Our new state Auditor General said some of the state's charter schools have been receiving thousands in tax dollars that they shouldn't have.
The discovery came after an audit that included some charter schools in our area.
As he spoke in front of the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton, State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called on the Governor and the Department of Education to fix a problem he said has cost the state more than a half million dollars.
DePasquale said an audit of 6 charter schools, including three in Northeastern Pennsylvania, showed the schools were receiving thousands in tax payer dollars they were not entitled to.
"Hopefully, these audits serve not just as a way to catch this problem here, but as a wake up call to the other schools and the Department of Education to do a better job of catching this problem," DePasquale said.
DePasquale said Bear Creek Charter School in Luzerne County is one of the schools that was getting reimbursed by the state for rent payment. The problem, DePasquale said, is that the rent was for buildings owned by companies connected to the school.
Bear Creek Charter's CEO Jim Smith said after this audit his school stopped taking that money from the state.
"It was a financial hit from the perspective that we do not receive, as charter schools, any reimbursement from the Commonwealth whatsoever for construction reimbursement projects. Which is in stark contrast to public schools," Smith said.
The Auditor General is asking the six schools, including Fell Charter School in Carbondale, to pay that money back. Officials at Fell Charter said they don't have it.
"To be honest with you, I don't have a slush fund of $94,000 to pay that back. We've already, back in 2010 when we completed our audit, we already had a conversation with the Department of Education and we've settled that issue as far as Fell Charter is concerned," said Principal Mary Jo Walsh.
None of the six charter schools officials that was audited has plans to pay back the money and they are not legally obligated to do so.