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Teachers without licenses taught at Seattle-area charter schools, audits find

Teachers who lacked proper accreditation taught at charter schools in Seattle and Tacoma, in violation of state rules. This was discovered through an audit; State Auditor Pat McCarthy called these findings “unprecedented.”

The state audit found that Summit Sierra and Summit Atlas, schools in Seattle, and Summit Olympus, a school in Tacoma, received nearly $4 million in funding related to the positions, which may now need to be repaid.

The Washington State Auditor's Office made the discovery in the course of routine 2019-2020 school year accountability audits of the three schools, which are the Washington locations of a California-based charter school network. Summit Sierra and Olympus are high schools, and Atlas includes middle and high school.

As privately run, publicly funded institutions, charter schools are allowed to operate independently, but teachers must either possess or be in the process of obtaining Washington teaching licenses.

While teaching licenses lapse occasionally, or are delayed, McCarthy said that was not the case for most of the Summit teachers in question.

"What's unprecedented about this is the fact that it extended over the course of the full academic year," McCarthy said. "It wasn't that somebody didn't have it for a month or two months, and then was able to start the process."

The auditor's office estimated that Summit schools received $3.89 million in state funding more than it should have related to the teaching positions filled by uncertificated staff.

In a formal response to the audit findings, an attorney for Summit Public Schools challenged all of them, and the state's repayment calculations.

“It is simply not the case that a person is only qualified to teach under Washington law if he or she has a state-issued teacher certificate,” wrote attorney David Stearns.

The auditors, Stearns wrote, failed “to recognize the explicit exception to the teacher certification requirement that applies to charter schools.”

Jessica de Barros, interim executive director of the Washington State Charter School Commission, which authorizes and oversees Summit Public Schools, disagreed.

"All public charter schools are required to employ certificated teachers," de Barros said. "The Commission supports full compliance with all of the audit recommendations," including repayment of inappropriately-granted state dollars.

"We have since strengthened our systems to ensure these inadvertent reporting issues will not happen again," said Kate Gottfredson, spokesperson for Summit Public Schools. "We will work with the [Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] to develop an appropriate plan to address the findings."

Calculation of exact amounts to be repaid is up to the state schools office. Spokesperson Katy Payne said OSPI legal counsel is reviewing the audits.

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