Charter administrators received $46,000 in unexplained payments

BLACKFOOT — The head administrator and his business manager at two Blackfoot charter schools received more than $46,000 in unexplained payments from their schools over a 12-month period, according to an Idaho Education News investigation.

EdNews began a financial inquiry into Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center after receiving tips from a former board member and learning the Idaho Public Charter School Commission launched an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement.

Fred Ball is the head administrator and Randy Ruger is the business manager at both public charter schools.

They received at least 19 checks from August 2017 through August 2018, according to bank statements obtained by EdNews through public records requests. It’s unclear what these checks were for because Ball has yet to provide receipts or bills of sale to verify the transactions. Ball admitted that he does not remember what all of the money was for, but he denied any wrongdoing.

“There’s nothing under the table here,” Ball said. “I’ve been at this too long. You guys would not be able to find it if we were trying to hide it.”

Ball, left, and Ruger

Here is an example of some of the unusual transactions between Ball and Ruger and their schools:

  • Ball received a handwritten check from Blackfoot for $22,099.37 in August 2017. Ball said the payment was reimbursement for two modular units he bought and resold to Blackfoot, but he has not produced requested documentation to back up his claim.
  • Ruger cashed eight checks, each worth $939.07, all on the same day, Aug. 21, 2018. Ball said they were payroll checks from Bingham. Typically, Bingham employees are paid via direct deposit.
  • Ball cashed eight checks, each worth $855.60, also on Aug. 21, 2018. Ball said these were likewise payroll checks from Bingham.
  • Ball cashed another check worth $7,235.92 from Blackfoot on Aug. 21, 2018. Ball said he could not immediately remember what the check was for.
  • Ball cashed a $2,625 check from Blackfoot on Sep. 11, 2018. He said he could not immediately remember what this check was for.

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

Ball said he would be able to provide financial documentation to explain the transactions, if he had more time. EdNews has requested several documents to shed light on the transactions, but Ball has hardly complied.

EdNews made its first public records request for financial documents on Dec. 3. It took weeks for Ball to respond. Idaho code requires public agencies to either grant or deny requests to examine or copy public records within three business days from the date the request was received. EdNews continued to request records from Ball through his attorney, Chris Yorgason. Eventually, Ball sent some documents, including the bank statements, but many others have not been produced.

“Yesterday our business manager resigned,” said Ball, referring to another business manager at the schools, Layne Miller. “This places us in a difficult position with respect to meeting demands for financial records. We will do the best we can, but it may not happen on or before January 14. Please be patient.”

Blackfoot Board Chair Candra Risa signed several of the checks. She did not respond to a request from EdNews for further insight into the payouts.

Other bank statements revealed unexplained transactions between the two schools. Blackfoot gave Bingham $70,000 via two separate checks in October 2018 and electronically transferred $5,000 in January 2018.

Ball and Risa have yet to respond to questions about these transfers.

EdNews has tried repeatedly to review expenditure reports on the schools’ websites, but the reports are incomplete. The websites also do not have annual audits or contracts. Idaho law requires districts and charters to post all expenditures, contracts and audits on their websites and update them at least every 30 days.

On Dec. 18, 2018, Blackfoot’s expenditure reports from July 2018 to December 2018 had not been uploaded for public view. Blackfoot has since updated some of the missing reports. However, the reports do not clear up the unexplained payments to Ball and Ruger or the money exchanged between the two schools.

Ball personally sold modular units to Blackfoot

Ball told EdNews that he personally purchased two modular classroom units for $16,000 in 2014 from Salt Lake Community College. He said he turned around and sold the modulars to Blackfoot for a “spectacularly low price.”

The $22,099.37 check Ball received from Blackfoot bore a memo reading “modular and other expenses.” On Jan. 9, EdNews requested, but has not received, bills of sale for modular units Ball sold to the schools.

Ball said he would need more time rounding up receipts and “detailed documentation” of this and other past purchases he said he made.

Business manager resigned amid financial investigations

Miller resigned this month amid financial investigations by both EdNews and the charter commission.

The commission began investigating the schools in December over a long list of allegations from current and past board members 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.”

Ball said Miller suffers from numerous illnesses, and that document requests from EdNews and the commission had overstrained Miller.

Miller confirmed his resignation to EdNews Friday. He declined to comment further and directed other questions to his attorney.

Ball criticized the investigation into his schools

Ball said the commission’s investigation into his schools is not rooted in “proof or documentation.” He attributed the past allegations to “sour grapes, people who didn’t do their jobs or didn’t know how to do their jobs.” He said the commission’s director, Tamara Baysinger, “has it out” for him.

Baysinger did not address Ball’s accusation of a personal vendetta but confirmed that the commission is still investigating the schools.

“We plan to let the documents determine the outcome,” Baysinger said.

It’s not the first time the charter commission has focused on one of Ball’s schools. In 2016, the state placed Blackfoot and two other charters on financial notice after officials deemed the schools at risk of a midyear financial collapse.

Both Blackfoot and Bingham are public schools, which receive state funding based largely on average daily attendance. The schools together serve about 750 students, with budgets totaling some $4.3 million.

EdNews Data Analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this story. 

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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