Imani Institute Leadership School

The Ohio State Auditor issued the following news release:

Auditor of State Betty Montgomery today released a special audit of the charter school Imani Institute Leadership School in Cleveland. The audit names Donna Johnson, superintendent of the school, in findings for recovery totaling $341,166.

"The Imani Institute is, unfortunately, a poster child for poorly run community schools," said Montgomery. "From lack of bookkeeping to improper purchases, this school was clearly not run in a way that places emphasis on educating our children."

Imani closed at the end of June 2005 due to lack of a sponsor. During the charter school's regular audit for the 2003 fiscal year, auditors identified several questionable debit card purchases such as restaurant charges and gasoline and clothing purchases. Further, school officials were unable to provide revenue and expense records. Montgomery's office declared the school "unauditable" for the 2003 fiscal year. Montgomery then opened a special audit to further investigate.

The special audit reviewed three procedures; review of revenues, review of expenditures and a review of the extended period of July 1, 2003 through October 31, 2005. The entire audit encompassed January 1, 2001 through October 31, 2005.

Throughout the special audit, Imani officials failed to provide receipt books or revenue and expense ledgers. Montgomery was forced to subpoena records from Imani's financial institutions in order to obtain information on Imani bank accounts. With considerable time and effort, auditors used the bank information to create a history of all of Imani's revenue and expenditures.

Ultimately, a total of $341,166 in findings for recovery was issued against Superintendent Donna Johnson including:

* $1,184 for money collected but unaccounted for.
* $187,506 for checks issued to cash and unaccounted for.
* $44,637 for cash unaccounted for.
* $17,559 for general expenditures unrelated to operations of a community school (home warranties, home installation of postage machines and computers, meals at restaurants, furniture, etc.).
* $7,856 for insufficient funds fees.
* $25,859 for exceeding Donna Johnson's authorized payroll. Montgomery's office has notified the IRS because Johnson's W-2 forms were understated.
* $6,724 for unauthorized reimbursements for expenditures unrelated to operations of a community school (gas, airfare, plants, and out of state hotel charges).
* $7,867 for ATM withdrawals (Parliamentarian Ernest Johnson also named in these findings for recovery).
* $32,843 for debit transactions (Parliamentarian Ernest Johnson also named in these findings for recovery).
* $4,840 for overpayment of loan transactions. (Marcus Wright of AHRMS Management Company also named in this finding for recovery).
* $4,291 for consultant payments (Consultant Rashid Alaji also named in this finding for recovery).

Montgomery also issued questioned costs in the amount of $482,159. Auditors could not locate voucher packages, checks, reports and other supporting documentation related to various federal grants received in fiscal years 2001, 2002 and 2003. Further, Imani could not account for the money spent from grant funds and therefore could not verify funds spent were for the purpose of the grants.

Imani Institute Leadership School's contract expired June 30, 2005. It was ineligible to reopen because it was unable to engage a new sponsor. The school opened in 2000.

In April of 2005, the San Diego City School District recommended the approval of a charter school to be opened by Donna Johnson in California. Her new school opened in September 2005 and closed in November 2005. In October 2006, Ms. Johnson surrendered the school's charter. For informational purposes, Auditor Montgomery sent a copy of her special audit to the California Department of Education and to the San Diego City School District.

As is routine with audits containing findings for recovery, a copy of the special audit will be sent to the local prosecutor and the Attorney General's office. A full copy of the special audit report is available online at:

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Shortly thereafter, this charter school operator moved to California and opened up another charter school. No background check was conducted.


With one phone call to Ohio's state auditor – or simply a Google search – the San Diego Unified School District could have learned that Donna Johnson, seeking a charter for the Jola Community School in Mount Hope, had just left a long record of financial chaos in her operation of the Imani Institute Leadership School, her previous charter school in Cleveland.

So chaotic a record for so long, in fact, that Ohio's state auditor, already skeptical of Johnson, was conducting a special audit. So chaotic for so long that even minimal due diligence should have kept San Diego officials from dismissing questions about Johnson's performance in Cleveland as irrelevant to San Diego.

Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery has now issued the special audit. It finds public money meant for Imani was spent for pricey women's apparel and Luther Vandross concert tickets. It finds that throughout Imani's operation Johnson ignored generally accepted accounting principles and Ohio financial reporting requirements. It finds that Johnson owes Ohio $341,156, and cannot account for $482,159 in federal grant money.

Now Johnson owes the San Diego district $162,516 in funding for Jola, which folded in fall 2005 after two months' operation for lack of students, facilities and money. It has yet to close its financial books to the district's satisfaction.

This should have come as no surprise, if it had to come at all. Our two-minute call to State Auditor Montgomery and a one-minute search of her Web site turned up an audit report posted in November 2003 noting that the financial statements Johnson provided for Imani “omit all disclosures required by generally accepted accounting principles” and listing eight “material weaknesses” in Imani's accounting.

Either the San Diego district's vetting process is wholly inadequate or the district staff is far too gullible. Whichever, it needs fixing, now.

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