A Maitland charter school paid four administrators more than $520,000 last year and, even though the school was deeply in debt, allowed lavish and uncontrolled spending by two of those administrators, according to an audit by the Orange County school district.
The six-page audit, completed last month, found that Summit Charter School had defaulted on credit-card payments and almost ran out of money to pay its teachers and other bills…
According to both the audit and Claire Olds, a co-founder and the chairwoman of Summit's board of directors, none of the spending -- including the salaries, the travel and other irregularities -- had been approved by the school's eight-member board…
On March 4, the board suspended with pay three of the school's top officials, including Summit's president and co-founder Alan Smolowe. Also suspended were Steven Palmer, the principal; and Holly Wilkey, an office manager. Wilkey is Palmer's sister.
The audit showed that Palmer's salary was $217,654. Smolowe, who is also president of consulting firm Rothschild Development Corp., was paid $175,000. By comparison, according to school district attorney Frank Kruppenbacher, the average Orange County principal earns $83,000 a year...
Palmer's salary more than doubled since 2004, according to the audit, although it is not clear why. Palmer, identified by the school's Web site as an award-winning educator and former Holiday Inn food-and-beverage director, earned an average of $206,000 during the past three years.
The school also paid Wilkey $45,500 a year, while a bookkeeper, Yashmin Moledina, earned $122,000…
*Smolowe and Palmer bought two cars through the school -- without board approval -- and later traded them in for a $47,000 truck.
*The two men racked up "questionable expenditures" of more than $15,000 for meals, hotels, airlines and other travel expenses. Because there were no receipts, the auditors said, "we could not determine if any of the trips were for the benefit of the school."
All of this information, school district officials said, was difficult to ferret out because bookkeeping records were altered and Summit's tangled finances included eight accounts in four banks…
Summit's troubles are not unique among the state's 300 charter schools. A 2007 Orlando Sentinel investigation showed that many operate with little oversight and accountability. The stories showed, among other things, that about half of the state's charter schools had operating deficits or questionable business relationships with founders or board members. Florida authorized charter schools in 1996 as an alternative to public schools. Charter schools operate under a contract with local school districts and are funded with state money…
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Summit Charter School
ORLANDO-AREA SUMMIT CHARTER SCHOOL MUST FIX PROBLEMS OR CLOSE; April 08, 2008; Orlando Sentinel (FL)