More than $266,000 in public funds are unaccounted for in an audit of a now-defunct Cleveland, Ohio charter school. The findings for recovery have been handed over to the county prosecutor.
In an audit by the Ohio Auditor of State, The Weems School was found to be lacking in documentation to support its expenditures for the three years prior to its closing. No records of students or teachers combined with little documentation led to the combined total of almost $2.8 million in findings for recovery, questioned costs and unsubstantiated payments from 2007 to 2009.
The Ohio Department of Education closed the Weems School in 2009 amid financial woes and other non-compliance issues. The school was founded by superintendent Ruby Weems, who now works for the Cleveland district. The audit holds Weems and her sister Rory accountable for the undocumented spending.
"This is a heck of a mess," Auditor of State Dave Yost said in a statement. "Closed or not, the leadership of this school must be held responsible, and the money must be returned to the people of Ohio."
According to the auditor's office, the school issued a number of checks made payable to "cash" without supporting documentation, and check numbers and names of recipients could not be found for wire transfers and cash withdrawals.
The Weems School also failed to keep records of indicators that the state foundation uses to determine funding, such as student attendance, hours the school was in session and enrollment documents.
Weems appeared not to know about the claims until The Plain Dealer informed her, to which she responded, "Oh my, that's horrible."
"I know it looks bad because there's no evidence of receipts, but they were there when the building closed," she told The Plain Dealer.
But J. Leonard Harding, executive director of Weems sponsor Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio, said he tried for years to acquire documentation from the school, and no records were available when the school was shuttered.
The audit in Ohio isn't unique. Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump in August called for sweeping reform of oversight and financial accountability for the state's 30 special agencies, after her office found that several of the collaboratives had misused millions of public dollars.
An audit of the agencies, which provide educational tools and services for special needs students to 32 school districts across the state, found patterns of lavish spending and salaries, conflicts of interest and overall systemic problems in standards, oversight and accountability.