Hundreds of students rally Thursday, September 10, 2015, at Summit Sierra public charter school in Seattle's International District. Charter school students, parents and staff rallied to support the schools and to call for Governor Jay Inlsee and the legislature to show their support after the State Supreme Court ruled state funding of the schools to be unconstitutional. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)

Hundreds of students rally Thursday, September 10, 2015, at Summit Sierra public charter school in Seattle's International District. Charter school students, parents and staff rallied to support the schools and to call for Governor Jay Inlsee and the legislature to show their support after the State Supreme Court ruled state funding of the schools to be unconstitutional. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)

More problems found at state’s first charter

SEATTLE — The state auditor has found sloppy bookkeeping, cash flow problems and a host of other issues at Washington’s first charter school.

The report comes on the same day that the Washington Supreme Court said it will allow more time to file a motion asking the justices to reconsider or clarify their recent ruling that the voter-approved law allowing charter schools in the state is unconstitutional.

In the report issued Monday, the auditor says First Place Scholars needs to do a much better job of following state laws and tracking how taxpayer dollars are spent. The audit was requested by the charter commission, which has been tracking problems at the school since it opened its doors in fall 2014.

The audit is just the latest in a series of challenges for charter schools in Washington state.

Acting State Auditor Jan Jutte says most of the problems at First Place were related to inexperience in following state laws. But some were deeper financial problems.

Jutte characterized the problems as sloppiness, but said they were not unusual for a startup organization.

Among the problems identified included:

• Teachers without proper certification at the beginning of the school year.

• Less enrollment than expected, resulting in an overpayment by the state to the school of more than $200,000. The state distributes money based on estimated enrollment, but other issues added to the overpayment, the audit found.

• Inadequate record keeping on revenues and expenditures.

• Confusion over what money was spent by the school and what was spent by the nonprofit that supports the school and whether the charter school used public dollars for nonprofit expenses.

• The charter board did not comply with the Open Public Meetings Act.

• Cash flow problems that left the school in danger of not having enough money to cover its payroll at one point.

Cheryl Thresher, the schools program auditor manager, saw evidence that the school didn’t understand some state rules.

“They weren’t aware of some of the responsibilities that went with receiving public funding,” Thresher said.

School leader Linda Whitehead, who took over just before the audit, agreed that the crux of the problem was the transition from a private to a public school.

“Moving forward, we have remedies in place. We have policies and procedures in practice, wrapped around the policies of (the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction),” Whitehead said.

Eight more charter schools opened their doors this fall. Jutte said the lessons learned by First Place could help the other schools.

The audit was completed before the Washington Supreme Court decided on Sept. 4 the voter-approved charter school law is unconstitutional.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said more than a week ago that his office will ask the court to reconsider its ruling. Spokesman Peter Lavallee said they expect to file the motion by Thursday.

The high court’s opinion was set to take effect later this month, but will be put on hold until the court rules on the state’s request for reconsideration. There is no timeline on when the court may rule on the request.

The new deadline for filing a request for reconsideration of the ruling is Oct. 23. The original deadline was this week.

Since Jan. 1, 2000, the Supreme Court has received 545 motions for reconsideration following opinions issued by the court. Of those request, 23 motions were granted or granted in part, according to the court’s communications office.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Bus drivers picket outside the bus barn in Wasilla, Alaska on Jan. 26, 2023. Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district have gone on strike after delivering students to classes on Tuesday,  Jan. 31, citing unfair labor practices. (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News)
Mat-Su school bus drivers strike

ANCHORAGE — Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district went on strike… Continue reading

The Juneau School District’s recently announced its new directors of teaching and learning support and student services who are set to start in their positions in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
District selects new directors for teaching and learning support and student services

The new directors will take over their roles in the district in July.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The final Boeing 747 lands at Paine Field following a test flight, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Everett, Wash. Boeing bids farewell to an icon on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, when it delivers the jumbo jet to cargo carrier Atlas Air. Since it debuted in 1969, the 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft, but it has been rendered obsolete by more profitable and fuel-efficient models. (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)
Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

SEATTLE — Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday: It’s delivering… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Carla Casulucan, shareholder relations manager for Huna Totem Corp., gives public testimony Monday night in support of the Huna Totem development and urged the city to vote against an ordinance that would have allowed the city to spend $300,000 to help plan the location of a proposed cruise ship dock at the downtown subport. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
City decides against spending on cruise ship dock planning

Assembly votes down ordinance after more than a dozen public comments against it.

Most Read