The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the American International School of Utah in Murray will officially be out of business on Aug. 15, but still owes the state and federal government more than $400,000 in funds that were meant for special education but were instead illegally used to pay for salaries.
In an effort to recover the money, Utah's Charter School Board has voted to remove the institution’s director and replace him with state Auditor John Dougall to complete the process of shutting down the school. The unprecedented move comes as some in the education community have questioned the leniency given to charters for spending.
“We are trying our best to move forward in a way that protects taxpayer funds,” says Jennifer Lambert, executive director of the charter school board.
More than 1,300 students were displaced when American International School closed earlier this year. The institution had been placed on “warning status” late last year because of the money it owed. And in May, its board of directors voted unanimously to close.
Tasi Young, the executive director of the school, who stepped into the position in 2018, calls his removal “inappropriate and very questionable."
“The state charter board gave no reason for the decision so it is hard to argue with it,” he says. “However, I disagree that it was the right call.”
The money the school owes was supposed to be used for special education. But according to an audit published by the state Board of Education, officials spent it on teacher salaries and health care benefits.
The school also faces potentially millions of dollars in other unspecified debt, according to its previous spokesman. The hope was to pay that money by selling assets for 10 cents on the dollar. But it had no plans to liquidate its building — which is near Interstate 15 and used to be the Utah Fun Dome — and it left thousands of private, sensitive student records there after it vacated.
That is a “clear violation of the statute,” said the assistant attorney general for Utah in a letter he sent the charter on July 8. The state charter school board has since secured those files and will begin archiving them or forwarding them to the schools where students will be attending this fall.