The terrible act of alleged theft that occurred at Latin Academy Charter School is an isolated incident and the work of one bad actor, former school leader Chris Clemons. Although this alleged crime occurred at a charter school, theft of this kind happens in every industry including: banks, government, businesses, and traditional public schools. We disagree with those who say thefts like this are more likely to happen in charter schools. The facts do not support that conclusion. There have been a number of documented instances of embezzlement, theft, misuse of public money, and just plain mismanagement of funds by bad actors in non-charter public schools and within Georgia school districts.
Statements have also been made that imply the Latin Academy board was “asleep at the wheel” during and after this theft. However, in the absence of a negative audit or any other evidence of malfeasance, this board acted as responsibly as possible given the information available to them. As soon as a problem was discovered, the board took immediate steps to report their suspicions of fraudulent activity to law enforcement and school district officials.
There are those using this isolated incident to justify opposition to public charter schools. However, GCSA believes that nothing has happened to change the need or right of public charter schools to operate. Charter schools are held to higher standards than other public schools in many respects. For instance, charter schools are routinely closed if they do not reach their performance or other goals, including financial management and sustainability.
The member schools that make up GCSA and the Georgia Department of Education initiated the call for recent legislation passed by the Georgia legislature and signed by Gov. Deal that tightens the financial management for charter schools. HB 895 requires more training for those managing charter school finances (including staff and board) and separation of duties between charter school leadership and those in charge of financial accounting.