Charter school must repay $4.7 million over bogus enrollment claims

2013-12-01T00:00:00Z 2013-12-02T10:39:12Z Charter school must repay $4.7 million over bogus enrollment claimsBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A now-closed Tucson charter school and its Phoenix affiliate must repay $4.7 million to the state for exaggerated enrollment claims that qualified them to get excessive education reimbursement funding from taxpayers.

SIATech, a national charter school affiliated with Job Corps, misclassified more than 2,000 students as full-time from its Tucson and Phoenix schools when most were either part-time or not SIATech students at all.

Of the 2,051 students SIATech reported as full-time between 2010 and 2013, only four were properly classified, an Arizona Department of Education audit revealed last June.

The audit was commissioned after the department received information from a former employee, said Arizona Department of Education spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer.

SIATech’s two Arizona campuses offer high school curriculum to people enrolled in the Job Corps program.

Job Corps is a federal program created in the 1960s to offer vocational and career training to troubled youths looking to turn their lives around.

The arrangement allowed Job Corps participants an opportunity to earn a high school diploma while enrolled in the vocational program.

But problems emerged when SIATech claimed state funding for Job Corps classes. Since Job Corps is not a recognized high school in Arizona, its classes cannot be included when determining a student’s enrollment status.

In Tucson, SIATech falsely reported 829 students over three years and improperly received $2.2 million from the state.

Overall the two campuses reported 824 students who were not enrolled in any SIATech classes, and 1,223 students were determined to be part-time only.

SIATech, which was located at the Fred G. Acosta Job Corps Center at 901 S. Campbell Ave., closed in July.

Calls to SIATech’s Phoenix campus and administrative office in Oceanside, Calif., were not returned.

The Phoenix school remains open but recently moved away from the Job Corps site.

A representative of the Job Corps in Tucson said they were not at liberty to discuss SIATech’s departure.

While it’s unclear why SIATech closed its Tucson campus, records indicate the school still has an option of reopening in the city.

The school has appealed the state’s findings, Liewer said.

No hearing has been set, and both sides are currently engaged in settlement talks, she said.

SIATech records show the school’s Arizona board of directors has discussed asking the state to agree to a settlement where the school repays the state $50,000 a year for five years — a total of $250,000.

In addition to improperly classifying students, the audit also revealed SIATech didn’t maintain birth certificates and immunization records in student files as required by state law.

SIATech records of a June 27 board of directors meeting say school administrators had corrected the problem.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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