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Audit At Washington's First Charter School Finds Uncredentialed Teachers, 'Sloppy' Bookkeeping

Five of the eight teachers at Washington state's first charter school were not certificated when classes began last year. That's just one of many problems in a newly-released state audit of First Place Scholars Charter School.

Auditors found that the lack of credentialed teachers -- and overestimated student enrollment -- meant the Seattle school was overpaid by more than $200,000 of public funds.

Acting state auditor Jan Jutte said the school's leaders were unprepared to change the school from private to a publicly-funded institution and that there was "definite sloppiness" in its bookkeeping practices.

"I think they didn't know how to put controls in place," Jutte said, including controlling whether expenditures and revenues should appear on the side of the school or its affiliated nonprofit organization.

"I think they didn't know a lot of the laws and rules. They had a big learning curve where I think it would have been good for somebody to step in and help," Jutte said.

Auditors found that as of April, the school had enough cash on hand to operate for just nine days and that as the school's cash reserves dwindled it cut back services to students.

The state auditor's office examined First Place Scholars' books at the request of the state charter school commission. The commission had encountered numerous governance issues at the charter school, including a lack of special education services, and put the school on probation last December.

Officials at First Place told the auditor's office they have strengthened their processes to improve compliance and record-keeping.

School leader Linda Whitehead told KUOW that the audit's findings did not come as a surprise to her, but that this school year is off to a smooth start at First Place.

The future of all charter schools in Washington is uncertain after the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that charters are unconstitutional because they are overseen by appointed, rather than elected, boards.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the State Charter Schools Association have both announced plans to file motions for reconsideration.

The court has extended the deadline for those motions to October 23.

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