Monday, October 16, 2017

MORE LIES? From “Our Improving Financial Health” To Staff Cuts A Month Later? Grand Traverse Academy's Increasingly Gloomy “Financial Picture” Adds Nearly $800,000 In Debt Service!


Taylor made “constant attempts to hide her fraudulent activity by manipulating entries into the general ledger, (indicating) there is no question as to criminal intent,” a Rehmann Group financial investigation states. 
Traverse City Record-Eagle June 2, 2017 

In early 2016, according to various news reports, Leelanau Redi-Mix employees called Leelanau County sheriff's deputies to report their suspicions that bookkeeper Carolyn Taylor, who at the time was still employed at the family owned business, was manipulating payroll records and forging checks. 

According to a story in the June 2, 2017 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Leelanau County sheriff's deputies and a forensic auditor launched an investigation, eventually detailing Taylor's suspected embezzlement in a series of police reports and a forensic audit extensive enough to fill several binders. 

However, if you compare Leelanau County's activity with the Grand Traverse Academy's foot-dragging and inattention regarding Steven Ingersoll's admitted misappropriation of nearly $5.0 million from the Traverse City charter schoolan admission Ingersoll made under oath during his sentencing hearing — you'll find the roots of the school's current financial crisis.

There was no effort made to curtail Ingersoll's access to the Grand Traverse Academy's funds after he admitted to its board on May 20, 2013 he owed the school $3.5 million, an admission that occurred nearly a year before Ingersoll was indicted by federal prosecutors for tax evasion. 

No fingers were lifted after former board president, Brad Habermehl, was revealed to have solicited a $300,000 loan on behalf of his “friend and colleague” Steven Ingersoll for a purported private school venture while still a member of the Grand Traverse Academy board!

And even now-disgraced former manager, and longtime board member, Mark Noss hung around for another 18 months after it was revealed he'd paid nearly $500,000 in hush money payments to Steven Ingersoll — after vehemently denying for years any business relationship with the convicted felon.

But what happened, you might ask, to the “improving financial health” as propagandized in late August by the Grand Traverse Academy's superintendent, Susan Dameron?

This happened: the decision by the Grand Traverse Academy board to refinance a $2.3 million in short-term debt owed to Traverse City State Bank with an agreement that includes a stunning provision requiring the interception of nearly $800,000 of school aid funds away from the Grand Traverse Academy and transmitted directly to bondholders for debt-service payments — funding that cannot be redirected to any other budget line item.

Here are the key components of the agreement, one that will likely send the Grand Traverse Academy into a deficit within this school year: 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

DEFICIT GROWS AT BAY CITY ACADEMY: Now Under Department Of Treasury Oversight, Unchecked Financial Slide Continues At Charter School Founded By Convicted Tax Cheat Steven Ingersoll

DEBT HANGOVER CONTINUES: STEVEN INGERSOLL'S PREDATORY AND ILLEGAL SCHEME TOOK CALLOUS ADVANTAGE OF MICHIGAN TAXPAYERS, TEACHERS AND STUDENTS AT BAY CITY ACADEMY! The Michigan's Department of Education (MDE) released its latest “Quarterly Report to the Legislature on Deficit Districts” on October 11, 2017, including an update on the fraud factory known as the Bay City Academy, and the result is shocking—after millions of taxpayer dollars poured into the school since its deficit was revealed in 2015, the charter school projects it will end the most recent fiscal year with an even larger deficit. 

Based on projections, and expressed as a percentage of revenue, the Bay City Academy's deficit is 41.09%. 

In 2016, the deficit was 35% of revenues.

Expressed in term dollars? The 2017 deficit is projected to be  -$1,260,373.

The MDE is required to report quarterly to the Michigan Legislature on schools incurring year-end deficits and the progress in reducing those deficits. In the fourth quarterly report for FY 2016-2017, an analysis of the projected FY 2016-2017 financial data was been completed for those schools that ended FY 2015-2016 with a deficit. The analysis was conducted using data collected from Deficit Elimination Plans (DEPs) and required monthly budget control reports. 

According to the Bay City Academy's 2014/2015 financial report, the charter school incurred a significant operating deficit in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, resulting in a cash flow shortage — the Academy's liabilities exceeded its assets by $1,374,477. 

Stating that its finding was a result of observation and inquiry with the Academy's administration, the auditors in 2015 determined the deficit was result of an over reliance on Smart Schools Management for financial oversight. 

As a result, there was “a lack of appropriate administrative oversight by the Board of Directors over the Academy's finances during the year. The effect of this condition resulted in actual expenditures exceeding budgeted amounts, and a year-end deficit fund balance.” 

However, according to a FYE June 30, 2017 3rd Quarter balance sheet filed on June 23, 2017 by the Bay City Academy, the projected year-end deficit after two years remains virtually unchanged—after two years and nearly $7.0 million public dollars poured into the school by the State of Michigan and the federal government.

Let's look at how the Bay City Academy arrived in Deficit Town: via the Steven Ingersoll Express. 

Regular readers of this blog will recognize same unethical habits — prepaid management fees and bogus “cash refunds” that went unpaid, sitting for years on the books as “receivables” from the scheme Steven Ingersoll employed during his multi-million dollar plunder scheme at the Grand Traverse Academy. 

And it appears that the Bay City charter school's board members were as willfully impotent and sympathetic as those in Traverse City. 

But let's stop talking in code. 

The Bay City Academy's $1.3 million dollar deficit in 2015 was not a “budget shortfall” or a “negative amount”, it was a loss. 

As of June 30, 2015, the Academy's current liabilities exceeded its current assets by $1,374,477 (and the General Fund had a deficit fund balance of $1,374,477). 

You'll note when you read the Bay City school's 2015 financial report, auditor Weinlander Fitzhugh expressed doubt about the financial viability of the school: “As discussed in Note 13 to the financial statements, the Academy has incurred a significant operating deficit in 2015 resulting in a cash flow shortage. These conditions raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.” 

Effectively restating financials from its first three fiscal years, and without Steven Ingersoll's trademark money sleight-of-hand, the Bay City Academy situation reminds me of Warren Buffett's famous comment: you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“THIS SCHOOL WAS HIS BABY” And Baby, Look At It Now!

BACKGROUND At a June 30, 2017 “special meeting”, the Grand Traverse Academy’s board of directors approved a “Resolution Authorizing A Line Of Credit For School Operations”, ostensibly to cover cash flow shortages in the Academy’s General Fund. 

Four board members approved the Resolution (Samer Bourdkani, Mike Drilling, Lea Piché and Lesley Werth; Mike Rogers was absent), which authorized the Academy to obtain a line of credit from a “private financial institution to secure funds for school operations”. 

The loan amount was capped at $2,335,000, but the money was not used for cash flow shortages. 

Instead, the Grand Traverse Academy’s board earmarked the new loan to fulfill its outstanding $2,341,536.74 obligation to Traverse City State Bank. 

The Michigan Finance Authority requires State Aid Note (SAN) loans funded by the Michigan Treasury be repaid not later than 372 days from from date the note was issued, and has for years. The statute authorizing state aid notes also requires funding from any other source (like municipal bond underwriting and placement firms) also be term-limited to 12 months. 

In addition, the loan in question, a $2.3 million SAN loan underwritten by Traverse City State Bank at a 5.75 percent interest rate, was authorized by the Grand Traverse Academy board during an August 30, 2016 special board meeting. 

In an August 9, 2016 Cash Flow Projection, created by deposed manager Mark Noss for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, aggressively predicted a 1,250 student count during the Grand Traverse Academy's 2016/2017 school year.  

In addition, Noss projected a 1,425 enrollment in 2017/2018.

To make matters even worse, (despite ample evidence to the contrary), Grand Traverse Academy superintendent Susan Dameron publicly stated in the last few months that she expected up to 1,200 students to enroll in the 2017-2018 school year. 

A more conservative estimate set the population at 1,160, roughly the Grand Traverse Academy's tally from the official Michigan Spring 2017 school count.

But only a little more than 1,100 students actually enrolled. 

Michigan will provide the Grand Traverse Academy a foundation allowance of $7,631 per student in FY 2018. 

With 60 fewer students, that means the district will get roughly $457,860 less than it originally budgeted for this school year. 

That loss of students compounded the Traverse City charter school’s cash flow problems. 

With the new loan, at a 4.75 percent interest rate, roughly $100,000 per month will be intercepted by the Michigan Treasury, diverted from the Grand Traverse Academy and transmitted directly to bondholders for debt-service payments.
The folks in charge of the Grand Traverse Academy, including its board of directors, would prefer you not know that the Traverse City charter school has entered into what likely will be a multi-year agreement with the U. S. operating subsidiary of an international financial services firm because it was unable to pay a seven-figure debt it owed to Traverse City State Bank. 

And the board would prefer that you did not notice it held a “special meeting” on June 30, 2017, where it approved a “Resolution Authorizing A Line Of Credit For School Operations”.

By giving that action a murky “Resolution for the Michigan Finance Authority” reference in the June meeting's official minutes (belatedly released on October 2, 2017), the board helped delay any discovery of the school's true financial picture.

But it's been revealed, and this September 26, 2017 letter from Miller Canfield's Jim Crowley to the Michigan Treasury Department on behalf of the Grand Traverse Academy makes it official. 

(The letter was part of the official Security Report for the $2,330,000 State Aid Note, issued on September 15, 2017. The report was obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request.)

According to the Michigan School Code, a school district (the Grand Traverse Academy is considered a district) “or intermediate school district that is not able to redeem its notes within 372 days after the date on which the notes were issued may enter into a multi-year agreement with a lending institution to repay its obligation. A repayment agreement shall not be executed without the prior approval of an authorized representative of the state board or, for notes sold to the Michigan finance authority only, without the approval of an authorized representative of the department of treasury.” 

Oh, sure you've read lots “pretty little lies” about the financial storm roiling the Grand Traverse Academy—and some big, ugly ones, too.

Let's look back: Grand Traverse Academy board president Lesley Werth claimed that a new offer from the PNC Bank – also “in conjunction with the MFA” – would allow officials to pay back the debt and keep the school afloat; superintendent Susan Dameron asserted “We’re rockin’ and rollin’. … We’re feeling so good about our financial picture right now and the direction that we’re headed in.”; and board treasurer Samer Bourdkani making this ludicrous claim: “If we don’t pay the state aid to Traverse City State Bank, they’re allowed to intercept our state aid coming in from the state and take it until the (debt) is satisfied.” 

The new loan, described in the Security Report as a “cash flow” note, was not made in conjunction with the Michigan Finance Authority as Lesley Werth claimed.

Instead, the Treasury department was not involved as a partner in the loan, but in its proper legal oversight role for municipal securities issued in Michigan.

In addition, the current financial picture at the Grand Traverse Academy is hardly the 60's soundtrack described by the school's superintendent: in order to strike a deal with the charter school, its investment advisor, R. W. Baird, required the additional security of a state aid intercept agreement.

Fearing the Grand Traverse Academy would be unable to pay in full the monthly principal and interest on the September 2017 note when due, Baird arranged for the intercept agreement between the Academy and its lender, PNC Bank, to be included in the deal.

And those $97,000 monthly payments (plus interest), shown below, begin on November 20, 2017 and run through July 20, 2018—ending with an August 20, 2018 $1,521,227.65 balloon payment.

And what about Bourdkani's assertion that Traverse City State Bank can swoop in and “take” the Grand Traverse Academy's state aid until the debt is paid?

Nope, and that's a whopper the board's treasurer should know is untrue.

Here's the truth: the Grand Traverse Academy board has to formally draft and approve a resolution for an intercept and then send a formal request to Lake Superior State University. 

And it’s in the charter contract:

Section 2.04. Academy Board Requests for Direct Intercept of State School Aid Payments. If the Academy Board directs that a portion of its State School Aid Payments be forwarded by the Fiscal Agent to a third party account for the payment of Academy debts and liabilities, the Academy shall submit to the Vice President of Finance for the University and to the University Charter School Office: (1) a copy of the Academy Board’s resolution authorizing the direct intercept of the State School Aid Payments; and (ii) a copy of a State School Aid Payment Agreement and Direction document that is in a form acceptable to the Fiscal Agent. 

Here's an excerpt from the board's June 30, 2017 resolution authorizing the assumption of new debt:

So why all the secrecy, and misleading public statements?

In my opinion, the Grand Traverse Academy can never be brutally honest about its finances, as it would be forced to admit the cause of the current crunch: allowing its former manager, Steven Ingersoll, to get away with stealing nearly $5.0 million dollars—and not lifting a finger to get any of that money back.