OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — A new audit shows there are questions about hundreds of thousands of dollars owed by a now defuncted school 9 Investigates has been following for almost a year.
The Osceola County School Board had an audit done on American Classical Charter Academy after they voted to shut it down over the summer. 9 Investigates has been following the financial issues that lead to the closure.
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Last April, the school board voted to close American Classical Charter Academy, leaving hundreds of parents trying to find a new school over the summer. The district said there were safety violations and financial trouble that left the board no option. The superintendent, Debra Pace, told the board, “the deteriorating financial conditions are reaching the point of financial emergency.”
On July 29, 2022, after the failed appeal, the school’s doors shut for good and that final audit began. Auditors in an audit report said documentation for thousands of dollars in expenses are missing, and reimbursements for things like a hotel stay for the principal and $2,100 for staff Christmas presents are in question since there is no paperwork to back up those expenditures.
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Auditors said access to the school’s bank account has not been turned over. So they don’t know if the $115,000 in the account at closing time is still there or not. But what the district does know from those documents is that $422,000 wasn’t paid out to vendors. Auditors also raised questions about former business manager Mark Gotz
The auditors wrote, “There were twenty-four (24) personal reimbursement transactions totaling $27,739.29 during the 2021- 2022 fiscal year. It is unusual for reimbursements to be paid directly to an individual who is a contracted vendor for the School.” Adding, “It is unclear the role that Mark Gotz held because he was listed as a contracted vendor but also received direct reimbursement checks.”
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But Gotz told 9 Investigates by email that as a vendor, his company was the business manager and expenses were paid through an accounting vendor and he had no access to the checkbook.
Gotz said he just got a copy of the audit and was reviewing it. He said that the school was an “F” school before they took over and when it closed, it was one point short of being an “A” school. He added that it was in the top-10 schools the county.
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But the school’s issues have organizations and some parents calling for more accountability at charter schools across the state.
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University commissioned studies on charter schools. Professor Kenneth Wong has studied these schools for years and says there is a desperate need for oversite.
“Charter schools enter into a lot of contracts and so the question is, are there ongoing conflicts of interest in signing these contracts? they need to be transparent,” Wong said.
The district will not have to pay those vendors who are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it says left over cash in that checking account, if there is any, should be given to the district.
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