THE DISTRICT'S Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation to determine why a North Philadelphia charter school operator paid thousands of dollars to a contractor to paint a school, where maintenance workers claim they did the work.

The probe follows a Daily News article published Friday in which current and former employees at Olney Charter High questioned $163,365 in payments that ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania made to Lyon Contracting to paint the school in 2011.

The employees who recently learned of the payments maintain that school janitors and building maintenance workers performed the work.

On Monday, Inspector General John Downs hand-delivered a letter to Olney requesting "receipts, bills, invoices, [and] contracts in reference to Lyon Contracting."

The district's Charter School Office also "raised the issue of the painting contracts with ASPIRA," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The office is "requesting more information about the painting contracts to be able to review [them] and the work performed,"Gallard said.

Meanwhile, school district auditors on Monday visited ASPIRA headquarters and left with documents and flash drives, sources told the Daily News.

The district's Charter School Office had sent a letter to ASPIRA CEO Alfredo Calderon in July raising concerns over some of the nonprofit's financial practices. The concerns included ASPIRA's lending and borrowing money between schools, which is not allowed.

To date, the district has not received a written response from ASPIRA, but there is communication, Gallard said.

"We are in conversations with [ASPIRA] through their attorney," he said. "They are promising that they will be collaborating on this issue."

ASPIRA did not return calls for comment regarding the allegations in the Daily News story, but a release posted on its Facebook page on Friday read: "Within the past year and one-half, ASPIRA and ASPIRA schools have had 26 financial audits/inquiries completed or begun for our various schools and programs at the local, state and federal levels.

"No instances of fiscal mismanagement have been found, reported, or disseminated by the various regulatory bodies and audit firms that have performed these audits/inquires," it read.

The release did not address the painting contracts and employee assertions that they painted Olney High.

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