The Rocky Mount Telegram reported this weekend that the fired principal of Rocky Mount’s North East Carolina Prep School has sued the school’s non-profit board of directors, arguing that his dismissal came as retaliation for trying to “clean house” and correcting mistakes made in the past, which allegedly include over-reporting of student enrollment figures and alteration of student grades and/or transcripts to boost school performance rates.
According to the Telegram’s education reporter, Amelia Harper, Schuck is arguing that the following led to his October 2016 dismissal, which took place just six months after he was hired:
Schuck outlines four major issues that he feels led to his dismissal. These issues include alleged thwarted attempts to correct financial and record-keeping irregularities at the school and retaliation for suspending a student who was reportedly the dependent of a former board member and was implicated in a drug transaction that led to an overdose of a student on school grounds.
In the lawsuit, Schuck said he discovered the “gravity of the situation” at North East Carolina Prep when he first assumed the mantle of leadership last summer and learned that the school was “facing a $600,000 budget shortfall for the upcoming 2016-17 school year, North East Carolina Prep was delinquent on several mandatory N.C. Department of Public Instruction reports, staff turnover at the school was high and there were numerous record keeping issues” at the school, the lawsuit states.
As part of an overall effort to correct the budget shortfall, Schuck said he discovered that a former North East Carolina Prep employee, who was also a former member of the board of directors of the school, was still receiving health insurance from the school despite the fact he was no longer employed there.
In addition to those allegations, Schuck also claimed in his lawsuit that he found the following, according to the Telegram:
“A number of serious record-keeping irregularities including the possible over-reporting of student enrollment figures upon which state funding is based, alteration of student grades and/or transcripts to boost school performance rates, deficiencies in providing appropriate state and federally funded services to exceptional/special needs students and reported instances of fraud and abuse in the free/reduced lunch program.
Schuck says in his lawsuit that when he presented these problems to the non-profit board that is charged with overseeing NEPC, they chose to fire him instead of solving them, saying “his ‘refusal to unlawfully spend state and North East Carolina Prep funds led to subsequent retaliation’ by Woodard [board chair] and the board of directors.”
These allegations come on the heels of a scandal at Durham’s Kestrel Heights Charter School, where school officials there found that previous administrators had awarded hundreds of high school diplomas to students who hadn’t fulfilled state-mandated graduation requirements.
North East Carolina Prep, which received a ‘D’ last year from the state for its academic performance, has been on the state’s watch list for financial and academic reasons.
The charter school came before the state Charter School Advisory Board last September to outline a strategic plan that would address the school’s academic low-performing status, enrollment declines and budget shortfall, which, Schuck says, was more than a $600,000 deficit when he came on board in April 2016.
During the September presentation, CSAB members expressed concern that the charter school had, as a cost-savings measure, cut ties with a third party that helped manage internal financial and operational controls—but NEPC leaders asserted that they would be able to continue to oversee finances and operations adequately without the outside organization’s help.
North East Carolina Prep charter school, which first opened in 2012, educates children in grades K-12 in Rocky Mount.
Photo: Thomas Schuck. Photo credit: Rocky Mount Telegram