Embattled charter schools face new allegations from ex-teacher

A former teacher has sued Richard Allen Schools and their former management company, saying they withheld paychecks while “fraudulently” blaming the state, and failed to pay insurance premiums causing coverage to lapse, among other allegations.

This lawsuit came just as the Dayton Daily News reported other issues involving the charter school chain in Dayton and Hamilton, including delayed state audits and a state suit seeking $2.2 million from the current superintendent and others.

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The new lawsuit filed by Belinda Brown names the schools and The Institute of Management and Resources as defendants. IMR handled day-to-day operations of the Richard Allen Schools until summer 2017, according to Michelle Thomas, formerly a director of IMR and still superintendent of the charter school group.

The civil lawsuit, dated March 2 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. Brown has requested a jury trial.

Thomas indicated last week that the Richard Allen Schools should not be a defendant in the case. Brown’s contract to teach there was an agreement with IMR, according to Thomas.

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“The schools were not the staff’s employer during the years at issue in this legal action, and the schools have complied with all applicable laws regarding employment and the use of public funds,” Thomas said in an email. “The schools remains committed to empowering all student learners to become educated and productive citizen leaders of the world.”

Brown’s lawsuit says she taught for Richard Allen in the 2016-17 school year and submitted her signed contract for 2017-18 on time. But she said in May 2017, payroll checks of some employees were withheld. The lawsuit claims that Jeanette Harris, who had led IMR and the schools, emailed school staff “fraudulently indicating that defendant Richard Allen was at the mercy of the state to release funding for payment of staff salaries …”

Harris could not be reached for comment.

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Brown hired an attorney in August 2017 and, after confirming that state funding had been sent to Richard Allen, pressed the schools and IMR about the missing checks, according to the lawsuit. But she soon found herself locked out of school email and other communication and not given a teaching assignment for 2017-18.

Brown also claims that “defendants failed to make timely insurance payments in 2016-17, which resulted in plaintiff paying over $500 in medical expenses” that the employer was supposed to cover. Harris also told Brown and other employees they were subject to a $1,000 penalty for terminating their contracts after a July 10, 2017, deadline, the lawsuit says. But Brown said she renewed her contract before that deadline.

As reported by the Dayton Daily News on March 3, about $2.2 million that state officials say IMR improperly spent at Richard Allen earlier this decade has not been repaid. The state has sued Thomas, Harris, IMR and others for that money, but that case is on hold while IMR’s bankruptcy filing plays out.

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IMR also owns the buildings Richard Allen Schools still operate in, raising questions of what will happen to the schools once the bankruptcy case is resolved. And no state financial audits for Richard Allen Schools have been released for the past three school years.

Allison Dumski, press secretary for state auditor Keith Faber, said that the auditor’s office will not discuss work on Richard Allen audits until they are complete. The Ohio Department of Education declined comment, citing pending litigation. The Ohio Attorney General’s office, which has its own pending lawsuit against IMR and its former leaders, did not respond to requests for comment on the new allegations.

Thomas said that the recent story about issues at Richard Allen and IMR has “damaged my name. And I don’t have anything to do with it. I’m just an employee.”

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