Charter commission investigating two Blackfoot schools

BLACKFOOT — The Idaho Public Charter School Commission is investigating a wide range of allegations brought against two Blackfoot-based charter schools.

Allegations of misconduct at both Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center include “inappropriately addressed allegations of sexual misconduct by school employees,” a lack of transparency regarding school finances and “questionable internal controls and financial practices,” according to a Dec. 4 letter to Bingham Academy’s board of directors from PCSC Director Tamara Baysinger.

The allegations were brought to the commission’s attention by current and former BCCLC board members, Baysinger said.

“Some of these concerns apply to BA directly, while others are relevant because the two schools share facilities and staff,” Baysinger said.

Baysinger outlined details tied to the allegations:

  • Insufficient processes for providing clarity for financial transactions between the schools and a daycare at BCCLC.
  • BA’s former business manager’s continued involvement in the school’s finances, possibly without either board approval or a contract for his services.
  • Struggles to make payroll, including a November payout in which checks were distributed to teachers and staff on time, “based on the bank’s confidence that recently disbursed state funds” would cover the shortfall.
  • BA administrator Mark Fisk’s purported use of school funds to engage in international travel.
  • At BCCLC, a lack of “financial best practices, such as board pre-approval of loans and expenditures, consistent application of a purchase order system, provision of thorough financial reports to the board and fair hiring and procurement practices.”
  • Fisk’s purported protection of school employees accused of sexual misconduct toward students, and “similar issues” at BCCLC.

“Please understand that our goal is to establish the facts of the matter so that any challenges faced by the school may be identified and any unfounded allegations dismissed,” Baysinger said.

She outlined a list of documents aimed at shedding light on the accusations:

  • Monthly bank statements.
  • Cancelled checks.
  • Electronic funds transfers.
  • Invoices both generated and received by the schools.
  • Purchase orders received by the schools.
  • School budgets dating back to July 1, 2017.
  • School building safety and compliance documents.
  • Correspondences between board members and employees that reference staffing, finances or operations of BCCLC’s daycare dating back to July 1, 2017.
  • Correspondences between various school administrators, including Fisk, the schools’ Head Administrator Fred Ball, the board of directors and others.
  • Employee contracts, job descriptions and contracts with entities performing services for the schools dating back to July 1, 2017.

Baysinger also referenced a Nov. 20 letter to BCCLC board members, which outlined similar concerns and a similar request for documents. That request had gone unheeded, Baysinger said, after BA’s acting attorney Chris Yorgason “expressed objection … and asked for more specific information regarding the complaints.”

“Although there is no statutory obligation for the Public Charter School Commission (PCSC) to provide details regarding the complaints that led the PCSC to ask for the documents,” Baysinger wrote in the Dec. 4 letter, “the PCSC has complied with your request.”

Ball did not respond to a request for comments.

Idaho Education News requested the Nov. 20 letter from Ball on Dec. 3. He said the letter was merely a “courtesy letter” and did not provide the document. Ed News also pointed out that Bingham Academy’s financials from July to November were not uploaded to the school’s website, as Idaho law requires. The school uploaded the documents the next day. Yesterday, Ed News requested all cancelled checks and bank statements from the school but has not heard back.

On Dec. 20, Ed News requested all documents sent to the PCSC from Ball. It’s unclear if BA board members complied with Bayinger’s Dec. 18 deadline for the documents, which was outlined in her Dec. 4 letter. As of Dec. 19, Baysinger said she had not received the documents.

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

Baysinger said the latest round of issues could affect the school’s status with the commission.

“Please be advised that the matters raised in this letter may result in revisions to BA’s 2017-2018 Annual Performance Report between its draft and final forms,” she wrote in her Dec. 4 letter. “We will keep you advised in the event that such revisions become necessary.”

BA and BCCLC together serve about 750 students, with budgets totaling some $4.3 million. Ball’s salary is $75,000, according to state ISEE reporting.

SDE data show BA’s latest ISAT math proficiency scores reflect the state average of about 33 percent. The high school’s 69.6 percent ELA proficiency score surpasses the state’s 59 percent for this same year. BCCLC’s latest ISAT proficiency rate came back at 36.7 percent, compared to the state average of 47 percent for elementary students statewide. The school’s 42 percent ELA ISAT rating came back under the state average of 52 percent for children in these same grades.

Ed News Data Analyst Randy Schrader contributed information and data to this report. 

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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