FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — The superintendent of Florence 1 Schools has asked the 12th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to look into alleged financial misdeeds by the Palmetto Youth Academy charter school and its director.
The request by Superintendent Richard O’Malley cites an affidavit from a court-appointed receiver that shows “egregious spending of taxpayer dollars” by the school’s director, Yvonne Brown-Burgess.
The Florence 1 Schools board of trustees voted in May not to renew the certification of the charter. The board said the school “committed a material violation of the conditions, standards, and performance expectations” and violated teacher staffing standards. The board also said the academy’s academic achievement record was “unsatisfactory.”
Academy officials subsequently filed an appeal in an effort to remain open, but the appeal was denied in August by the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.
Prior to the appeal, Florence 1 Schools alleged that the academy continued to operate and use taxpayer money despite the board of trustees’ decision to “terminate” the school as of June 30. O’Malley said that as late as July 31, the academy was continuing to enroll students.
In his affidavit dated Oct. 27, the court-appointed receiver, John Edward Haas, said that despite multiple attempts, the academy’s leaders have refused to cooperate with him and turn over information despite a court order.
According to O’Malley, South Carolina laws state that once a charter school is dissolved its assets cannot be used to benefit any private individual and that any assets obtained through “restricted agreements with a donor through awards, grants or gifts must be returned to that entity.”
In his news release asking for an investigation, O’Malley said Haas’ affidavit shows that as recently as May 9, the day after Florence 1 Schools voted not to renew the academy’s charter, “PYA began moving assets and money with the intent to secretly hide them away.”
“PYA and its representatives also started disposing of the Non-profit entities’ funds in an effort to circumvent its obligations under the Charter Schools Act,” O’Malley said.
During that time, O’Malley said evidence shows that Brown-Burgess transferred more than $300,000 to herself and nearly $300,000 to former employees and associates.
According to O’Malley, Haas’ affidavit also shows that since May 8, the school paid out $94,500 in year-end bonuses to employees. In addition, more than $314,000 was transferred directly to Brown-Burgess and more than $200,000 went to others affiliated with the school.
In addition, O’Malley said Haas’ affidavit shows the following transactions made by the school:
- PYA transferred approximately fifty (50) acres and the building area owned by the
School to Devon Long and Prayer Tabernacle ‘The Place of Refuge’ Church for five
- On June 1, 2023, Palmetto Youth Services opened an account at South State Bank. That account was opened with a $250,000.00 deposit that appears to have been withdrawn from Palmetto Youth Academy Charter School’s account at Wells Fargo. The Deposits into this Wells Fargo account came from Florence School District One.
- After September 22, 2023, Palmetto Youth Academy (PYA) and Palmetto Youth
Services (PYS), apparently through Ms. Brown-Burgess, who signed the checks,
made multiple transfers and payments from the South State Bank, including an
internal transfer to a PERSONAL SAVINGS account for $4,400.00 that took place
online on September 27, 2023.
- There was also a deposit into the South State Account on September 20, 2023 in
the amount of $152,300.00 that matches a withdrawal from the PYA’s Wells Fargo
- On October 3, 2023, there was a draft by ADP for a Payroll that we believe is for
the School Ms. Brown-Burgess is operating as “Palmetto Promise Academy.” That
Payroll is in the amount of $9,292.09 and a TAX PAY withdrawal on the same day
- There was a $10,000.00 cash withdrawal from the account on October 4, 2023.
- Ms. Brown-Burgess wrote checks on the account for lawn services and other
substantial checks that resulted in withdrawals of more than Forty-Eight thousand
dollars from the PYS account after the Court’s Order was issued and served. These
actions violate the Court’s injunction and Orders relating to handling and
In addition, O’Malley said the affidavit shows that on May 10, Brown-Burgess wrote $400,000 worth of checks from a TD Bank account, including two worth $100,000 in which she was the payee.
Then, on June 30, two more checks — one for $67,277 and one for $52,123 — were issued from a TD Bank account with Brown-Burgess as the payee.
The Palmetto Youth Academy opened in August 2005 with 75 students in grades three through six.
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Dennis Bright is a Digital Producer at News13. He joined the team in May 2021. Dennis is a West Virginia native and a graduate of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Follow Dennis on, Facebook, X, formerly Twitter, and read more of his work here.