Ohio AG, charger school reach $1.4M settlement
CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) - Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a judgment on Tuesday against an insider of a charter school that allegedly overbilled the state for more than $1.4 million.
The judgment against Hassina Shabazz was entered for the full amount of the overpayment, $1,407,983, plus interest accrued since 2007. Any recovery as a result of the judgment, entered in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, will go to the Cleveland Metropolitan and other school districts in Northeastern Ohio.
"I take the policing of public funds very seriously, especially when that money is supposed to be used to educate our children," DeWine said. "Those who are entrusted with those funds should be held fully accountable for them, and this decision sends a strong message that the state will vigorously enforce the responsibilities of school officials."
The International Preparatory School was a charter school that collapsed after the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year. DeWine and the Department of Education sued to secure the school's publicly owned assets. The state auditor alleged that TIPS overstated its enrollment by hundreds of students, which resulted in an overpayment.
DeWine sued Shabazz, TIPS' treasurer, to recover the funds. The state Supreme Court had earlier ruled in the case that the treasurer of a charter school is personally liable for the misappropriation of the school's public funds if he or she is involved in the collection or receipt of those funds. The case was remanded to the common pleas court to ascertain whether Shabazz was involved with the receipt of funds from TIPS.
During a trial held in September, DeWine alleged that Shabazz controlled the bank accounts TIPS' public funds went into and that she wrote many checks on those accounts, which included several large checks to her family members and herself.
"Shabazz had control over the bank accounts used for the receipt and collection of public funds, (and that she) is therefore strictly liable for funds paid into that account, including the overpayment," the court said.
The case is the latest in several actions DeWine had undertaken with the DOE to protect public funds going into charter schools. One such action was successfully moving to revoke Ashe Culture Center's ability to oversee charter schools.
Ashe had allegedly overseen multiple charter schools with unauditable records and had received payments that the auditor of the state determined were illegal. DeWine's office and the DOE obtained Ashe's revocation by showing the center's alleged financial irresponsibility. DeWine also supported several Akron and Cleveland area charter schools' efforts to obtain detailed accounting of the public fund spending of the company that managed their operations.
"These efforts strengthen Ohio's charter school program by making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately," DeWine said. "My office will continue to work with the Department of Education to make sure that money meant for Ohio's students is properly spent."