Fulton Science Academy defends against charges of mismanagement, conflict of interest

Report from FSA rebuts many allegations contained in Fulton Schools audit

Posted:

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Officials with the Fulton Science Academy (FSA) have released a report disputing the findings of an audit conducted by the Fulton School System, which found financial and operational issues with the former public charter school.

The report released last week by FSA was conducted by Paul Dopp of Glass Ratner Advisory and Capital Group and detailed numerous deficiencies with the school system audit performed by IAG Forensics. Dopp’s report came the day before FSA ended its charter with the Fulton County School System and converted to private school status.

Dopp concluded that “many of the alleged findings in the IAG report are flawed, unsupported and inaccurate.”

He further noted IAG relied on incomplete information, assumptions instead of factual evidence, and displayed a lack of knowledge of the school system’s practices. Dopp also faulted IAG investigators for not conducting an exit interview with FSA officials prior to the release of the audit findings. He said this deviates from standard internal audit procedures.

Fulton School System officials last month released the results of the audit of FSA, which detailed numerous issues involving vendor relationships, management practices and conflicts of interest. Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said the audit was not a “forensic” audit but an overall review of the operations of FSA, which lost its charter with the school system after 10 years of operation.

Avossa explained the audit was necessary to resolve the ownership issue of the assets of the school, much of it purchased with public dollars over the course of the past 10 years.

“To conclude the relationship with FSAMS, we conducted a complete review of its operations, including but not limited to, finances, charter compliance and performance objectives,” said Avossa.

However, Dopp maintains an exit interview with FSA officials would have cleared up many of the assumptions in the IAG report, which he documents in his 56-page report. He notes many of the issues, such as non-bid vendor contracts were allowed under the charter that gave FSA flexibility in how it secured vendors.

“We understand there are no competitive bidding requirements governing FSA pursuant to the provisions of the Charter Act of 1998 and the FSAMS charter,” said Dopp.

He was referring primarily to the contract with the Grace Institute, which received nearly $300,000 for services it provided from FSA and its sister school FSA High School during the 2009-2010 school year alone. The institute was founded by former FSA employees in 2008, and did considerable work with FSA until 2011.

Dopp also defended two other vendor contracts cited in the IAG report – one for school uniforms and the other a video production company founded by a former FSA employee – noting the school system audit describing the conflict of interest was “vague.”

“The vendor inter-relationships section of the IAG report lacked any measure of specificity about the alleged bias, a price analysis to support the allegation that other vendors are more economical or what factors would cause a potential for bias,” said Dopp, referring to a chart that showed the numerous linkages between FSA staff or former staff and vendors.

He said FSA had nearly 1,000 vendor contracts throughout its tenure, yet only three were named in the IAG report.

Dopp also alluded to the fact that the ethnic background of many of the FSA staff and board members played a part in the IAG report.

“The most obvious implied relationship illustrated by the IAG chart is that the named individuals appear to share the same ethnic background…and there is also the implied, but wholly unsupported, assumption of some shared religious beliefs,” said Dopp.

Dopp also said the hiring of teachers from Turkey and paying their immigration fees was in line with school system protocol, as were the guidelines for summer trips to Turkey for students and parents. Both issues were brought forward in the IAG report as problematic.

Neither the Fulton County School System nor officials with Fulton Science Academy provided a comment on the Glass Ratner report.