State officials are looking into the financial dealings of Kairos Academies charter school, where three current and former executives received nearly $600,000 in back pay dating to several years before the school opened in 2019.
Blythe Bernhard: St. Louis charter school founders ‘double-dipped’ from public school tax dollars
Sometimes people figure it out. In this case, it’s a reporter from St. Louis Today and some state officials.
The Missouri auditor’s office is reviewing a whistleblower report and state Sen. Doug Beck, D-south St. Louis County, said Thursday he was alarmed by what he called an abuse of taxpayer dollars.
Beck plans to make charter school reform a priority in the next legislative session, he said.
“We need to draw some attention to this. What are we paying for? We’re taking taxpayer money and it’s not going into the classroom,” Beck said. “I don’t know how that’s not fraud.”
In late 2021 and early 2022, Kairos co-founders Gavin Schiffres received $272,881, Jack Krewson received $199,881 and Brittany Kelleher received $100,721 in back pay, according to school records released in June.
The deferred compensation was awarded for “substantial personal risk to ensure Kairos’ doors opened and students were receiving the transformational, personalized education they deserved,” according to a statement from the school.
So, a special covid bonus. There are a few million other people working in schools who would have appreciated similar rewards.
Beck has also noticed that these kinds of shenanigans are a feature, not a bug.
The lawmaker also said he wants the state to reform or abolish the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, which sponsors Kairos.
“I think the charter commission has to go. There is no accountability there,” Beck said. “The part that’s frustrating, there is no mechanism there to make the schools better or see where your money is going.”
When reached by phone Thursday, the commission’s executive director Robbyn Wahby referred to Kairos’ financial documents and then hung up on the reporter.
NPE’s Carol Burris was asked for comment.
From 2015 to 2017, Schiffres taught English at Jennings High School and Krewson taught math at Normandy High School through Teach for America, while earning master’s degrees from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Their salaries paid by the school districts were around $38,000 each, according to public records.
Schiffres received $54,900 and Krewson received $45,900 in back pay from Kairos for the period they were employed by the school districts, the charter school’s records show.
“They are double-dipping from the government,” said Carol Burris, executive director of the New York-based advocacy group Network for Public Education. “I find this to be outrageous. This is a gift of public funds and if it’s not illegal, it should be.”