Inspector General Investigating President's Salary, Transcripts

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 20, 2006

The D.C. Inspector General's office is investigating a Northeast Washington charter school's decision to pay a $100,000 salary to a board member who served as school president and allegations that the principal attempted to alter transcripts to improve the school's overall grade-point average, an official said yesterday.

Deputy Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said his office has launched a probe of New School for Enterprise and Development, which the D.C. Public Charter School Board is closing June 30 for failing to meet a range of academic goals and to submit timely financial audits. Over its six years of existence, the 441-student school has operated on about $30 million of city money. All public charter schools receive city funds based on enrollment.

"I can confirm there is an investigation underway," Andersen said.

The inspector general's inquiry is the second investigation of the entrepreneurial high school's fiscal and academic operations. The charter board has a team poring through the school's transcripts and has stationed one of its staff members there to monitor instruction.

Charter board officials said they are especially interested in the New School's payment arrangement with school President Charles Tate. They said it is unusual, though not illegal, for a trustee to work as an administrator at a charter school and to receive pay.

They especially are interested in a contract the board of trustees signed with Tate that promises him $500,500 for the time he spent establishing the school and working on its behalf before he began receiving a $100,000 annual salary last year. An audit of the school, prepared by an outside accounting firm and turned over to the charter board last month, questioned the arrangement. The audit, however, said that the trustees have not yet approved any payments.

Thomas Nida, chairman of the charter board, said that in light of the school's financial troubles -- the principal laid off six workers, citing a $100,000 shortfall -- he wants to ensure that trustees are not allowed to pay Tate the $500,500. Nida, blaming the school's problems on the trustees, said he will seek legislation to give his board and the D.C. Board of Education, the second chartering agency, authority to remove board members at charter schools for "justifiable circumstances."

"We're going to look very carefully to see if they make the payments, particularly if this payment takes priority over other payments in the school," Nida said. "We have the revocation hammer, but sometimes that doesn't address the real situation."

Albert "Butch" Hopkins Jr., chairman of the New School's board of trustees, defended Tate's salary and contract. Though the school has been unable to cover the back pay because it has been short of funds, Hopkins said trustees intend to make good on the contract.

"There were a number of years Mr. Tate worked for the school and was not compensated," Hopkins said. "Whatever final obligations we have, we'll live up to them."

He said that until now, the charter board has never questioned why Tate was serving on the board and getting paid to run the school.

"If they had told us [this was wrong], we would have taken him off the board," Hopkins said.

Meanwhile, Nida said that during yesterday's visit, the team began looking through transcripts. He said the team's initial impression was that some of the transcripts were not current. And in her monitoring of teachers, Jacqueline Scott-English, the board's school support team leader, observed that some teachers were not instructing students, Nida said. Scott-English, who initially was planning a one- or two-day visit, will remain at the school indefinitely, he said.

"A teacher seemed to be on a cellphone talking when Jackie got in, and when she saw her, she quickly got off the phone," Nida said, adding that students were not doing any work. "We're going to be present as long as we need to be to encourage the right behavior."

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