Fledgling Doral College got a $400,000 windfall two years ago that helped the small start-up open its doors. The “grant” came from Doral Academy Charter High, a publicly funded school run by the same company.
The deal helped Doral College stay in the black and furthered a joint effort with the charter school to establish an in-house dual-enrollment program. But the transaction also caught the eye of Miami-Dade school district auditors, who have spent the last year questioning why and how a school funded by the state could hand hundreds of thousands of public dollars to an unaccredited, private college.
“The authority and legality of said expense is also not clear to us,” investigators wrote in an audit presented Tuesday.
Auditors say both the grant and a problematic lease they scrutinized are evidence of a larger issue created when the independent governing boards tasked with overseeing charters share close ties with the companies paid to run the public schools, often for a profit. In the Doral case, several board members of the school and college serve in various other capacities for charter school giant Academica, which manages both schools.
Academica president Fernando Zulueta declined to comment Tuesday when approached by a reporter.
But in a biting response to the audit, an attorney representing the school said the grant was a legitimate transaction between partners in education, which existed under the same company when the charter school first set aside the $400,000 for the college. The district’s critical audit, attorney Eleni Pantaridis argued, omitted crucial facts and was the flawed work of a biased investigator who “does not support the charter school system.”