Audit details financial impropriety at Delaware charter

    Leaders at Family Foundations Academy spent nearly $100,000 of school funds on personal expenses.

    The co-leaders of Family Foundations Academy, a Delaware-based charter school, used a school credit card to make hundreds of personal purchases over a nearly two-year period. They paid for most of it with money left over from a loan that was intended to finance two capital projects.

    That’s according to an independent forensic audit provided to the state earlier this month and released Monday to the public.

    The audit details the frequency with which Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington made large and lavish purchases using the card. Moore, for example, made 32 purchases of $500.00 or more during the 20-month period covered by the audit. They included a $2,500 car payment at Infiniti of West Chester, $1,491 on “fine watches” at Macy’s, and $3,224 for home furniture at Raymour and Flanigan, to name a few

    Brewington made eight such purchases, among them a $1,155 charge at a Northern Virginia spa.

    In all, Moore and Brewington charged more than $94,000 in personal expenses to the school card. Of that total, about $77,000 came from the unspent balance of a loan the school had taken out to pay for two capital projects.

    All that spending has landed the school in hot water with the state.

    Old charges, new details

    At a board of education meeting earlier this month, Delaware secretary of education Mark Murphy said the state could not yet renew the charter of Family Foundations Academy due to “potentially serious allegations of financial mismanagement.” The board instead extended its deadline to make a decision on the beleaguered school.

    At the time, a roughly 40-page audit of the schools finances had been made public. It included the total amount of money Moore and Brewington charged to the American Express card.

    But the state said it had received even more information about the extent of the financial mismanagement right before the board meeting and needed extra time to sift through details.

    Monday’s release provided those particulars, down to the cent.

    The audit, which was conducted by a private auditor and carried out at the behest of the school’s board, says the credit card in question “quickly became the instrument of choice for incurring non-school related expenditures by Mr. Moore and Dr. Brewington.”

    Moore did more spending of the two, racking up nearly $74,000 in expenses. Brewington, by comparison, spent just over $23,000. The audit ordered Brewington and Moore to pay back money they had charged to the American Express card.

    Brewington is currently on a 90-day personal leave. At a school board meeting last week, teachers and parents questioned why Brewington, and not Moore, had taken a leave.

    The school’s board explained that the audit dated back to the spring, and that new internal regulations had been put in place since. Multiple board members indicated that Brewington had violated those new rules, but none would indicate how.

    “We have to choose teams”

    Comments at the school’s board meeting in December also suggested of a serious rift  developing at the eight-year-old charter school, which has campuses in New Castle and Wilmington.

    Multiple teachers and parents said they saw pro-Moore and pro-Brewington camps forming within the schol, and indicated that they felt compelled to pick sides. 

    “We have to choose teams,” said Surell Holley, a sixth-grade teacher. “When’s it going to stop?”

    Director of Technology Chris Cooke described a climate of paranoia so stifling that he can’t roam the school’s hallways for fears that he’ll be accused of spreading rumors.

    “I’m afraid to leave my room,” Cooke said.

    Others, however, said that the money troubles, while worrisome, shouldn’t cause the school to close. They pointed to the school’s academics as evidence that Moore and Brewington had built a strong learning environment, despite their alleged financial indiscretions.

    Prior to the audit’s release, the state’s Charter School Accountability Committee recommended that Family Foundations Academy’s charter be rewnewed. In its review, the committee said Family Foundations met, but did not exceed, academic standards.

    Deadline approaching

    In a statement Tuesday, the department of education said it will make a final decision on Family Foundations Academy during its January 15 State Board meeting. That’s one day after the choice enrollment deadline for Delaware students.

    Department of education spokesperson Alison May said the choice enrollment deadline law allows “exceptions for good cause,” and that Family Foundations’ 825 students would receive extra time to pick a new school in the event that the state decides to close Family Foundations.

    Meanwhile, the state auditor’s office is conducting its own inquiry into Family Foundations Academy. There is no timeline for the completion and release of that report.

    Newsworks reached out to Family Foundations Academy for comment Monday night, but has not yet heard back.

    Check back for updates and reaction.

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