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Corvian charter school reports $50K embezzlement after firing its director

Corvian elementary school
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Corvian elementary school

Corvian Community School, a K-12 charter school in northeast Charlotte, reported to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Friday that an employee made $50,000 in unauthorized credit card charges for clothes, a hotel room and a helicopter ride.

The suspect is not named in the public police report, but the report was filed two days after the school’s board fired founder Stacey Haskell from her job as executive director. She made $164,550, according to the school’s most recent nonprofit IRS filing.

The board held a special meeting Wednesday night and voted to fire Haskell, effective immediately. The termination letter cites “substantial evidence of misuse (of) funds as well as concerns over human resource matters.” It says Haskell had not been on the job since Oct. 31.

The police report was filed Friday; Charlotte-Mecklenburg police provided a public version of that report to WFAE Monday morning. It lists the offenses as happening between October of 2020 and November of this year.

Haskell’s attorney, John Gresham, says the board put Haskell on leave in late October, initially telling her she’d be back in a week. He says he fielded several queries from an attorney working for the Corvian board related to two credit cards that were in Haskell’s name and were used by both her and the school. He said he provided documentation that Haskell paid for her personal expenses and used federal grant money to cover travel to conferences for Haskell and other top Corvian staff.

It wasn’t a good system, Gresham acknowledged, but it was the way things had worked for years and the board had not objected.

“Hey, charter schools sometimes operate a bit differently than your traditional public school,” he said.

Haskell founded Corvian as a private school in 2010. The state approved it as a publicly funded charter school in 2012. It now has about 1,300 K-12 students and a budget of $15 million, which includes $8.7 million from the state and $4.1 million in local per-pupil funds. The rest comes from federal sources, private fundraising and fees.

Gresham says the Corvian board’s lawyer asked about a personal trip to Europe that Haskell had put on her own credit card, which she also allowed the school to use. He says she could document that she had paid for that trip.

“The school currently has $23,000 on that card, which she has now frozen,” Gresham said Monday. He said the school’s charges are for a school trip and several months of water bills.

Other questions from Corvian’s investigator focused on conferences put on the second card, which was in Haskell’s name but used the school’s Employee Identification Number, Gresham said. He says federal grant money paid for several conferences attended by Haskell and other Corvian staff — including a sightseeing helicopter ride during a 2019 conference in Chicago. He says she bought clothes for herself and other staff before attending a bond conference in Florida, where he says Haskell and her staff got money to build a new elementary school after the old one was flooded.

Gresham says the school initially paid for about $3,000 in Apple TV charges that Haskell’s children had inadvertently put on the second card, but she reimbursed that when the problem was discovered.

On Nov. 28, Gresham says, the board’s lawyer asked Haskell to take her name off the card used primarily by the school. “She said yes,” Haskell said, and the account was transferred solely to the school.

“But then the next day, she’s terminated,” Gresham said. He read from an email the Corvian board’s lawyer sent him saying that the investigation was done under attorney-client privilege, which provides confidentiality, and that no written report was provided to the board. Gresham says Haskell still doesn’t know details of the board’s concerns, including the reference to human resources matters, and learned only from news media on Monday that the board had filed a police report.

“This came out of the blue,” he said. “There’s been no demand to Ms. Haskell to repay any monies to the school, which one would have thought might have been the first step if the school had evidence of funds that she had improperly received.”

Corvian board chair Ed Franklin provided public documents that were requested, including the board’s budget, Haskell’s termination letter and the letter notifying families about her firing. Franklin declined to discuss the matter further.

North Carolina’s Office of Charter Schools oversees the operation of the state’s 211 charter schools. State Charter School Director Ashley Baquero said last week that her office learned that the Corvian board had launched "a third-party investigation" several weeks ago. Her office "has been in contact with the school’s attorney and board to ensure that the school remains financially and operationally stable" and continues to support the school, she said.

"OCS has not seen the investigation’s report, but head of school terminations are the authority of the school’s board and it’s clear the board has been transparent with stakeholders in its decisions regarding leadership," Baquero said.

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Updated: December 4, 2023 at 4:42 PM EST
Updated with information from Stacey Haskell's lawyer.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.