Part 2 of 3



By Doug Livingston, Beacon Journal staff writer



 



As a board member of four publicly funded charter schools in Akron and Cleveland, Charlotte Burrell will watch this year as $5.3 million in taxpayer money passes through her financial reports.



 



She knows most of it will go to White Hat Management ­— a private, for-profit Akron-based company that runs 32 charter schools in Ohio. But unlike an elected school board member who can obtain intimate details about spending, her hands are tied. What White Hat does with the money, she said, is beyond her control.



 



She does, however, control “unrestricted net assets.”



 



She pointed to the line item on a budget at a joint board meeting in February for two of the charter schools — University and Brown Street academies. Of $2.1 million in expected yearly funds, unrestricted dollars for both schools totaled roughly $1,500, or less than 0.1 percent.



 



“That’s what we concern ourselves with the majority of the time,” she said.



 



She’s satisfied, so long as a school treasurer — employed by White Hat — says the money spent by White Hat adds up.



 



So, who is in charge of the nonprofit, publicly funded Ohio charter schools that 20 years ago did not exist? This school year, more than $900 million in state and local tax dollars — some of it approved by local voters — will be transferred from local schools to charters.



 



In Ohio, charter schools are required to satisfy strict federal guidelines as nonprofit organizations under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, including board autonomy. If the board is not independent of the company, the IRS is supposed to throw up a red flag.



 



But state law allows private companies to throw out nonprofit boards that challenge them.



 



At many White Hat-operated schools, this already has happened.



The rest of the story and series can be found here