Pinellas charter schools call for audit to explain $1.3 million loan by private managers

Newpoint Education Partners is a management company for charter schools.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Leaders of the Windsor Prep, East Windsor Academy and Newpoint Pinellas Academy Charter Schools are taking steps to boot out Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint is the private management company that ran those schools deeply into debt with $1,288,133 in cash advance “loans” that no one can remember signing.

In a financial rescue proposal known as a “corrective action plan” handed into the Pinellas County School District Tuesday, Windsor Prep’s board detailed a number of steps to save the charter school from its current “deteriorating financial condition.”

The schools’ financial state puts them on a kind of death watch with the Pinellas district and Florida Department Of Education. If they don’t turn around their finances soon, they could lose their charters to operate.

A major part of the rescue plan involves an operational audit of how Newpoint, or NEP, managed the three charter schools for a 22 percent fee of all the tax dollars that funded them. That amounts to millions over the past three years. Windsor’s school board wants auditors to determine whether NEP had proper controls “to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse,” among other things.

Last month 8 On Your Side uncovered NEP claims that the schools owe it a huge amount in “loans,” even though NEP has no paperwork to prove any such debt. NEP now claims the “loans” came in the form of cash advances. According to NEP’s contract with the schools, there was supposed to be executed promissory notes or other documentation to back up any cash advances. There are none.

NEP’s CEO Eileen Quinlan suddenly announced the company was quitting the schools March 8 and said she was transferring all of NEP’s assets to a new management company called Alliance Education Services. Alliance’s managers say they agreed to an acquisition of NEP in principal but still have not finalized any deal with NEP.

All of that leaves the charter schools in a kind of dead zone of fiscal management during their darkest hour. NEP has basically vanished from the picture in the middle of the school year, even though it is technically still in control of the schools’ finances.

An attorney for the charter schools has written to NEP to provide legal notice of its “material breach of the management contract.” That’s the first step toward formally firing NEP and wrenching back financial control. School leaders are refusing to pay NEP any of the $1.288 million NEP claims it is owed without proof that is a legally enforceable debt.

Starting in May the charter schools will open new checking accounts and control the money flow of tax dollars that are keeping the charter schools in business. Meanwhile the Pinellas County School District is giving the three schools until May 1 to complete the operational audit and until May 15 to submit a budget for next year’s operations.

The biggest part of those tasks involves solving the mystery of the $1.288 million cash advances. If there is an easy answer, no one at NEP is rushing to explain. Quinlan did not respond to repeated emails and phone messages left by 8 On Your Side. Emails sent to Quinlan’s NEP business address refer all questions to Alliance. Alliance did not respond either.

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