Will Sommer of the Washington CityPaper revealed yesterday that the former Options Public Charter School's chief executive officer and chief operating officer are being sued by District Attorney General Irv Nathan for stealing over $3 million in public funds from the school. Almost more incredible than the alleged crime is the fact that co-defendants in the legal matter include long time WUSA9 news anchor J.C. Hayward and the former chief financial officer of the D.C. Public Charter School Board Jeremy Williams.
Mr. Sommer explains that the two Options PCS executives set up two companies, Exceptional Education Management Corporation (EEMC) and Exceptional Education Services (EES) to which lucrative contracts were awarded from the school. The Exceptional Education Management Corporation was owned by Options CEO Donna Montgomery and Exceptional Education Services was incorporated by J.C. Hayward during the time she served as the school's chairman of the board of directors.
The CityPaper story includes the fact that in April 2012 Ms. Hayward agreed to a $159,000 loan to EES. The same year she signed off on a $981,250 transportation agreement between EES and the school. The contract size was astonishing, especially considering the same service ran the school $70,000 the previous year. It gets worse. In 2013 the WUSA9 reporter gave her consent to a $2,801,721 management fee agreement between Options and EEMC. The Washington Post's Emma Brown includes the fact that the school paid one of the companies $449,000 for billing services and another $1.45 million for items yet to be determined.
Most shocking to all of us involved in D.C.'s charter school movement is the alleged involvement of Jeremy Williams, who was the PCSB's highly respected chief financial officer until August of this year. Mr. Williams also served as the interim executive director after Josephine Baker left her post. Apparently, as part of the scheme to steal money Mr. Williams served on the Options board at the same time that he was employed by the PCSB. He then sent confidential emails to the Option executives warning them of pending financial reviews by the oversight body while hiding the suspect contracts from their view. He is now EEMC's chief financial officer
Ms. Montgomery, who earned $425,000 in salary and bonuses a year as Option's CEO, denies any wrongdoing as does Ms. Haywood. WUSA9 has taken Ms. Hayward off the air pending an investigation. The Options officials left the school in July.
Ms. Brown explains that Options is D.C.'s oldest charter school currently serves 400 at-risk youth. Many of the students have been kicked out of other schools and it serves a high percentage of special needs children. Ms. Brown states that this past July a financial review of Options by the PCSB found “no pattern of fiscal mismanagement” for the 2012 term. A Qualitative Site Review dated March 15, 2013 conducted by the Board contains mixed findings but is mostly positive in its narrative. The PCSB has now begun the revocation process for the school. The Post reporter states that the PCSB's investigation of Options began shortly after a Freedom of Information Act request just last month from her newspaper regarding the contracts to EEMC and EES.
Scott Pearson, the PCSB's executive director, has indicated that even if the charter is taken away the school will remain open through the end of the year.