Charter commission flags finances at four schools

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission put four of its schools on notice over their finances during a Thursday meeting, including one under investigation for its use of taxpayer dollars.

The seven-member commission voted unanimously to issue “notifications of fiscal concern” for Monticello Montessori Charter, Peace Valley Charter, Bingham Academy and The Village Charter.

The notifications aren’t punitive per se, but they do provide a thin layer of protection to taxpayers if a school closes midyear. State payments to public schools, including charters, are typically front-loaded toward the beginning of the school year. The commission’s financial notices spread payments throughout the year in order to avoid a potential loss of larger state allocations.

Monticello’s notification is a first for the school, which has come under fire over questionable financial practices in recent months. Notifications for Bingham Academy, Peace Valley and The Village are continuations of prior notifications.

Here’s a closer look at each school’s situation:

Monticello Montessori. Concerns at this Ammon-based charter revolve around cashflow and its ability to make payroll in recent months, commission director Jenn Thompson told commissioners.

Commission staff is still gaining a full picture of Monticello’ situation, Thompson said, noting her office’s planned visit to the school later this month.

The commission’s months-long investigation into Monticello’s finances includes questions over some $11,500 in unexplained payments and purchases at the school. It also coincides with a recent decision by the school’s governing board to drop its head administrator, Erica Kemery. Ken Glodo, the school’s former board chair, abruptly resigned last week after solely opposing Kemery’s ouster.

Neither Kemery nor Glodo have answered multiple questions from Idaho EdNews about issues at Monticello, including a range of unexplained credit card purchases.

Monticello board member Drew Hosford told commissioners Tuesday that he and other current trustees received “misguided information” from Kemery regarding the school’s financial situation, and that news of the commission’s investigation “came as a complete surprise to board members.”

Kemery’s contract with the school expires June 30.

Peace Valley. Thompson noted current school leaders’ progress “cleaning up” issues they “inherited” from a group that opened the school in recent years.

Still, she flagged the school’s use of federal dollars and called its current financial situation a “risk” to taxpayer dollars.

Peace Valley leaders in attendance acknowledged lingering issues at the school, but asked commissioners not to follow Thompson’s recommendation to keep a notification of fiscal concern in place, noting its impact on cashflow and the school’s ability to obtain a favorable bond rating for future facilities projects.

Commissioners voted unanimously to keep the Boise-based school’s notification in place for another year.

The Village. Representatives from this Boise-based school highlighted leadership changes and improvements since an independent 2019 review found “incompetent” financial management practices had put it at serious risk of closure.

The school, which Thompson said has come a “very long way,” didn’t ask commissioners to lift a notification of fiscal concern from last year but highlighted a range of changes, including new leadership, put in place over the last year.

Bingham Academy. Another school entangled in a commission investigation in recent years, this Blackfoot charter school has also made a range of improvements, by Thompson’s measure.

With no representatives from the school at Thursday’s meeting, trustees voted to renew the school’s notice of fiscal concern without discussion.

Other decisions from Thursday’s meeting

Commissioners gave both Peace Valley and Cardinal Academy charter schools the green light to continue operating, despite their failure to meet some conditions set forth by the commission in prior years.

Peace Valley agreed to complete a non-mandatory accreditation when the commission approved its charter petition over two years ago. School leaders pointed to complications stemming from COVID-19 and asked for more flexibility.

Commissioners granted the request with little discussion. “Keep moving,” commission chair Alan Reed told Peace Valley leaders.

Cardinal Academy’s issue revolved around a lack of students. The school for pregnant and parenting teens has just 34 students, despite a target to serve at least 50.

Commissioners unanimously granted the school’s request to continue operations, with Reed pointing a need for the school in the Treasure Valley.

The commission also made an unusual move to deny a new charter position Thursday. Kootenai Classical Academy will have to wait 90 days to reapply for the go-ahead to open its doors or file appeals with the State Department of Education and State Board of Education. Commissioners denied the school’s current request following its failure to meet all of the commission’s petition requirements.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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