Contact 13 Investigates
You Paid for It: Charter school shut down after serious allegations
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Falsified transcripts, forged signatures, doctored documents. That's only part of what Contact 13 found going on at a school that you paid for.
Chief Investigator Darcy Spears uncovers why the school shut down and how many of your tax dollars are missing.
Flowers on a kitchen table isn't a standard school scene, but in a virtual world where keyboards and computers replace classrooms, it's typical.
"It's a great opportunity for students to not have the bullying, not have the drama, you know all the stuff that comes along with being in a traditional school," says Katherine von Collenberg.
Katherine is a licensed teacher who home-schools her kids through online charter schools -- a largely positive experience until she signed on to teach at Renaissance Academy.
"When I was originally hired, I was hired over the phone."
That was just the teeny tip of the titanic iceberg that sunk Renaissance Academy.
The captain of the ship was Roy Harden -- just 26 years old when he was put in charge of the school.
"He'd never run a school like this before," admitted Interim Administrator Gary Manning.
Darcy: He'd never run a school. Period.
Gary: He'd never run a school. Exactly.
Darcy: Didn't have a professional formal educator background.
Gary: Correct. And that was hard.
But that's who the Renaissance Academy board decided to entrust with the education of hundreds of students across our state.
Darcy: And where was the board during all this time that things were falling apart?
Katherine: They were just letting him run it.
Had they done their homework, they'd have found what Contact 13 uncovered. Roy Harden doesn't even have a college degree.
"For someone like that to be running a charter school..." Katherine says, shaking her head.
Though Renaissance was an online school, they did have administrative offices, which we found gutted. The school and many of the tax dollars that funded it are gone.
And students don't have much to show for the little schooling they got from Fall 2011 to Spring of this year.
"That's almost a whole year of their education that they just were misguided," Katherine says.
Staff we spoke to say the biggest problem was perhaps the most basic, starting with the computers for this online school.
They say the equipment that was ordered didn't come with CD or DVD drives, and essentially was incapable of delivering the education that parents and students signed up for.
"I know that Roy had bought a lot of computer equipment, big screen TVs to have in his office for him to use. Multi TV screens, I mean I'm talking eight, and a big, 60-something inch TV that he used for his computer," Katherine recalls.
Darcy: So you're saying the money that went to his gadgets should have gone to providing the right equipment for students to learn?
Darcy: And it didn't?
Things got pretty weird at the Renaissance administrative offices. The state is alleging that the school administrator was living inside the offices. It's clear that he had a toilet and a shower installed at a place that's inside a strip mall.
"In general, I think the whole thing was surprising to me," says State Public Charter School Authority Director Dr. Steve Canavero.
His agency's audit and investigation led to the school's shut down after they found things like teacher signatures being forged on attendance logs. For charter schools, more kids means more money.
"And there were some things done that probably should not have been done to do that," Gary Manning said. "And some things were falsified."
State records show documents had been doctored down to student classes, even grades.
Gary Manning showed us an example.
Gary: This one, World/U.S. History, she got an F. She never had World/U.S. History.
Darcy: Didn't even take the course?
Gary: Didn't even take the course.
Darcy: So doing stuff like this -- altering grades -- harms the students.
Gary: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Darcy: And this was not just one, two or three kids.
Gary: No, unfortunately it wasn't.
They may not ever really know what the final fallout will be for their students.
"Especially those with high school transcripts that are falsified," says Katherine. "It's gonna take them a long time to get that half of a year back."
The state is trying to get something back too. More than $1.2 million tax dollars the Department of Education says was overpaid to Renaissance based on fuzzy enrollment and attendance numbers.
Darcy: Where did all that money they got from the state go?
Katherine: That's a good question.
We wanted to ask Roy Harden that question. But he ignored emails, text messages and phone calls. We even went to his last known address -- which is his parents' home.
No response from him or his attorney, who we also called several times.
So what does all this mean to the state?
"It suggests that I move it to the Attorney General's office, which we did," says Dr. Canavero.
The A.G. will have lots of questions for the board, because the buck stops with them. That's who we went to for answers. We'll show you what we found as this Contact 13 investigation continues tomorrow on Action News live at 5.