GACS Board of Trustees decries financial “misconceptions”

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Superintendent Jon Fernandez recommended the Charter School Council begin reviewing the basis and procedures for placing a charter school under probation.

Guam – The Charter School Council scheduled a work session today to discuss Guahan Academy Charter School’s response to a revealing risk assessment detailing questionable finance practices.

Only, that’s not what occurred.

Council Chairwoman Amanda Blas gave GACS until November 6 to respond to the $428K in invalidated invoices and other discrepancies discussed in the risk assessment. But as of the close of business yesterday, no correspondence was received.

“We have requested a response from Guahan Academy Charter School to the DOE risk assessment; by November 6 nothing was received. We also sent a follow up email yesterday afternoon for a written response. Nothing was received as of close of business,” announced Blas at today’s work session.

But GACS Chairwoman Fe Ovalles interjected.

“We have been providing all the major issues in this risk assessment copied to the legislature, to the council, and to even the media. So, why are we still looking into that?” quipped Ovalles. “It doesn’t look good for GACS to look like we’re not submitting any answer to this assessment.”

She contended that the Board of Trustees provided a response to the accreditation committee, the Guam Legislature, and even the Guam Mayors Council. At that point, however, the conversation took a turn.

“Let me just bring up the Mayors Council right now,” retorted Blas. “My concern is I found out from the media reports that somebody from your school went to the Mayors Council first. I don’t understand why somebody from the school didn’t reach out to us first. Instead, I see it on the media and this is not a whole ‘us versus the charter school’ thing. That is not the intention.”

“Seems to be!” quipped GACS Board Consultant Marilyn Manibusan.

But Ovalles continued, blaming the media and the Internal Audit Office’s Chief Auditor Franklin Cooper-Nurse for misreporting –to which, Cooper-Nurse responded.

“To date, there’s only 1% remaining to be covered from the last reported period. So, the risk is that you have a prescribed budget and you have expenditures that have been submitted for drawdown that exceeds the prescribed drawdown,” he explained.

A letter was eventually supplied to the Council asking for a rescheduled work session for a later a time for GACS and the Council to “privately present rebuttals to what GACS feels is an error-filled document.”

The document in question is the risk assessment. The IAO determined that 16 expenditures remained invalidated. The invoices amount to a staggering $428K. One of those invoices includes a nearly $11K board retreat to the Dusit Thani.

Cooper-Nurse told PNC in a separate interview that the expenditures have yet to be validated.

“I know that they provided documentation, but we haven’t validated that to see what other documentation is necessary,” the chief auditor explained.

As the side commentary continued, the tension in the work session grew. Ultimately, Council Chairwoman Blas commanded the group back to attention.

“Ok this is what we’re going to do!” commanded Blas. “There will be no more yelling at each other.  I am not tolerating that at this work session.  We are going to review the two letters. There will be no other comments while we are reviewing this letter. [The Council] will give you a chance to respond,” Blas stated.

One of the letters came from Superintendent Jon Fernandez. In the letter to the Council Chairwoman, Fernandez recommended that the Council begin reviewing local law which sets for the basis and procedures for placing a charter school under probation.

“This may be a better method through which the Council can seek answers from GACS regarding concerns about its financial management, compliance with applicable laws, and its economic viability,” Fernandez wrote.

To accommodate GACS, the council is calling for an additional work session at the end of the month.