New Odyssey Financial Abuse Uncovered While Two Brave Women Give Powerful Testimony

The funny thing about facts, my friends, is that despite the attempts of the board, they cannot be interpreted.  They cannot be changed, and they cannot be maligned for they are facts.  And the facts are that this Board violated state laws, DOE rules and regulations and maybe even criminal code laws.

 

So yes, our books are pristine.  Every dollar is accounted for.  The problem is the dollars and where they went.  Where they buried those invoices under what budget lines.  Because it’s there.  And if the State Auditor would do her job we could actually find that out.

Odyssey Charter School is in trouble.  Big trouble.  On the dawn of their final Charter School Accountability Committee meeting for their formal review this Monday, an article by Delaware Public Media came out showing even more financial abuse going on at the Greek-themed charter school.  Meanwhile, the CSAS initial report came out along with the transcript for their public hearing and they are explosive!  The transcript reveals what has been going on with teachers at the school and what led to the eventual decision to unionize.

The new discovery of financial improprieties came out in an article from Sarah Mueller with Delaware Public Media last night.

But now Odyssey School Board member Elias Rigas says former board president Dimitri Dandalos authorized $177,000 in additional construction work on AHEPA’s Ithaka Early Learning Center without the board’s knowledge. It previously acknowledged spending $91,500 on the center.

The article would make it appear Rigas is blaming Dandalos and the board had no clue what was going on.  But given the public comment in the below public hearing transcript it would be impossible to tell due to the super majority of the AHEPAn board members holding private meetings without the rest of the Odyssey Board of Directors.

The big issue is with Ithaka.  How can the board members say the construction company, Chatham Bay, worked FOR Ithaka when it didn’t even exist yet?  The company’s President, Jay Freeberry, said the following in Mueller’s article:

Freebery said worked for Odyssey not Ithaka. He adds he dealt with Odyssey Campus Operations Officer Riccardo Stoeckitcht throughout the construction period and has submitted a bill for payment several times.

The Odyssey board sent an email to the Odyssey community last night.  I was unable to verify which came out first, the email or the article on Delaware Public Media.

June 21, 2019

Statement from OCS Board President

Good afternoon OCS Community,

In the interest of full transparency we would like  to make you aware of an issue that was recently brought to our attention:

Chatham Bay Construction (CBC), an on-site contractor at the time, was asked by previous board chair Dimitri Dandolos to perform additional construction work in building 27 to advance the development of the site for the housing of Ithaka Early Learning Center.  It is our understanding Mr. Dandolos authorized this work in his capacity with Ithaka and did not include the OCS board in the decision.  Mr. Dandolos anticipated paying for the additional construction work through Ithaka fundraising initiatives.  The fundraising goals were not met and some of the monies for the project are still outstanding. In March 2019, CBC contacted Mr. Dandolos for payment, presenting a draw request for $177,217 with supporting documentation.  Subsequently, and considering a potential change in direction by school administration regarding future fit-out work, he threatened litigation if a payment plan for the balance of some $155,000 was not developed with OCS.   Most OCS board members were unaware of this until the June 19, 2019 board meeting, when they were fully briefed of this matter.

At that same board meeting, members voted unanimously to move forward with a new construction company, not CBC.  The primary driver for administration’s recommendation was that retrofit advances made to CBC for the building of an elevator and the construction of a large gym had not been fully expended, nor returned to OCS.  In addition, some subcontractors have claimed that CBC had not paid them for work completed on behalf of certain OCS projects.  The amounts currently in question are some $75,000 in potential refunds, and some $70,000 in payments still due to sub-contractors.

We are in discussion with CBC to, hopefully, resolve these issues successfully.

We understand the reason this happened is due to inadequate governance protocols, and we recognize that we must and are willing to change. OCS has laid out plans to address governance issues which include a contract with the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA). This will include a plan  to implement the necessary process controls to effectively address current governance deficits. The first of these new protocols will be implemented by the Board within 60 days of DANA’s final recommendation or sooner, whenever possible.

The Odyssey Charter School was founded to promote the Greek principles of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism. The board is committed to implementing new governance protocols to ensure the continued growth of the school and the success of our 1800 students.

Elias Rigas (on behalf of Josiah R. Wolcott, President)

As this came to light, the Delaware State Board of Education discussed the Odyssey formal review at their meeting Thursday night.  They will make a decision on Odyssey’s formal review at their July meeting.  I have no doubt the Charter School Accountability Committee will be asking a lot of questions about the misappropriation of the funds involving Ithaka at the meeting Monday.

The Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office, as required by law, has been fully transparent with every document concerning Odyssey’s formal review.  As part of a formal review, there must be two public hearings.  Odyssey’s first public hearing was on June 11th.  While most of the public comments seem to be in support of AHEPA, the last two were explosive.  Jennifer Ballas and Tam Tall gave powerful testimony to what has really been going on with the “AHEPAn 5”.  Both the public hearing transcript and the initial CSAC report appear below and they are a MUST READ!!!

The quote at the top of this article indicates Odyssey is cooking their books and hiding expenditures.  It also indicates a normal budget report, reviewed by the school’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, would not be able to see what is going on.  This is something only an investigative audit would uncover.  Something our State Auditor, Kathy McGuiness, is refusing to do.  As mentioned on this blog before, McGuiness has ties to many influential Greeks in Delaware including members of AHEPA who held a fundraiser for her during her bid for Lieutenant Governor in 2016.  While McGuiness is on her self-congratulatory tour over her “audit of the Auditor’s office”, who is auditing McGuiness herself and how her apparent conflict of interest is preventing Delaware taxpayers from learning the truth about Odyssey?

The charter school audit bill passed in the Senate on Thursday but the journey in the Delaware House of Representatives will be very tough.  If it is heard in the House Education Committee remains to be seen.  State Rep. Earl Jaques, who leads the committee, controls the agenda for it.  It is not on the agenda for the final committee meeting on Tuesday, June 25th at 11:30am.  I wrote about the shenanigans taking place over this bill two days ago.

For what its worth, Sarah Mueller’s reporting of this story has been top-notch.  All too often in Delaware media, we see education articles that are a reaction to something, not an investigation.  Mueller has been uncovering stuff before this blog even knows about it.  This is the way journalism should be and I salute Mueller for her coverage of the ongoing Odyssey Charter School-AHEPA debacle.

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3 thoughts on “New Odyssey Financial Abuse Uncovered While Two Brave Women Give Powerful Testimony

  1. Interesting issue with Odyssey Charter extra transportation money not spent for transportation thanks to the underhanded use/abuse of epilogue language placed in the budget. (in a soon to be released Facebook post):
    The epilogue language permits spending of taxpayer money that is allocated for student transportation for any purpose after transportation cost obligations have been fully met. The amount of unregulated money not subject to any accountability or legislative oversight has reached staggering proportions. In 2016 there was $898,026 kept by Charter schools in excess of their transportation costs. In 2017 that unregulated surplus grew to $1,262.930 and in 2018 it amounted to $1,418,707 in taxpayer money. Odyssey Charter, now under intense scrutiny for its spending and management performance, kept an excess of $299,001 in 2016, $598,405 in 2017 and a staggering $764,053 in 2018 after meeting all of their transportation spending obligations

    Liked by 1 person

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