Utah charter schools spend public funds on private companies
SALT LAKE CITY - Utah's charter schools are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on the services of private companies, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis.
A study of expense reports shows two companies received nearly $7 million from the state's charter schools last year for providing administrative and academic functions, the latest in a trend in recent years.
Unlike public schools, charter schools are their own districts and rely on private charter-management businesses for needs such as information technology and human resources departments. These companies are not obligated to disclose how they spend any public money, according to the newspaper.
Any surplus funds are kept for profit and not returned to the schools.
Carolyn Sharette, executive director of the Draper-based American Preparatory Schools, disputed speculation that she and other charter management companies earn million-dollar salaries. American Preparatory Schools operates five American Preparatory Academy campuses in Utah. So, school administrators at those campuses are not considered school employees. The company charges $900 a student — or $4 million in 2014 — for managing operations and curriculum.
"If a school-management company is able to provide that richness of programming in the lowest-funded state in the country and still find profit, then perhaps they shouldn't be criticized," Sharette said. "Perhaps we should be delving into what on earth they are doing to be able to do it."
Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the state has a long history of joining with private companies on public services. He compared the practice to contractors who pour concrete on Utah roads.
"I just don't see anything terribly remarkable about any of these relationships," Van Tassell said.
Concerns about charter schools' spending of public funds also stem from the relationships some lawmakers have with the companies. The Tribune found in three years of expense reports that several high-earning private companies are owned by or employ current or former state lawmakers and their family members.
Virginia-based K12 Management gets $4.5 million per year for running Utah Virtual Academy. The head of the school is Stacey Hutchings, wife of Kearns Republican Rep.
Eric Hutchings. He serves on the House Education Committee. However, Stacey Hutchings says she does not lobby him on anything that affects her charter school.
"He has his work, and I have mine," she said. "We keep it pretty separate."Utah charter schools spend public funds on private companies: