Here are examples of what the auditors reported encountering at Fulton Science Academy Middle School.
I have included wide swaths of the auditors’ accounts of blocking tactics by the school.
What makes these tactics troubling is that the school was a taxpayer-funded public school, authorized by Fulton County. The school’s elaborate obstructions protracted the time it took to complete this audit, delaying it by more than a month and raising the final cost to Fulton residents who paid for every minute, fruitful or not, that the auditors spent on the task.
These are excerpts of the audit:
The Auditors conducted the review of the FSA records in a conference room. There was at least one monitor selected by FSAMS in the conference room throughout the day. When the Auditors first arrived, the bookkeeper was in the room; he remained for the entire day. Later, a teacher arrived, and she stayed for the remainder of the day. During the day, while Mr. Yerich was away at lunch, Ms. Salem was questioned by Ms. Angela Lassetter, a member of the FSAMS governing board, regarding who she worked for. In the course of the conversation, Ms. Salem told Ms. Lassetter that she was working with Mr. Yerich as a contractor and was employed by IAG Forensics. Prior to leaving that day, the Auditors met with Mr. Ozer, Mr. Sener and Mr. Yilmaz, once again trying to find a way to continue the on-site audit without interruption. The auditors asked if the bookkeeper, or anyone else, could pull the records in Mr. Yilmaz’s absence. Once again, the auditors were told that Mr. Yilmaz was the only person who could pull the requested records.
Ms. Salem returned to FSA Middle School on Monday, March 26, at 9AM (the earliest date that Mr. Yilmaz was available); Ms. Angela Huston joined her at about 10AM. Ms. Salem briefly spoke with Mr. Ozer, upon her arrival, and then went directly to the conference room to get started. The bookkeeper was in the conference room when she arrived; he remained in the room until the Auditors’ departure. Shortly after arriving, the Auditors were told that Mr. Yilmaz would only be available until 1PM, because he had to prepare the payroll for all three schools. Once again, no one else would be made available to pull the records in Mr. Yilmaz’s absence. The Auditors were given the option of coming back to the school for half days for the remainder of the week, or returning for full days on Thursday (March 29th) and Friday (March 30th). On March 27, Mr. Yerich communicated to Mr. Ozer that the Auditors would return on Thursday and Friday of that week and that he expected “the complete list of original documents, including original vendor invoices, which I gave you nearly two weeks ago to be made available in advance of the auditors’ arrival.”
On Wednesday, March 28, Mr. Ozer sent Mr. Yerich an email stating:
You are welcome to bring additional auditors. However, due to the confidential information to be reviewed, anyone without a current Fulton County Schools ID needs to have a signed contract with Fulton County Schools. Prior to continuing the audit on Thursday, March 29, please ensure that any audit team members that this provision may apply to makes the relevant contracts available for me to review and copy for our records.
In the afternoon of March 28, Mr. Yerich made arrangements for Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem to obtain FCS credentials. Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem subsequently traveled to the FCS office to complete all required processes, including consenting to criminal background checks, in order to obtain these credentials (badges).
On Thursday, March 29, 2012, Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem arrived at FSAMS at 8AM to continue their work. When they arrived, Mr. Ozer told them that they could not begin work until Angela Huston arrived because he needed to see a copy of a contract. Ms. Salem replied that she thought the FCS badges were sufficient for them to continue their work. Both Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem presented their badges; FSAMS later requested the badges and said they were going to make copies of these badges.
None of the previously requested documents had been pulled or copied in advance of the Auditors’ arrival. Instead, the Auditors had to work with Mr. Yilmaz, going through one folder at a time, pulling the documents that needed to be copied. Each folder contained a month’s worth of data. This is the same way the Auditors were forced to work on prior visits. In the previous visit, Ms. Salem and Mr. Yerich got through the expense folders for the months of November 2011 through March 2012. On March 29, 2012, prior to departing, Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem reviewed the expense folders for the months of July 2011 through November 2011.
About 11:30AM, two governing board members (one of whom was Ms. Lassetter) came into the conference room and began asking questions. The governing board members told Ms. Chang, Ms. Salem and Ms. Huston that they were going to record the conversation with a handheld recording device. They asked the Auditors if they were full-time employees of Fulton County Schools. When Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem said that they were not, the governing board members asked who they worked for, to which they responded IAG Forensics. After this conversation, the governing board members returned to Mr. Sener’s office for a conference.
Shortly after, Mr. Ozer returned to the conference room and told Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang that they would have to leave until he received a note from Jim Yerich stating that they were authorized to work at FSAMS. Mr. Ozer said that Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang could return to FSAMS after lunch, or whenever he received this correspondence from Jim Yerich. The Auditors subsequently packed up their bags and left.
In the afternoon of March 29, 2012, staff at IAG Forensics received two phone calls from unidentified individuals inquiring about Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem. One caller asked to speak with Ms. Chang. When told that Ms. Chang was not available, the caller asked to speak with Ms. Salem, but hung up immediately after the call was transferred. George Dyke, Director of Operations for IAG Forensics, fielded a second call in which the caller asked whether or not Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem were employed by IAG Forensics. That evening, Mr. Dyke was copied on an on-going email stream, originated by Susan Muly.9 In this email, Ms. Muly inquired about Ms. Salem’s role in the audit of FSAMS. In addition, Ms. Muly asked about the FCS badges that had been issued to non-contractual employees. Mr. Dyke had had no prior contact with Ms. Muly, nor had he been involved in the audit of FSAMS
Mr.Yerich sent an email to Mr. Ozer later that afternoon stating the following:
From: Yerich, James
Sent: Thu 3/29/2012 5:38 PM
To: Ozer, Ali
Cc: Brock, Glenn; Schultz, Linda; Avossa, Robert
Subject: RE: Auditor Identity Issue
Pat Salem and Caroline Chang will return to Fulton Science Academy Middle School at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, March 30, 2012. The fact that IAG Forensics is assisting me with your audit is not new information that you only became privy to today. You have known this since March 21. Their authority to assist with the audit comes from me, for any reason I deem necessary, and my authority to conduct audits at any of our schools or charter schools comes from the Fulton County Board of Education. “Auditor Identity” is not an issue.
Accordingly, Ms. Salem and Ms. Chang will be at your office at the date and time noted above and I expect you and your staff will give them your full cooperation.
James Yerich, CPA
Director of Internal Audits
Fulton County Board of Education
In the evening of March 29, 2012, Mr. Brock sent a letter to Mr. Ozer to inform Mr. Ozer of his “current and ongoing breach of the Fulton Science Academy Middle School (FSAMS) charter contract” Mr. Brock cited the on-going obstructionist behavior that the Auditors were encountering, hampering their ability to conduct the audit. In addition, with a copy of the same letter, Mr. Brock notified the State Department of Education of this communication.
Ms. Salem, Ms. Chang and Ms. Huston returned on March 30, 2012, to continue their work. From that day forward, the FSAMS staff cooperated fully with the Auditors. FSAMS did, however, maintain its policy of only allowing the audit to be conducted every third day, when Mr. Yilmaz was available. In addition, the process of pulling records, one month at a time continued; and documents were not pulled in advance of the auditors’ arrival.
On the morning of that same day, March 30, 2012, FCS board members received an email from Mark Lassetter regarding the FSAMS audit. In his note, Mr. Lassetter accused theLead Auditor of Fulton County School System of a “serious breach of ethics and safety” for issuing “fraudulent identifications” to employees of IAG. The FCS badges issued to Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem, however, were not fraudulent; Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem followed the procedures, as set forth by FCS, to legally obtain these badges. Mr. Lassetter’s email also stated, “Thursday morning three individuals arrived at FSA Middle school (sic) and presented FCSS identifications. Later it was discovered (and recorded) that two of them were in fact NOT FCSS employees, but employees of IAG.” Mr. Lassetter was not present on the previous day when Ms. Lassetter questioned Ms. Chang, Ms Huston and Ms. Salem, nor was he present on March 21, the first time Ms. Lassetter questioned Ms. Salem, so it is not clear from where he obtained his facts.
At no time during this audit have Ms. Chang or Ms. Salem represented themselves as FCS employees. As stated above, on March 21, when Ms. Lassetter asked Ms. Salem for whom she worked, Ms. Salem clearly stated that she worked for IAG Forensics. Ms. Salem provided the same answer on March 29, when Ms. Lassetter asked her the same question. It was not, therefore, a new discovery on March 29, as Mr. Lassetter describes it, that Ms. Salem was not an FCS employee.
In this same email, Mr. Lassetter also states that the FCS badges allowed Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem “access to parent personal financial information and more importantly put all the students at risk.” Mr. Lassetter later states in his note, “I feel that this may even be criminal as it involves child endangerment.” Ms. Chang and Ms. Salem are not aware of ever having been in the same proximity as Mr. Lassetter. Mr. Lassetter provided no substantive proof that the IAG auditors had, at any time, taken any action to endanger the children at FSAMS. In fact, the Auditors had no interaction with any child while on FSAMS premises other than passing the students in the hall or at the front of the school at dismissal time. It is, therefore, unclear what actions may have been perpetrated to warrant an accusation of child endangerment.
As detailed above, the Auditors experienced an environment of resistance and obstructionism. Concerns about FSAMS’ management and their lack of compliance with state guidelines were raised by Fitch Ratings and referenced in Mr. Louis J. Erste’s April 30, 2012 letter to Mr. Ozer. Fitch stated that “…FSA’s management is either unable or unwilling to operate effectively in a highly regulated charter school environment.”
This unwillingness to cooperate with the Auditors and comply with regulations may provide explanations for some of the other audit findings discussed below.
While the audit process was impeded due to the early lack of cooperation and FSAMS’ continued failure to gather and organize the documents requested in advance of the site visits, the QB records and physical accounting records seemed to be well-maintained and organized. Each time Mr. Yilmaz was requested to locate a specific check and related invoice, he was able to retrieve it. We did note that the method by which the school maintained its invoices did make it more time-consuming to locate specifically selected invoices;13 however, per Mr. Yerich, this filing system is not uncommon among some of the FCS schools.
Mr. Yerich and Ms. Huston provided IAG with copies of various “mapping schedules” that Mr. Yilmaz purportedly prepared to assist Internal Audit and the FCS Board of Education (“FCSBOE”) in their efforts to match the QB financial accounting records at FSAMS to the monthly reports provided to the FCSBOE (Exhibit 1).14 We have not performed any procedures on these mapping schedules (either to compare them with the QB files or to the monthly financial reports provided to the FCSBOE); however, we did note that they are very difficult to follow (particularly for non-accountants) and do not simplify the desired matching process. We recommend that FSAMS consider a different format (i.e. grouping schedules by account number) that can be easily replicated by Internal Audit or the FCSBOE each month to enhance the transparency of the monthly reporting to all interested parties.
In the typical course of our engagements, we perform various Internet searches of interested parties. Such searches were performed in this engagement to determine whether there existed any inter-relationships or potential conflicts of interest which would violate the terms of FSAMS charter. In the course of these searches, we encountered a relevant finding of a criminal nature involving an individual in a position of authority. As a result, we requested copies of the background checks for a number of individuals. It was noted that the individual discovered to have a criminal background did sign a consent form for a criminal background check to be performed by FCS. We are not aware of whether the criminal background check was, in fact, performed. Nor are we aware of whether the criminal record was sealed on the Georgia Crime Information Center (“GCIC”) database as a first time offender and thus, may not have appeared on a GCIC criminal background check.
We also inquired about the security measures taken with regard to FSAMS’ field trips to Turkey that ranged in length from one to two weeks each. Specifically, Ms. Salem asked Principal Sener whether background checks were performed on the adults who traveled with the students and teachers. According to Principal Sener, the adults were considered participants, not chaperones, and as a result, the school did not require any background checks to be performed.
As discussed below in Section 3.5, there were a large number of adults traveling with the students on each of the three trips examined. FCS, in its role of charter schools oversight, and FSAMS, in its role of the trip sponsor, might want to consider the security issues this might raise.
We were requested to examine the immigration practices of FSAMS and noted that the school engaged the services of the Law Offices of Cherie E. Cookorinis and incurred costs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). During the period between May 2009 and present, FSAMS incurred $74,846 in fees to the attorney and DHS. We noted that FSAMS incurred legal costs for immigration services on behalf of not only their employees, but also their family members.
Per the Payroll Summary Report for pay period 02/01/2012 to 02/29/2012, FSAMS had 62 employees. On Monday, May 7, 2012, Mr. Yilmaz stated that FSAMS has 60 employees. Of the 60 employees (as cited by Mr. Yilmaz) currently working for FSAMS, 12 (20%) have received or are currently receiving immigration services paid for by FSAMS. By cross-referencing the invoices from the Law Office of Cherie E. Cookorinis and the DHS and the rosters provided by FCS, we determined that FSAMS recruited personnel from outside the country for the following positions. The specific individuals we identified and their respective positions (between 2009 and present) are as follows:
• Aksoy, Doguscu (Mehmet) – Network Administrator
• Aktas, Yucel – HR Manager
• Ay, Ridvan – Combination Teacher
• Bozkir, Enes (Necip) – Character Education Teacher (MS Connections Teacher)
• Demir, Zafer – Science Teacher, Science Olympiad Teacher, Academic Team Coach
• Dilek, Elif – Turkish Teacher
• Dogu, Sehnaz – Life Science Teacher
• Ersoy, Sabiha – Math Teacher
• Genc, Aziz – Combination Teacher
• Gunerhan, Ergul – Combination Teacher
• Kaya, Mehmet – Turkish Teacher
• Kaya, Yasin – IT Specialist, Computer Teacher• Okumus, Ismail – Turkish Teacher, African/Semetic Language Teacher, Science Lab Coordinator
• Oncul, Ebru – Earth Science Teacher
• Seker, Davut – Math Teacher
• Turan, Nevruz – Science Teacher, Asst. Principal of Instruction
• Tuzen, Salih – Math Teacher
• Yeter, Ibrahim – Combination Teacher
We examined three of the international field trips in the course of our engagement: (1) Spring 2011 Turkey Trip, (2) Summer 2011 Turkey Trip and (3) Spring 2012 Turkey Trip. Spring 2011 Turkey Trip (Schedule 1)
With regard to the Spring 2011 Turkey Trip, we noted that there was evidence of 47 potential participants; however, we were unable to determine the identity of five (5) of them.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog