Utah college has no record it sold modulars to Idaho charter school administrator

BLACKFOOT — Salt Lake Community College has no documentation of modulars sold to Idaho charter school administrator Fred Ball, though Ball’s Blackfoot-based school reimbursed him $16,000 for their purchase.

Instead, the college sold at least one modular directly to Ball’s school for $2,000, according to checks and a contract obtained by Idaho Education News.

Ball is the head administrator at two East Idaho public charter schools, Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center. He told EdNews in December that a $22,099.37 check he received from Blackfoot in August 2017 was largely a reimbursement for two modular classrooms he purchased from the college for $16,000. He said he made that purchase sometime in 2014.

The college has no record of a purchase with Ball. Loren Sanford, the college’s receiving supervisor, said he spent hours looking for purchase documents tied to an EdNews public records request for purchases between Ball and the college. Sanford found nothing with Ball.

The college instead found a $2,000 contract with Bingham for the purchase of “a portable classroom.” The contract was signed by Ball on behalf of the school on Dec. 12, 2013.

“This is all we found,” said Lynn Miller, the college’s risk management coordinator. “We conducted a thorough search.”

When asked about the college’s findings, Ball told EdNews that he purchased two other units from the school. While these modulars were “not too expensive,” moving them was, Ball said. He recalled paying $6,000 to transport each of these other units to Idaho, but he provided no receipts or documentation to vouch for moving costs.

Ball has not produced a bill of sale to support his claim of purchasing modulars. On Jan. 9, EdNews made a public records request to Ball for bills of sale for modulars owned or leased by his schools. Instead, Ball sent EdNews a $16,000 “invoice” that has no purchase order or assigned number. Ball’s is the only signature on the document.

EdNews’ inquiries into the financial records at the schools — led by Ball — stem from an ongoing state investigation and tips from employees and a former Blackfoot board member.

In December, EdNews found multiple unexplained checks to Ball, including the $22,099.37 payout for “modulars and other expenses.” Ball said he resold two modulars he purchased from the college for the “spectacularly low price” of $16,000 or “what he had into them.”

In December 2013, Bingham Academy made two check payments to the college — a $2,000 check for “portables” and a $1,351 check for “student desks and tables” and “warehouse items.”

Both checks were signed by former Bingham business manager Patricia Kolbet and school board chair Greg Sigerson. Kolbet, who now works as a grant writer at the schools, said Friday that she would not answer questions “until after (she) talked to Fred.”

Past school board minutes show that at two meetings in 2014 trustees made motions to remove Sigerson from the board. He resigned and walked out of a meeting on Oct. 9, 2014. Sigerson has not responded to a request for comment.

EdNews attempted to review 2014 financial transactions at Bingham, but online reports go back only to 2016.

EdNews has found almost $39,000 in checks to Ball for a range of items he says he bought for the schools, ranging from modulars and a laptop to basketballs and a music stand. EdNews requested documents to support Ball’s reimbursements. So far, he has provided the following:

  • PDF explaining some of a $22,099.37 check. Instead of receipts, the documents include pictures of Ball’s bank and credit card statements and an estimate from Lowe’s home improvement store. Only Ball’s signature appears on the documents.
  • A PDF with documents he said justify a $7,235.92 payment he received from Blackfoot on Aug. 21, 2018. The PDF shows a range of Amazon purchases made by Ball, and another document with scribbles and penciled math. However, the receipts he provided fall short of $7,235.92 by about $4,000. This PDF also has two invoices to Blackfoot totaling $875 for use of a nearby community center and a $1,800 “plow truck,” which included neither an associated receipt nor a bill of sale.

The school’s business manager, Randy Ruger, also received a portion of payouts from Bingham from August 2017 to August 2018, including eight checks, each worth $939.07, all cashed on Aug. 21, 2018. Ball, who on that same day cashed a series of his own checks from the school, each worth $855.60, said the successive payments were payroll checks the men decided to hold for months before cashing in order to help the school weather the prospect of a “large number of upfront expenditures.”

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission is investigating allegations centered on the schools’ financial transparency.

Another business manager at the schools, Layne Miller, resigned amid the financial investigations by EdNews and the charter commission.

EdNews is still awaiting other requested public records from the charter schools, including expenditure reports that align with bank statements and explanations of checks and electronic transfers between the two schools.

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

Bingham Academy administrators and a school board member will conduct a question-and-answer session at the school at 7 p.m. Monday.

EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed information for 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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