The Palm Beach County School Board has opened an investigation into a Wellington charter school, three days after a Palm Beach Post story revealed the school’s founder profited off the school by steering school money to his own companies.
School district officials this week asked the board’s inspector general to launch a probe of Eagle Arts Academy, a K-8 charter school that opened last year with about 680 students, Inspector General Lung Chiu confirmed Wednesday.
Chiu said that he and his investigative staff were meeting Wednesday to “set the objective and scope.” He declined to comment further.
The request for the investigation came from Keith Oswald, the school system’s chief academic officer, who said The Post’s story raised concerns and that school administrators “wanted to go a little deeper.”
The school’s founder, Gregory James Blount, said he welcomed the investigation.
“It is going to be my recommendation to the Eagle Arts board that we hire a forensic accounting firm to come and do their own complete investigation and open up the books for the 2014-‘15 school year,” Blount said in an email. “I will recuse myself from the investigation and I believe the true story has yet to be shared with your readers.”
Among findings, The Post revealed that the school, which is publicly financed but privately run, required its students to buy high-priced uniform shirts from a company owned by Blount.
The Post found that Blount’s company called itself a “foundation” set up to support the school, but that it is not a federally recognized foundation or any other sort of non-profit.
Little of the money from the company, the EMPPAC Foundation, went to the school, The Post found.
The Post also found that while Blount was the school’s chairman, the school awarded one of his companies a contract to design the school’s arts-infused curriculum, though he had no education background. His company made more than $125,000 off that contract, records show.
A third company of Blount’s earned $7,500 from the school in consulting fees and stands to earn thousands in interest from a reported loan it made to the school for nearly $39,000, school records show.
The school’s charter prohibits board members from profiting from the school, but the school district has said that Blount didn’t break that rule because he resigned before his companies started making money. He resumed his position after his business relationships with the school had ended.
Blount told The Post that he had “made mistakes” but defended his business deals, saying that he deserved compensation for his efforts to start the school.
The investigation comes as the school system’s new superintendent, Robert Avossa, looks to strengthen relations with the county’s roughly 50 charter schools.
At a meeting with charter school principals and parents Tuesday night, Avossa told them “we win and lose as a team.”
He added that while he had worked with high-performing charters in his previous job as a superintendent in the Atlanta area, he also has “had to make tough decisions about closing charter schools.”
“We need to work together to solve issues,” he told the group.
What The Post found
The founder of Eagle Arts Academy, Gregory James Blount, turned profits on insider deals, such as selling student uniforms from a foundation in name only and steering a contract worth more than $125,000 to his own company. Read the story at MyPalmBeachPost.com/EagleArts