham to apply for conditional use permits — but only because Fred Ball, former head administrator of both Bingham and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, “always dealt with (the schools) as a single school district.”

“Until the fall of 2018, the city did not know that the two different school districts existed under the Blackfoot charter school system,” the city said.

Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center “always applied for their permit,” so the city assumed that both schools were complying with city code.

That changed after the city learned that the schools were separate legal entities, the city said. The city told Bingham that it would need to apply for a conditional use permit. Both Ball and current Bingham administer Mark Fisk had assured city leaders that they would complete paperwork for a permit, the city said.

“To this date, Bingham Academy has not applied for a conditional use permit,” the city said.

The city’s letter also addresses several complaints that surfaced in Bingham’s recent appeal to the city, including claims of conflicts of interest among commission members and the argument that Bingham is “grandfathered” into its current facility.

Click here to read the city’s full statement.

Other issues for Bingham and Blackfoot

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission investigated Bingham and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center for months over allegations of questionable internal controls and financial practices.

In March, the charter commission hired a forensic auditing firm to probe for possible embezzlement. A final report of the $20,000 audit prompted charter commission chairman Alan Reed to issue a letter to Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers, outlining concerns that Ball, who retired from the schools in June, might have violated Idaho’s bribery and corrupt influence laws and other state codes.

Rogers recently told EdNews that he asked multiple agencies to investigate Ball.

Reed’s concerns over past transactions revolve around the purchase of modular classrooms at the schools. EdNews first began writing about these transactions in January.

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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