Delaware lawmaker: Prosecute former charter leaders

Nearly a year after its leaders and board were removed, the Family Foundations Academy charter school in New Castle County continues to cope with the fallout.

The latest round of heat follows the Wednesday release of a state auditor’s report detailing the scope of financial impropriety under the old regime.

On Thursday, state senator Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, called on Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn to prosecute the “former leadership” of the school, which has locations in New Castle and Wilmington.

“Charter schools are an important component to our education system,” said Lavelle in a statement. “Anyone who takes advantage of our taxpayers and students for personal gain should be held accountable.”

A spokesperson for Denn said the Office for Civil Rights and Public Trust has been looking into Family Foundations Academy “since the matter came to light.” No formal charges, however, have been filed.

Family Foundations first came under scrutiny last December when an independent forensic audit revealed that the school’s co-leaders, Sean Moore and Tennell Brewington, spent tens of thousands of dollars of school funds on personal items. Weeks later, Moore and Brewington were fired and the school’s entire board of directors resigned.

They were replaced by a team of board members and administrators from EastSide Charter, a much-praised school in Wilmington. The state placed Family Foundations on formal review, but ultimately renewed its charter due to the change in leadership.

Wednesday’s report from the office of the state auditor dives deeper into Family Foundation’s financial dysfunction under Moore and Brewington. In a strongly worded, 23-page report, the auditor’s office found the school “lacked any semblance of fiscal compliance or propriety.”

Between July 2011 and January 2015, Family Foundations leadership spent $141,000 on personal items, according to the report. Auditors couldn’t verify the purpose of another $1.2 million in expenditures. In a section outlining the “more egregious purchases,” the auditors claimed school leaders spent thousands on items such as tickets to a Michael Jackson Cirque de Soleil show, home decor, a personal laptop, and a home theater installed at former leader Sean Moore’s home.

Moore and Brewington agreed in a settlement with the school’s board to pay back $67,000 and $18,900 respectively. Neither had paid back even half those amounts by October 2015, according to the auditor.

Even when the school spent money on legitimate academic activities, those purchases were often careless said the auditor. The report, for instance, found the schools often accidentally purchased duplicate items due to poor record keeping. Family Foundations also spent more than $22,000 on a pair of graduation ceremonies, according to the auditors.

“It is unconscionable that any public entity, much less one charged with educating our children, would operate with such complete disregard for financial responsibility, accountability, and transparency,” the auditor’s report read.

The call for prosecution in this case is particularly notable since it comes from Lavelle, an enthusiastic charter supporter.

“I’m a tremendous supporter of charter schools,” Lavelle said. “I’m also a tremendous supporter of accountability.”

Lavelle is further concerned that Delaware does not prosecute aggressively enough when taxpayer money is misused.

“It’s an ongoing frustration with what I called public corruption cases,” said Lavelle. “There’s an audit. The auditor sends it to the attorney general and we never hear from it again.”

Lavelle said he would work with the attorney general to create new legislation if indeed there is no provision in the law that allows Denn to prosecute. Though he also added that such a scenario seemed unlikely.

“To me it seems like a pretty clear case of theft,” he said.

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