Overpayments and Ethics Issues in Charter School Audit

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Columbus – Possible ethics violations, an overpayment to an employee and fiscal issues plague the Value Learning and Teaching Academy (Hamilton County), according to the 2011 audit released today by Auditor of State Dave Yost.   Findings for recovery total $3,333.

“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take special care and spend them wisely,” Auditor Yost said.  “This school appears to have management issues that must be addressed quickly.”

Keenan Cooke, the academy’s information technology director, had a board-approved salary of $55,000 for the period of September 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.  Cooke was paid $2,916.66 biweekly during the period, resulting in a salary amount of $58,333.  There was no evidence of board approval of the $3,333 overpayment and no indication that the overpayment was for proper public purpose.  A finding for recovery in this amount was issued against Cooke, with Fiscal Officer Judy McConnell held jointly and severally liable.

The academy approved a $249,000 bid for janitorial services that was the highest of all bids submitted, even though the school indicated in the minutes that, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist.”  Other bids ranged from $82,200 to $135,600.  The vendor’s owner also was an employee of the academy.  This decision could lead to the district unnecessarily spending money, as well as violating Ohio ethics laws.  The audit recommends the academy consult with their legal counsel to review requirements in the Ohio Revised Code.  This matter is being referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

In addition, Echole Harris, the daughter of Superintendent Valerie Lee, was paid $85,000 for the 2010-2011 school year, as well as $17,000 for a summer contract to provide services as the EMIS Coordinator/HS Compliancy Director.  Lee signed the summer contract and the academy failed to disclose the contract in the financial statements.  Due to the possible conflict of interest, this matter is being referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

As of June 30, 2011, the academy had a net asset deficiency of $412,754.  According to management, the academy will begin to implement cost-cutting measures, as well as revenue generating measures.
A full copy of this audit may be found online.


The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,600 state and local government agencies.  Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.

Carrie Bartunek
Press Secretary