Sunday, June 30, 2002

The principal of a charter school that was shut down recently for financial mismanagement awarded $60,000 in bonuses to himself, his wife and other staff members, and tried to hold student report cards hostage to avoid prosecution, according to D.C. school officials.
Simon King, the principal of Techworld Public Charter School, had instructed the school’s financial manager to give him a $20,000 bonus and $5,000 each to eight other employees, a D.C. school board member and others sources told The Washington Times.
School officials also tried to auction off the school’s furniture and other equipment, according to an official with the D.C. school board, but the board was tipped off in time to prevent the auction from taking place.
The school board official, who declined to be identified, said Mr. King’s wife, Carolyn Jackson King, changed the password to the computer files that contained the grades of Techworld’s students and offered to exchange the secret code for a promise from the school’s board of trustees that her husband would not be prosecuted.
Techworld’s Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Thomas Kelly said the student records were retrieved, without making any such deal, “through an expensive and lengthy process.”
He said some of the money awarded in bonuses has also been recovered.
The District’s school board, which also has chartering authority, will refer the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District, officials said. Meanwhile, Techworld’s board of trustees is conducting a further investigation into the bonuses, and all other past irregularities including the attempted auction.
D.C. school board members said charter schools that are closed must return their material to be distributed to other charter schools.
“This is public school property. Every school in the system, regardless of government structure, is a public school. All the money, computers and furniture should revert to other charter schools or regular public schools,” said board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.
The Charter School Board said the school could have auctioned the furniture only if it had debts, but that was not the case with Techworld. “They didn’t need to auction it to cover any kind of liability,” a school board official said.
The school board closed Techworld earlier this month, after it had been put on probation several times for financial irregularities.
Techworld has had a financially troubled history, starting soon after 1998 when it opened its doors as a high school with a rigorous academic and technology program. The school was put on probation several times by the District’s school board for poor accounting principles and other financial irregularities.
The school also came under fire for overreporting its enrollment this past academic year.
On Friday, the school, located on the second floor of Waterside Mall in Southwest, was bare except for a few scattered pieces of furniture.
An employee who did not want to be named said she had heard “rumors” about the bonuses but had not been among those who received money.
The husband of a Techworld teacher said his wife had received a bonus this year a reward for being named Teacher of the Year but the money, which had been electrically deposited into their personal checking account, was electronically withdrawn a few weeks ago by the school’s board of trustees.
“No one notified her at all. They took it right out of the account,” he said.
All furniture has been removed from the school and redistributed to other charter schools, the unnamed school board official said.
Mr. King walked out of a board of trustees meeting last week when he was asked for payroll imformation and has not returned since, officials said.
Mr. Kelly, who notified the school board about the bonuses and other irregularities, said he was “shocked” with what had happened. “I wouldn’t expect this of anyone,” he said.
Mr. King could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
Officials at Friends Of Choice in Urban schools (FOCUS), a D.C.-based pro-charter group, said there was a “gray area” right now about who owned the Techworld’s furniture and supplies the public school system or the city government.
“The funds that go to charter schools don’t come from the school system. Each charter school is a nonprofit that gets its money from the city government,” said Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS. “Once Techworld pays its bills and closes off, the remaining money should revert to the government.”

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