City Controller Alan Butkovitz yesterday blasted the Philadelphia School District's Charter School Office for failing "to monitor charter schools," which spend millions in taxpayers' dollars.
Butkovitz released a scathing report citing financial mismanagement, excessive executive salaries and "opportunities for possible fraud" at 13 charter schools his office investigated over the last 14 months.
"Many charter schools, through leasing agreements and associated nonprofits, are transferring taxpayer-funded assets to nonprofits that are not accountable to the school district," the report said in one of its key findings.
Butkovitz called for changes in the state's charter-school laws to bolster oversight of the schools. He is set to discuss his findings at a state Senate Education Committee hearing at Widener University today.
He said the school district spends more than $350 million in public funds on the 67 charters schools in the city.
Yet, Butkovitz said, "The [Charter School] Office demanded little in the way of accountability from any charter school we investigated. We found minimal oversight at best . . . ."
"These are not private schools," he said. "Millions of dollars in taxpayers' money are being used, and the spending is being unchecked."
Benjamin Rayer, the district's chief of charter and new schools, said that in the 14 months since he was named to head the office, the staff has been increased from three to seven employees.
"We are improving . . . and we want to get better," Rayer said. "When we find alleged fraud or criminal activity, we refer it to the district's Inspector General's Office."
As an example of the excessive pay for charter-school honchos, the report singled out the chief executive at Community Academy Charter School, Joseph Proietta, who made $164,535 in 2008.
The district's assistant superintendents make from $113,000 to $137,000, the report said.
And cited as a glaring example of questionable leasing arrangements was that of Math, Civics and Sciences Charter, at Broad and Spring Garden streets.
The school, founded by its chief executive, Veronica Joyner, rents its facilities from Parents United for Better Schools, a nonprofit also founded by Joyner.
"Veronica Joyner signs the [lease] document as both the landlord [Parents United] and the tenant [Math, Civics and Sciences] - hardly an 'arms' length transaction,' " the report said.
IRS records show that Parents United saw its total assets grow "from zero at the end of 2001 to over $3.8 million at the end of 2008." Net assets grew from zero in 2001 to $1.18 million, the report said.
Lisa A. Mathewson, a lawyer for Joyner, said she had not read the report and declined to comment.
Proietta could not be reached last night.
The report included details about Rhonda Sharif, an accountant who was paid more than $700,561 over four years by three charter schools. A recent state law prohibits charter-school employees from getting salaries from more than one charter.
Sharif managed the finances at Math, Civics and Science, at Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, in West Philadelphia, and at the Kephera Charter School in West Mount Airy.
The report did not include information on three of the schools, at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The other charters mentioned in the report are:
Franklin Towne High, Multi-Cultural Academy, Imani Education Circle, People for People, New Foundations, and Preparatory Charter School of Math Science Technology & Careers.
For the full report, go to www.philadelphiacontroller.org.