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The state's Charter Authorizing Panel on Wednesday voted to take no action against the Arkansas Connections Academy, a Bentonville-based virtual charter school, after school leaders showed that it had revised its financial reporting systems.

Until the panel's vote, the charter school was in jeopardy of losing its state charter to operate. The panel's vote to take no action did include a provision requiring the school to submit in February an update on its financial reporting processes.

The Arkansas Board of Education earlier this year had asked the panel to conduct a review of the academy in the wake of Arkansas Department of Education complaints that the charter school was not reporting its financial transactions on a regular basis to the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. That prevented the state agency from monitoring the taxpayer-supported school's fiscal well-being.

The Charter Authorizing Panel is made up of both state agency employees and others from outside the agency, including former state Education Board members and a former legislator. Its decisions to approve charter schools or take actions against a school's state-issued charter are subject to review by the state Education Board.

Darla Gardner, school leader at Arkansas Connections Academy, told the panel Wednesday that the school is now "on the right track" in its reporting to the state through the computer network.

"We know that as a public school we have to report in APSCN," she said. "We have always made APSCN entries and we have now clarified with the Arkansas Department of Education the level of detail that they would like to see."

The Arkansas charter school contracts with Connections Academy, a national charter management organization, for myriad services including financial services.

"The confusion started with our understanding of proper reporting procedures," Gardner said. "Connections handles our payroll and is our pay agent for accounts payable. We reported the school's expenditures but it wasn't detailed as the Education Department needed. We tried to catch up last year with a year's worth of more detailed entries but we ran out of time and fell short. The Education Department recognized our weakness in this area and they have been a tremendous help as we put into action the right procedures for this year. We appreciate all their training and support."

Mindy Whisman, director of finance for the parent Connections Academy, said that the organization shared the state's earlier worry about the school's 2016-17 year-end balance. However, the school's balances have improved, ending October with more than $200,000, she said.

The academy, in its second year of operation, has a kindergarten through 12th-grade enrollment this year of 761 students.

Virginia Walden Ford of Little Rock, treasurer on the school's board of directors, said in an interview that the board has received detailed financial reports monthly and has been confident of the school's financial health.

"We have a fantastic school and we have a great school leader and staff, and we have always been comfortable with everything going on with our relationship with Connections Academy," Ford said. "So, our message to our parents is that things can go on appropriately as they have been."

Metro on 11/16/2017

Print Headline: Vote by panel keeps school's charter intact

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