Former State Virtual Charter Chairman Denies Epic Bias Claims

Tuesday, December 22nd 2020, 7:27 pm
By: Storme Jones

Former Statewide Virtual Charter School Board Chairman John Harrington is denying allegations of a conflict of interest launched by Epic Charter Schools.

The school, accused of serious and possibly criminal financial mismanagement, filed a motion for summary judgement before the board asking they reconsider termination proceedings set in motion by a one vote margin in October.

“We believe that because Mr. Harrington really drove the process for a motion to terminate our contract and was the third vote, and has a serious financial conflict of interest, he should’ve precluded his voting on that matter,” Epic Assistant Superintendent Shelly Hickman said. 

Harrington said his consulting firm, Funds for Learning, was paid between $750 and $800 by the board that oversees Dove Charter Schools to file federal school internet grants. He said the flat fee is the only compensation Funds for Learning receives from many clients, including Dove.

“Funds for Learning represents about 10,000 schools and library facilities all across America, and so I’m not familiar with all of the individual schools that we represent, and Dove would be one of those,” Harrington said.

The Dove board also oversees the Oklahoma Information Technology School Virtual Charter School.

“I don’t look at education as a zero-sum game,” he said, denying Dove or their board’s virtual school are direct competitors with Epic. “I feel very comfortable with my role in all of it. I've never had any communications with Dove schools.”

Governor Kevin Stitt removed Harrington as chair of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board last month after his term had expired. A Stitt spokesman said the governor learned about the alleged conflict of interest before replacing Harrington - but that Stitt had already decided it was time for a change. The spokesman said the alleged conflict only "cemented his decision."

Epic is also raising concerns about a statement Harrington made to the state auditor and inspector in March.

According to an interview memo, “Harrington stated that he ‘prayed’ that (investigators) would discover a violation of law, or something that would prove a violation or breach of contract by Epic…”

Harrington said that comment was taken out of context.

“My full statement in context was we either need - the best-case scenario would be an entirely clean bill of health, nothing has happened here or a very clear sort of smoking gun,” Harrington said.

“We felt that was very revealing of his inability to be impartial,” Hickman said.

Statewide Virtual Charter School Board Members Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd are barred from participating in votes and discussion concerning Epic following alleged conflicts of interest. Harrington noted Epic co-founder David Chaney once donated $200 to Hamrick’s failed state senate campaign. Shepherd is Chaney’s aunt.

Harrington called Epic’s questioning of his impartiality a distraction.

“They’re really just trying to distract from the discussion they either violated the terms of their contract or they didn’t and the state in the public deserves to have an answer to that,” he said.