It's as if the charter schools in the Downtown shopping mall never existed.
The Harte Crossroads schools have been defunct for nearly three years, and Columbus City Center was reduced to rubble last year.
Now, a state audit says that what few records the school kept do not prove that children even attended or that teachers were paid. Further, the audit says, the schools' founder might have committed crimes: She was superintendent of the schools, head of the management company and school-board president at the same time.
Auditors notified the Ohio Ethics Commission of Anita Nelam's multiple roles. It must decide whether to investigate, and the review could take months.
No records show how many kids actually attended the Harte School for girls or Crossroads Preparatory Academy for boys. Staff members were paid willy-nilly, and payroll records didn't exist. Bank loans, federal and state grants, and per-pupil funding were spent on who knows what. The audits covered fiscal years 2005, 2006 and 2007.
In all, more than $4 million is owed to the federal and state governments, teachers and vendors, the audits say...
The auditors' findings for $4 million are in addition to the $3.3 million a Franklin County court said the defunct schools owed in 2008.
At that time, more than 180 creditors had come forward and the state was trying to track down Nelam, who moved to South Carolina soon after the schools closed. She is held personally liable for the misspent money.
Nelam didn't respond to requests for comment. The schools' former employees still hope to be paid...
When the schools -- initially opened as one for boys and one for girls but later operated together -- were shuttered abruptly in March 2007, the state declared them unauditable. State law allows the Ohio Department of Education to stop sending state aid to charter schools if they can't be audited...
The audits show misspending was rampant. For example, most employees had school cell phones, but there were no rules about using them and seven months of bills totaled nearly $17,000. A former employee's cell phone was paid for several months after leaving the school. One of the schools' vendors, who lived in Canada, was given a cell phone.
State audits expose misspending in schools, but charter sponsors are in charge of day-to-day oversight of charters, including financial solvency. Harte Crossroads had three sponsors in its three-year life and only the last one, Richland Academy in Mansfield, moved to dismantle the dysfunctional schools.
The Department of Education oversees sponsors but can't force them to close a school, spokesman Scott Blake said.
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AUDIT: CHARTER SCHOOLS MISSPENT MILLIONS / FEW RECORDS FOUND FROM CLOSED HARTE CROSSROADS; ETHICS PROBE POSSIBLE, February 5, 2010, The Columbus Dispatch (OH)