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Audit outlines misuse of money at Quest Academy

Darcy Spears

Audit outlines misuse of money at Quest Academy

CREATED Nov. 20, 2012

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Tax dollars spent by a local school for travel and toiletries while teachers pay out of pocket so their students can have books. That's the tip of the iceberg that has hit Quest Academy, which is under investigation by the state.

Fifth grade teacher Stacey Soiferman is packing up her classroom.

"I just feel like I'm not valued as an educator, and I feel it's really sad."

Part of the problem?

"Those are our textbooks right there.  That's all we have," Soiferman says, pointing to a small stack of books on an upper shelf.  "I've written 37 grants and spent over half my salary on my classroom alone in the last year because they will not provide the necessary things that our children need."

At a very heated school board meeting on Nov. 14, parents told Quest governing board members, "I'm having an issue with the fact that there's no teachers here anymore.  They're leaving!  And I have a big problem with that!"

Five teachers have quit in just the last month, citing the negative, hostile environment surrounding Quest.

At the board meeting, Matt Giglia, a fifth grade math teacher, said, "There are 17 signatures of teachers here who don't want to be working under these conditions anymore!"

Fifth grade student Hannah Soiferman added, "It's sad that I'm not provided for.  It's really sad."

So where is our money going?  That's what the State Public Charter School Authority wants to know.  Their audit completed in May asks why the principal, who gets $95,000 a year per contract, actually received $118,000 -- including three $5,000 checks signed by the board president.

The state is also investigating questionable expenses on the school credit card.

"Purchasing of alcohol on a couple of the invoices and/or the receipts," said Lucretia Glidewell, Quest's former financial manager.  "And then there were a couple of items that actually looked as if they were grocery bills."

For things like pop tarts and panty liners. The state audit found Quest has not complied with "generally accepted standards of accounting and fiscal management."

The same thing happened in their 2010-2011 audit when the state found a "lack of internal controls over purchasing, assets, supplies and textbooks."

The current audit also found school administrators spent more than $15,000 on things including expensive lunches all over town -- one bill was for $400 at Wolfgang Puck.

They bought gas and spent almost $5,000 at stores including Walmart and Best Buy for "Christmas family" gifts.

The governing board took a $2,000 retreat to Reno where nearly $500 was spent for the Principal's hotel stay, and $200 more for a plane ticket for a board member's spouse.

"My conscience would not let me overlook the misappropriation of state funds when the students needed things," Glidewell told Contact 13.

The board has decided to spend more tax dollars to hire outside companies to investigate.

Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asked board vice president Vernon Law, "Why you guys haven't investigated and instead are spending tax dollars to hire outside companies?  Is that not under the board's duties to investigate issues with the school or what is it that you people actually do?"

Law said their attorney told them to hire outside help.

"We want to do it from an outside source to make sure that there's no improprieties and that it's totally independent."

The board placed Assistant Principal Kaide Dodson on administrative leave while they investigate the "severe concerns" she expressed about "unlawful activities and an unsafe environment."

She writes about unlicensed teachers and dangerously overcrowded classes. Failure to provide for special education students. And deliberate rigging of the school admission lottery by "an active policy of discrimination against children with disabilities."

"Seems as if the children who have special needs are the last children on the list, "said Quest parent and former employee Kelly Miller.  She believes the one person at the center of all this needs to go.

"In my mind, the right decision is to dismiss Principal Jordan."

Principal Connie Jordan did not return our calls for comment.  At the board meeting, she told the crowd, "Please!  Give me the benefit of the doubt.  Be open-minded.  Let the investigation take its course."

The state is investigating Jordan not only for allegedly misappropriating tax dollars, but also for manipulating standardized test scores "by race to achieve a phony and misleading" Adequate Yearly Progress designation with the state.

Former board member Marc Abelman wrote to the state that Jordan told others she was "manipulating test scores here and there to make AYP by making a couple white kids black and black kids white."

The state is also investigating Quest's basketball program. With a lottery-based enrollment system, state authorities want to know how Quest can recruit high profile high school athletes from out of state.

Depending on what the Charter Authority finds, Quest could lose its charter.  We'll be following this closely to see whether the almost 1,000 students there will still have a school when all is said and done.