According to The Washington Post, D.C. authorities filed a lawsuit Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court in which former senior managers and the board chairwoman of D.C.-based Options Public Charter School (OPCS) are accused of diverting millions of taxpayer dollars intended to fund student programs.
The lawsuit claims that improper payments of more than $3 million were made since 2012. The filing alleges a “pattern of self-dealing” in which large payments were made to for-profit companies that OPCS managers founded while running the charter school. The OPCS enrolls about 400 at-risk students in middle and high school, many of whom have disabilities, for which the charter school receives thousands of dollars in extra taxpayer-based payments because they have special needs. The OPCS board chairwoman is D.C.-based WUSA9 news personality J.C. Hayward.
“The alleged charges surrounding this local issue should spark national attention and concern,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association. “While charter schools authorized by local boards of education assure the public of transparency and accountability, those solely in the for-profit sector without the oversight of a public school board offer a degree of risk that does not effectively serve the public interest. Strong local governance protects students’ interests. If these allegations are proven true, it is yet another case in point that local school boards are what best serve the public good.”
According to the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), Options Public Charter School opened in 1996 as one of D.C.’s first five charter schools. While the initial charter was issued by the D.C. Board of Education, oversight for the past six years (including the period during which the abuses are alleged to have occurred) has been the responsibility of PCSB, an appointed board with no direct accountability to the public.
NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. noted that any misuse of public funds would ultimately hurt students and the public schools that serve D.C. families.
“The diversion of tax dollars from traditional public schools into charter schools lacking the oversight of a public school board serves neither students nor taxpayers,” said Negrón. “Diverting scarce monies into such programs limits the ability of traditional public schools to carry out their mission to educate all children.”