The Gorman Learning Center charter program overspent millions, a state report alleges, including $20,000 for an office aquarium.
An unorthodox charter school operation bilked the state of more than $7.5 million, engaged in blatant nepotism, and spent tens of thousands of dollars on personal travel, expensive meals and assorted luxuries — including a $20,000 aquarium — according to the results of an audit released Friday by the Los Angeles County Department of Education.
The audit focused primarily on the finances of the Gorman Learning Center, an independent-study program that opened in 2000 and now serves about 2,200 students. It is operated out of churches in several counties including Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino.
Waldo Burford, Gorman's executive director, acknowledged that mistakes were made in applying for state funds and conceded that bookkeeping and oversight were lax during the school's rapid expansion. But he denied any intentional wrongdoing and said improvements have been made in overseeing the finances of the program.
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The main finding of the audit, which examined three years of the school's finances through 2006, was that Burford's operation over-claimed $7.7 million when applying to the state for operating funds.
To maximize the amount of taxpayer money they receive, "nonclassroom" charter schools like Burford's — where students complete most of their studies independently and meet infrequently with a teacher — must prove that they spend a certain amount of the funds each year on teacher salaries and other education-related expenses.
The Gorman Learning Center failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in noneducation expenses and filed faulty and incomplete information on teacher salaries, the audit concluded.
In a written response that was released along with the audit, Gorman officials promised to resubmit funding applications for past years. Regarding teacher salaries, however, school officials wrote that the audit's findings were "premature."
Much of the rest of the audit focused on questionable expenses paid with school funds. For example, Burford, who received at least $190,000 in salary and bonuses in 2005, treated himself to perks such as an $1,800 office chair and $2,500 treadmill, the audit found.
Public funds also were allegedly used to pay $18,000 in rent for the school's human resources director over a 21-month period.
One of the more eye-catching details of the report was the $20,024 paid for the purchase and upkeep of an aquarium. . . .
"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972
Saturday, March 17, 2007
The Magical Gorman Learning Center and the Wonderful World of Waldo Burford
Waldo Burford thought he had it made until the State of California decided to check up on his meet-when-you-will independent study "nonclassroom" charter school outfit. Wonder how many public schools would be allowed to have their students come in on an occasional basis to pick up work and to turn in their ditto sheets? From the L. A. Times: