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The Arkansas Department of Education has petitioned the Pulaski County Circuit Court to force Valerie Tatum, the founder and a former superintendent of the recently closed Covenant Keepers Charter School, to produce certain financial records and other information about the school.

To date, Tatum has repeatedly failed to fully respond to the Education Department's request for financial records for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years and the IRS username and password needed to determine payment of the school's federal taxes, Education Department attorney Mary Claire Hyatt wrote in the petition.

John Wesley Hall, an attorney for Tatum, said Tuesday that Tatum claims to have turned over to the state agency everything she has regarding the school.

The petition for records has been assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan.

The circuit court case is the latest development in the saga of the open-enrollment charter school that opened in 2008 in southwest Little Rock.

Tatum resigned as the superintendent last September, but the City of Fire Community Development non-profit organization -- chaired by her husband Tyron Tatum -- continued as the school's sponsoring entity. City of Fire hired Friendship Aspire, a different charter school management organization, to help run the school during this just ended 2018-19 school year.

In January, the Covenant Keepers voluntarily asked the State Education Board to not renew the school's state- issued charter that was due to expire this June 30.

Education Department rules require charter schools that are closing to provide to the state within 15 days certain records including property inventories, bank statements, financial account numbers, lists of debts, contact information for members of a school's board of directors or governing entity.

In addition to failing to provide the requested financial information, Hyatt wrote in the petition that Tatum had -- after the charter was not renewed -- removed documents and furniture from the campus and money from the school's bank account without approval from the school's acting superintendent or from the school's board in an open meeting.

In response to that, the state Board of Education on Feb. 15 upheld the Charter Authorizing Panel's Feb. 14 decision to immediately revoke the school's charter, causing the school to immediately cease operations. Students at the school were able to transfer in mid year to the new Friendship Aspire Charter School or enroll at other schools.

Education Department officials continued to press Tatum for information about the school, including the issuing of a subpoena by the State Education Board. Tatum responded with four boxes of documents but they were without the 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial records needed to conduct a legislative audit of the school and the IRS username and password needed to determine payment of taxes.

Metro on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Charter school records sought in court

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