The nonprofit group that runs James M. Singleton Charter School — which recently saw the arrest of its former chief financial officer for allegedly falsifying school employee background checks — owes hundreds of thousands in public funds to the school, according to the NOLA Public Schools district.
In a June 21 warning letter to the Dryades YMCA — the group that operates the school — NOLA Public Schools Chief Portfolio Officer Thomas Lambert wrote that former CEO Doug Evans told district officials last year that Dryades owed the school $381,578 as of the end of 2019. In addition, Lambert wrote that Singleton’s most recent audit, which covered its finances through June 2020, found that the school was owed $1,140,781 from Dryades “and other programs.”
The warning is the latest in a series the district has issued to the school over the past several months. Previous letters cited the background check issue and claimed that the school’s new interim CEO, Samuel Odom, was placed in the position in violation of state law.
Odom disputed the most recent charges in a letter to the district Thursday, arguing that because the private nonprofit holds the contract as the school’s operator it can’t owe itself money. While articles of incorporation for the school were submitted to the state last summer, Odom says the entities still operate as one.
“We challenge the unsupported conclusion that a single legal entity owes itself funds that were used to provide an education, safe learning environment and wrap-around programming to central city youth and families under the auspices of a public body, which you are now referring to as a private party separate and apart from James M. Singleton Charter School when that educational mission and function was a division of one organization, Dryades YMCA,” Odom wrote.
Chief Accountability Officer Thomas Lambert gave the organization a deadline of June 24 to answer a litany of questions about the money, including how much was owed to the school and what it was spent on. The deadline has passed, and Odom told The Lens the organization would not be able to answer those questions until it receives a report from 4th Sector Solutions, a company that provides financial management and other services to many charter schools. He expects that report next week.
The most recent warning comes in the midst of an ongoing scandal over how top Singleton officials were conducting employee background checks, which are required by state law for school workers. Evans and CFO Catrina Reed resigned in March, days after the district raised concerns about the checks. On June 1, the New Orleans Police Department arrested Reed for allegedly fabricating Singleton employee background checks and pocketing $431 in fees meant to pay for them.
The district is also challenging Odom’s position as interim CEO, arguing it violates state ethics laws. Odom was a member of the Dryades board before his appointment. State law requires former board or commission members to wait two years to “contract with, be employed in any capacity by, or be appointed to any position by that board or commission.” He left the board and took on the interim role after Evans’ resignation.
“I am working in a volunteer status, non-paid and I’m no longer on the board,” Odom said Thursday.
On Thursday, Odom said the organization has asked for an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General regarding his transition to CEO.
The school has received so-called level two warnings for all three issues. That’s the district’s most escalated warning and, as Monday’s letter notes, if not addressed “may result in escalated consequences, including but not limited to, additional intervention or revocation of your charter contract with OPSB.”