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Bemidji educator calls Minnesota 2020 report on charter school audits 'misleading'

A Minnesota 2020 report on charter school audits is "horribly misleading" and "political opportunism," said Dan McKeon, director of TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School.

The report states that more than 80 percent of charter schools in Minnesota had at least one financial irregularity on their 2007 financial audits.

An Associated Press article this week said Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul think tank, was trying on Tuesday to draw attention to what they call a lack of oversight for charter schools.

The report didn't include data on the share of traditional schools that had irregularities on their 2007 financial audits.

The Minnesota Department of Education issued a statement stating that both school districts and charter schools frequently have "findings" in the financial audits they submit to the state, the article adds.

McKeon noted that a finding on an audit can range from very simple clerical errors to criminal financial doings.

He said TrekNorth had two findings on its 2007 audit. He said the charter school eliminated those findings in 2008.

The findings stated:

- Due to the limited number of accounting personnel, proper segregation of the accounting functions necessary to ensure adequate internal accounting control is not possible. Although this is not unusual in operations the size of the school, management should constantly be aware of this condition and realize that the concentration of duties and responsibilities in a limited number of individuals is not desirable from an internal accounting control point of view.

- TrekNorth's auditor prepares the financial statements. This is not unusual in districts the size of TrekNorth; however, TrekNorth's management and governance personnel should be aware that even though they assume responsibility for the financial statements, the fact that the auditor has prepared the financial statements indicates a deficiency by management.

McKeon said TrekNorth and dozens of other charter schools across the state are being extremely responsible with their management of public dollars as recognized by the School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education.

TrekNorth won the School Finance Award in fiscal years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Schoolcraft Learning Community Director Scott Anderson said the charter school had two findings in its 2007 audit. They were related to limited segregation of duties and preparation of financial statements. Schoolcraft addressed these findings in 2008, Anderson said.

Schoolcraft received the School Finance Award in fiscal years 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Anderson noted that the Minnesota 2020 report on charter school audits is probably manipulated to promote a political stance. He added that the recent passage of legislation this spring takes care of perceived loopholes in how charter schools are operated.

This spring, he said, the state Legislature passed legislation regarding charter school reform, including clarifying the roles of sponsors, identifying and clarifying the process of charter schools with leased facilities and clarifying the operations of charter schools.

Julie Johnson-Willborg, director of Voyageurs Expeditionary High School, said her feeling about the Minnesota 2020 report is that it's politically slanted to a certain extent.

She cited four findings on the charter school's 2007 audit. She said the findings were related to board minutes, limited segregation of duties, preparation of financial statements and collateral insurance.

Johnson-Willborg said Voyageurs addressed the findings in 2008.

"We are very fiscally responsible with the public funding that comes to us," she said.