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Stirnger releases audit of Springfield Gardens charter

By Patrick Donachie

A Springfield Gardens charter school did a poor job of overseeing its financial affairs, according to an audit conducted by the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer.

In the report, Stringer’s office asserts that Merrick Academy Queens Public Charter School, which serves children from grades K-5, changed the management agreement it shared with Victory Schools, Inc., a private company tasked with assisting to operate the school. Subsequently, there was “inadequate documentation to establish that payments of $1.2 million to Victory were necessary, appropriate, valid and reasonable,” the report said.

Merrick also did not consistently use contracts or purchase orders, ensure that payments to vendors were authorized or fulfill the requirements for employees’ criminal background checks as stipulated in New York State Education Law, according to the report.

The audit covered fiscal years 2013 and 2014, stretching from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014. Merrick enrolled approximately 500 students in each year. The school hired Victory to assist in managing the school, and paid Victory $2,739 per enrolled student, totaling about $1.3 million per year.

Stringer’s office found no evidence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing, but offered 17 separate recommendations for the school to improve its documentation practices. The comptroller said Merrick should ensure that changes to its management contract with Victory be formally documented and should ensure that the school’s board of trustees review and vote on all significant matters to the school.

Stringer’s office was in contact with Merrick during and after the audit. On May 3, Stringer’s office submitted a draft of the audit to the school and received a 10-page written response May 17, including an assessment of each of the 17 recommendations Stringer made.

“The school acknowledges that there may be gaps in parts of its records and thanks the comptroller for identifying them. Unfortunately, too often in its draft report the comptroller seems to presume that missing paperwork constitutes inaction or misdeeds,” Merrick’s response stated. “The school itself identified and has already addressed many of the issues raised by the comptroller and will continue to take steps to bolster its administrative functioning.”

In addition to the Merrick audit, Stringer’s office simultaneously released an audit report alleging instances of financial mismanagement at Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

The reports are two of a series of four audits scrutinizing charters. Springer released an audit of South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts several months ago and has yet to release an audit report of Success Academy, a famous and controversial charter organization whose Chief Executive Officer Eva Moskowitz is an often-fierce critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The full report and Merrick’s response can be found at Stringer’s website at www.comptroller.nyc.gov.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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