Everyone knew something was amiss at Lynacre Academy – its school board members, its accountant and Texas Education Agency regulators charged with monitoring charter schools.
But nobody fixed it, and the school that was supposed to help poor, struggling students in South Dallas ran out of money and closed on Feb. 1.
What happened, and why did $750,000 in state funding disappear?
"The money went somewhere; where it went, I don't know," said Shari Bruce, the board's president.
Ms. Bruce, other Lynacre school board members and the school's former accountant say former superintendent Delores Beall misspent funds and destroyed records between the school's opening day in 1999 and her dismissal in 2006.
Ms. Beall could not be reached for comment. No one has officially charged her with criminal wrongdoing in connection with missing money at the school, and one relative who worked at the school said Ms. Beall never asked her to do anything improper.
The Lynacre school case raises serious questions about Ms. Beall's stewardship, her school board's oversight and TEA procedures for safeguarding taxpayer money.
Lynacre's closing cast 73 students adrift in the middle of the school year. Also left amid the shambles is an ongoing lawsuit between Ms. Beall and the school board that sheds light on their accusations against each other…
In fall 1999, many of the students who enrolled in the new I Am That I Am charter school had flunked out or been kicked out of other schools.
The school's name would later be changed to Lynacre Academy.
Along the way, Ms. Beall continued to run the I Am That I Am Training Center for after-school homework help. The training center's board also served as the charter school's governing board.
During the school's eight years, Ms. Beall hired three of her four children to work at the school.
The first signs of trouble emerged in 2002 when Ms. Beall's daughter, Denise Jones, was acting as school attendance clerk. She reported inflated attendance figures to TEA, which funnels state money to schools based on attendance. Ms. Beall admitted the error and Lynacre was forced to pay back $200,000, court records show.
The record-keeping debacle led the board to fire Ms. Jones in 2003, according to court records. Then, Ms. Beall hired her daughter-in-law, Melody White, to keep the attendance records. In their response to Ms. Beall's wrongful termination lawsuit, school board members accused her of concealing her relationship with Ms. White.
At the time, the school's outside auditor noted that Lynacre officials were not properly recording cash payments, but board members say they didn't suspect trouble. They reviewed budgets at their quarterly meetings but didn't compare those plans with what school officials were actually spending.
"We never ever had the feeling anything was being hidden from us," said Patricia Crocker, the board's vice president.
The state received an unusual complaint in May 2005.
The aunt of a graduating Lynacre senior called Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, to complain about the school charging her nephew $900 for 30 days of absences before he could graduate.
"These people said they didn't have this kind of money," Ms. Giddings said. "I didn't think it would be true: Nobody would be asking a student to pay $900 to graduate."
But it was true.
The school had been charging seniors $30 for every day they were absent and an additional $260 for graduation expenses. The state prohibits both kinds of charges…
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FOUNDER, BOARD BLAME EACH OTHER FOR LYNACRE ACADEMY'S DEMISE; February 17, 2008; Dallas Morning News (TX)