State suspends charter founder’s administrative certificate

Sage International school founder Don Keller violated Idaho law, misused public money, manipulated state reports and has been punished by a state agency for his actions, according to public documents.

Don Keller

The Professional Standards Commission suspended Keller’s administrator certificate for two years. He did not lose his teaching certificate and is currently employed by the Boise School District as a science teacher at West Junior High.

The sanctions against Keller mark at least the third time in recent months that the PSC has cracked down on prominent Idaho administrators for falsifying or submitting inaccurate data on official state reports.

Bryan Moore, the chairman of Sage’s board of directors, said in an interview Thursday the board received a complaint about Keller at the end of the 2015-16 school year. The board placed Keller on administrative leave while it hired an outside attorney to investigate the claims. The attorney confirmed violations took place, and Sage self-reported to the state and the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, Moore said.

Keller never returned to active duty at Sage, Keller resigned from his position and Sage subsequently corrected each of the violations, Moore said.

The PSC’s final order details how Keller hired personnel to teach subjects they were not certified to teach and then falsified state reports to cover his tracks. The final order also states Keller improperly reported instructional hours and used school funds to purchase alcohol “on several instances.”

Keller signed the final order in June and did not appeal his punishment. Keller did not respond to an emailed message for comment on the situation.

The Professional Standards Commission is a state agency charged with regulating teacher certification in Idaho. It also serves as an advisory board to the State Board of Education.

The PSC found Keller misrepresented “teacher of record” designations at Sage several times during the 2015-16 school year.

  • Keller hired a teacher to teach “environmental systems in society” even though that teacher was credentialed to teach math and science. Keller signed a report submitted to the state indicating a different teacher was instructing the environmental systems class.
  • Keller hired a noncertified individual to teach health and then listed a different teacher as the course’s teacher of record. The person listed as the teacher of record had an endorsement to teach health but did not actually teach the class.
  • Keller reported to the state that a teacher was responsible for Sage’s community theater elective course. But that teacher had nothing to do with the course and “no teacher from Sage participates” in the community theater elective, said the PSC.
  • Keller hired a noncertified individual to teach Spanish.

The PSC also found that Sage fell 100 hours short of the state’s minimum instructional hour requirements after Keller led the school to switch to a four-day week. After the change, Sage remained on a seven-hour daily schedule and did not add instructional time to compensate for the four-day schedule.

In state reporting documents, Keller improperly counted office hours and a zero-hour period as instructional time.

Keller told Idaho EdNews in 2015 he would choose an even shorter week if the state allowed. “If I had my wish, I’d go three days a week,” he said.

Finally, the PSC determined Keller used school funds to purchase alcohol. As a public charter school, Sage is funded with taxpayer dollars and has a zero-tolerance policy for the use of alcohol.

“On several instances, Mr. Keller used school funds to purchase alcohol and/or submitted receipts for reimbursement for funds spent on alcohol,” the PSC stated.

Before the state took disciplinary action, Keller was a fixture at the Statehouse during legislative sessions. He was an advocate for charter schools and frequently joined the Idaho Public Charter School Commission or other charter advocates to testify at hearings. According to his public LinkedIn profile, Keller served as a new school startup coordinator for Sage, served as a one of Sage’s founding board members and then became the school’s executive director.

Reached Thursday, Boise Superintendent Don Coberly said he was not aware of the PSC’s action against Keller.

Moore and Sage International School Executive Director Keith Donahue told Idaho EdNews the board has corrected all of the problems associated with Keller and is moving forward. Those steps included building instructional time back into the calendar and creating more robust reporting requirements to ensure the proper certified teachers are leading classes.

“We’re a stronger board and a stronger school as a result of having gone through this,” Moore said.

Last week, Idaho Education News reported that a hearing panel convened by the PSC ordered a written reprimand be placed in Rep. Ryan Kerby’s certification personnel file for violating state law, falsely reporting that all New Plymouth teachers received identical overall evaluation scores and not incorporating student growth into the evaluations, as Idaho law requires. The issue stems from teacher evaluation data submitted on official state reports in 2014-15, during Kerby’s final year as New Plymouth’s superintendent. Kerby has denied wrongdoing.

Also last week, Idaho EdNews reported that the PSC placed a written reprimand in the certification personnel file of retiring Sugar-Salem Superintendent Alan Dunn for instructing his staff to falsely report to the state that all of that district’s teachers received identical overall evaluation scores. At the time Dunn instructed his staff to submit the inaccurate report, he was president of the Idaho School Superintendents Association.

Further reading

Click here to read the PSC’s final order suspending Keller’s administrator’s certificate.

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