The CEO and CFO of the Dryades YMCA, the nonprofit operator of James M. Singleton Charter School, have resigned after employing someone ineligible to work at the school because of a criminal conviction discovered during a NOLA Public Schools investigation into problematic staff background checks at the Central City organization.

In a Wednesday press release, the organization announced Interim President and Chief Executive Officer Douglas Evans and Chief Financial Officer Catrina Reed were no longer working for the group effective March 19.

Questions about how the school was conducting legally required criminal background checks for employees surfaced earlier this month when the NOLA Public Schools district released a warning letter detailing its findings. The district found that one person was employed there despite having been convicted of or pleading guilty or no contest to a criminal charge that, under the law, made them ineligible to work in a school. (The district said another charter network, KIPP New Orleans, also employed one ineligible worker, possibly the same person as Singleton.) It also found 10 background checks in Singleton’s files that could not be verified as genuine by the Louisiana State Police. 

Police are now investigating the Singleton issues. 

“Everything has been turned over to the New Orleans Police Department and we are going to do a forensic investigation,” Dryades YMCA chairwoman Barbara Lacen-Keller told The Lens Thursday. 

NOPD spokesman Gary Scheets told The Lens the department is turning over information related to the incident to the Louisiana State Police. Louisiana State Police spokesman Nick Manale said the agency is aware of the incident.

“LSP is aware of the incident and will coordinate with the New Orleans Police Department to provide assistance as needed in the investigation,” he wrote in an email.

The vice chairman of the Dryades board, Carlos Hornbrook, confirmed that there appeared to be problems with two employees. One involved an allegedly falsified resume and another an employee who shouldn’t have passed a background check.

“Out of the 10 background checks, one, the lady falsified a resume, and the other one, I don’t know exactly what the charge was or if he got convicted or anything, I think it was something to do with a juvenile,” he said. “We still don’t know what happened, we’re doing an investigation on it.”

“It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Hornbrook said, promising that the results of the school’s internal investigation would be made available to the media. 

The district first warned the school in December for failing to complete background checks on all employees. The school then reported that it had completed the background checks. That led district Chief School Accountability Officer Kevin George to return to campus to verify them. That’s when he found the additional problems detailed in the most recent warning letter. 

George noted that three background checks had “an incorrect State Police signature” and “five documents incorrectly indicate that the applicant did not have a rap sheet and one document had an audit code assigned to another individual by the State Police.” 

“Finally, the State Police could not find records of background checks being completed on the documented dates,” for several employees, he wrote.

NOLA Public Schools spokesman Richard Rainey said the issues were discovered during a routine district review of its charter schools. 

“NOLA Public Schools serves a regulatory role for our community of schools, and is not an investigative agency,” he wrote in an email.

“In the case of James Singleton School, our staff conducted a routing compliance review regarding their background checks for employees, and our findings are described in the public Level 2 noncompliance letter delivered to school leadership on March 10,” he wrote. “We advised them to contact the proper authorities to determine whether these findings require further review, and required they keep us informed of their progress.”

Asked if the district also contacted law enforcement authorities, Rainey reiterated that the district directed the school to do so. He said the district was aware of the resignations.

In 2015, years before the latest warning letters, a state audit identified problems with Singleton’s background checks.

Evans is the second Dryades YMCA CEO to depart for a problem at the school. In January 2018, then-CEO Gregory Phillips stepped down from the position following a standardized test cheating scandal which resulted in four additional employees being fired.

Update: This story was updated with a statement from the Louisiana State Police provided after publication.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...