Banfield: EPIC Officials Confident School Will Continue To Serve Students ‘For Years To Come’

by Haleigh Freeman

Editor’s Note: The EPIC News Network is a journalism program sponsored by EPIC Charter Schools.

In the wake of an audit accusing EPIC Charter Schools of mismanaging state funds, many parents, students and teachers have expressed concerns about the future of their school.

The school’s superintendent, Bart Banfield, said the law was on the school’s side.

“I am confident EPIC will be continuing through this school year based on the timeline of the due process we are afforded by law,” Banfield said. “We also know the facts and law are on our side.”

Banfield’s comments came after the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to begin the process to terminate EPIC’s authorization to operate a school and after the State School Board approved an effort to collect more than $11 million from EPIC as punishment for what the audit called was the school’s overspending on administration.

“At present, there is no threat to our operations in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties,” Banfield said. “Further, we are confident that we will prevail in the SVCSB process and continue to serve students statewide for years to come.”

Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd released part one of her official state audit report on EPIC on October 1.  The audit was in response to a request by Governor Kevin Stitt to look into EPIC’s past three audits.

Since the report’s release, EPIC has been the target of much criticism from state officials, parents and other members of the education community.

The audit recounted the spending of $2.8 million on advertising and promotional mall playgrounds. In her statement’s to the media, Byrd questioned the amount and provided how many meals or computers that amount of money could have purchased for underprivileged students.

However, the audit said there was no law against public schools advertising.

“Public organizations do it all the time and EPIC’s percentage of advertising is low compared to some other publicly funded organizations, such as universities,” Banfield said. Banfield said the decision to purchase advertisements was in response to a “coordinated attack on our school by those who oppose public school choice.” The advertising, according to Banfield, was a way to counter the negative media attention which had hindered the school’s ability to hire instructional staff.

Other accusations in the audit included the school’s spending on administration. State law caps public schools to spending 5 percent of their budget on administration positions. The auditor said EPIC used the wrong codes on employees to avoid the fines associated with going over that cap. 

However, the State Department of Education approves EPIC’s coding every year.  The audit said the SDE should not have accepted the codes and should seek millions of dollars from the school for past fines.

Banfield said the report omitted much of the information provided by the school in response to the findings. Typically, a state audit report will include the auditor’s findings and concerns, as well as the subject party’s responses to said concerns and a plan of action. 

The report released by Byrd did not include that information, he said.

EPIC released a response to the final report on their website. “Our response delineates finding by finding both where we disagree with the report and also where we agree with the state auditor,” Banfield said.

The audit also criticized the EPIC School Board for its lack of oversight and approval of expenses by Epic Youth Services, the private management company contracted by the school. The school board met in October to adopt new financial controls that address some of the auditor’s concerns.

“We are working cooperatively with all of our state agencies and look forward to resolving any dispute so we can focus on educating the 60,000 students currently enrolled at EPIC Charter Schools and our more than 2,100 staff,” Banfield said.

Banfield said he understands the concerns of students, families and staff who rely on EPIC for their education and employment.

“We are working diligently behind the scenes to resolve any issues arising from the state auditor’s final report and are confident we will prevail in the end. I know our families and staff are counting on us to set the record straight and also to improve where we can. We will not let them down.”

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