State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Debbie Critchfield says she’s not concerned about her campaign treasurer’s role as board chair of two charter schools facing closure following an investigation of their finances.
Idaho EdNews confirmed this week that Critchfield’s campaign treasurer, Michael Arrington, is also the board chair of ARTEC and ARTEI, two publicly funded Magic Valley charter schools that are shutting down following recent discoveries by the State Board of Education and State Department of Education that the schools have been overpaid millions of dollars by the state — taxpayer money erroneously collected after the schools inflated student enrollment and attendance numbers.
“I have known Michael for — I don’t know — a long time, long before there was ever a consideration that I would run,” said Critchfield, a former State Board of Education president who announced her candidacy for schools chief in May.
State leaders say it’s still unclear how much the schools were overpaid and for how long, along with other details surrounding the reporting issues. The state has been withholding payments from the schools to make up for prior overpayments — an effort that contributed to decision to close, local leaders said last month.
The Rupert-based Minidoka School District authorizes the schools, though they have their own governing board chaired by Arrington, a local businessman. The charters draw students from the Buhl, Cassia County, Dietrich, Hagerman, Jerome, Kimberly, Minico, Murtaugh, and Twin Falls districts. Some 800 high schoolers take CTE-type classes from the charters, state numbers show, but students spend most of their day at their neighborhood school.
Critchfield, who works as the communications director of the Cassia County district, was aware that the charter schools were working with state leaders to resolve the issues when she asked Arrington to join her campaign, she told EdNews Monday. Critchfield said she had no influence over any decisions related to the charter schools.
Critchfield defended Arrington as “a prominent member of the Magic Valley community” who has “worked with nearly every school district in this region and has a very ethical reputation.” Arrington is president of Starr Corp., a Magic Valley construction company that has performed numerous projects for area schools.
So far, Arrington, who on Tuesday acknowledged a five-year friendship with Critchfield, has offered few details about reporting inaccuracies.
“The methods these schools utilized to count students and fund programs no longer align with state practices,” he announced in a statement released to EdNews last week.
EdNews sent off several questions to Arrington Wednesday morning, including clarification about:
- What caused the reporting inaccuracies and how long they occurred.
- How the schools spent millions of extra funds that flowed their way as a result of the inaccuracies.
- How the inaccuracies happened under the oversight of Arrington’s school board, which is also comprised of at least two area K-12 superintendents, and others in recent years.
School staff members typically compile and turn in mandatory reports to the state. School boards work in a supervisory role, including oversight of district finances.
Critchfield said Monday that she plans to keep Arrington on as treasurer.
The Republican primary for state superintendent is in May 2022, followed by the general election in November, when all seven of Idaho’s statewide offices are up for election, including governor. So far, Republicans Critchfield and Branden Durst have entered the state superintendent’s race. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has not formally announced a re-election bid.
Idaho EdNews reporter Sami Edge contributed to this story.