FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Florence 1 Schools is alleging that Palmetto Youth Academy Charter School is operating illegally, and the superintendent has sent letters to public officials including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson.
The charter school, which Florence 1 Schools board members voted not to renew the certification for in May, has “continued to operate utilizing millions of taxpayer dollars under a company called Palmetto Youth Services,” according to a news release from the school district.
In a recent affidavit asking the court to issue an order, Florence 1 Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley said that the school was terminated on June 30, according to the release.
“The school board issued its order denying the charter renewal and effectively closed the school on May 18. That decision effectively terminated the school on June 30,” O’Malley said in the release. “Nevertheless, on July 31, I learned that PYA was apparently open this year and enrolling students.”
O’Malley said the charter school is currently operating under no authority as the South Carolina Department of Education closed the school via a letter on Aug. 1. However, Michelle McBride, a district administrator, visited the school on Aug. 1 and confirmed that it was still open.
“PYA is operating, apparently using a fund balance that belongs to Florence 1 taxpayers and assets including buildings and land valued at over millions of dollars and may have amounts owed to the South Carolina and Federal governments,” O’Malley said in the release.
“PYA’s most recent audit report reveals a cash fund balance in excess of $1.2 million. Those funds and assets are public property as PYA was a public charter school,” he continued.
According to the affidavit, O’Malley said that the district is seeking an order to keep additional taxpayer resources from being wasted.
“Palmetto Youth Services Inc. is a second nonprofit entity controlled by Ms. Brown-Burgess (executive director of PYA). In her testimony, she refers to Palmetto Youth Services as our ‘parent organizations,'” O’Malley said. “To the best of my knowledge, based upon the information that our staff has been able to adduce, Palmetto Youth Services has no income or revenue aside from payments made by Palmetto Youth Academy.”
O’Malley also said in the affidavit that in June 2022, Florence 1 Schools attempted to schedule a meeting to work with Brown-Burgess to address some “deficiencies” within the charter school, but he alleges she did not cooperate.
“While both Palmetto Youth Services and Palmetto Youth Academy are incorporated as eleemosynary corporations, neither has federal tax-exempt status, IRS records,” O’Malley alleged in the release. “Exhibit 8 reflects that Palmetto Youth Academy has never had tax-exempt status, and that Palmetto Youth Services’ tax-exempt status was revoked in 2010.”
“While neither has tax-exempt status — neither appears to have filed appropriate federal and state tax returns,” O’Malley added.
During the hearing between the district board and Brown-Burgess, Brown-Burgess’s testimony revealed she did not have the legally required certified teachers in the school, according to the affidavit. The K-2 teachers were also allegedly not in the classroom for the whole day, with the two teachers leaving at 1:30 p.m. and the school day ending at 3 p.m.
The district also further learned through Brown-Burgess’s testimony that the charter school did not enter any pupil grades in PowerSchool, which is required by state law and regulations throughout the year, the affidavit shows.
O’Malley continues the allegations against Brown-Burgess in the affidavit, saying “her conduct and refusal to abide by the law is evident and absent the court’s strong intervention, she will continue to convert public assets for her private use.”
O’Malley sent letters to public officials on Aug. 1 including 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements, Florence County Assessor Jamie Floyd, South Carolina Department of Revenue Director W. Hartley Powell, South Carolina Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
He has asked them to investigate the financial dealings of the charter school operating as a separate business utilizing public funds, according to the release.
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Caleb is a digital producer at News13. Caleb joined the team in January 2023 after graduating from Liberty University. He is from Northern Virginia. Follow Caleb on Twitter and read more of his work here.