San Diego

State Investigating Inspire Charter for Alleged Financial Violations

California is looking into multiple allegations against the embattled Inspire Charter School, which operates throughout San Diego County and the rest of the state.

The home-based charter has been the subject of a series of reports by NBC 7 Investigates beginning in August.

Michael Fine, Executive Director of the state's Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), told NBC 7 the the team will audit the charter school at the joint request of six county superintendents.

NBC 7 Investigates received a copy of the letter, which called for "immediate attention to prevent further waste of public education dollars and profiting off state apportionment not used to provide a complete and quality education to the students enrolled in the school."

Inspire Charter has denied all wrongdoing. In a statement to NBC 7, Inspire's interim Executive Director said, before the audit request, the school has been working with FCMAT to review their practices. Read the full statement below.

The San Diego County Office of Education, Kern County school officials, Placer County school officials and Ventura County school officials were among the districts that sent individual letters to the FCMAT. 

FCMAT is a state agency that helps schools fulfill their financial responsibilities.

Fine said the allegations are specific, but he does not know if there is fraud.

In a text he wrote “There are numerous allegations across multiple charter schools tied to Inspire. Some deal with locations, some deal with questionable enrollment practices that generate state funds. I can’t tell you if it is fraud, misappropriation of funds, or some other illegal practice since we haven’t done the work yet.” 

Fine said it will be months before the team starts the investigation.

In August, NBC 7 Investigates reported FCMAT was doing a preliminary investigation into Inspire at the request of the California Charter School Association and Inspire, which were asking for a management assistance. NBC 7 Investigates reported the California Charter School Association ended its relationship with Inspire in September.

Numerous charter school educators told NBC 7 Investigates they had lost students and teachers from their school because of what they call unethical recruitment and enrollment practices.

Inspire Charter's Dr. Steven Larence wrote the following statement in response to the investigation: 

"As we have previously said, Inspire has a great deal of respect for the integrity and professionalism of FCMAT and are prepared to work with them if they perform an audit. In fact, we have taken proactive measures to work with FCMAT and met with them two weeks ago to request a Managerial Assistance Review. As an organization, we are committed to continual improvement of our practices in order to better serve our students and families.

"We expect the FCMAT experts will ultimately be able to provide additional guidance and direction that will be useful for all of our schools going forward. However, since FCMAT has not yet confirmed the scope or timeline of a potential audit or review, it would be premature to comment further on their potential work with us.

"We look forward to continued discussions with FCMAT to finalize this scope of an audit or review and move forward with this important work."

Terri Schiavone, Director of Golden Valley Charter School in Ventura said she has lost students and teachers from her school due to what she called Inspire’s “unethical practices” of recruiting students.

In a statement to NBC 7, she wrote “This is a victory for all students publicly educated in California, as well as a victory for county offices of education, school districts, and ethically operated charter schools. It’s a move to ensure that all students receive an adequate and appropriate education. There are many charter schools that do an excellent job of educating its pupils. Schools like Inspire tarnish the reputation of all charter schools, resulting in new and unjust requirements that limit parental choice and good educational alternative options for our children."

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