Overpayment of educators not found in audit

Nov. 25, 2013 @ 08:41 PM

RALEIGH — A state audit released Monday found shortcomings in how administrators at the North Carolina Virtual Public School reported enrollment totals and evaluated teachers but found no evidence that educators were overpaid.

About 50,000 public school students across the state take part in more than 100 online courses that help them keep up with course work, study subjects unavailable locally, prep for tests or seek career planning help. The online school's administrators mistakenly reported the total enrolled in its 2012 annual report and failed to count students from 22 charter schools who were taking courses, a report released by State Auditor Beth Wood's office said.

Auditors also said too many people were able to enroll students, which is important because virtual-school teacher salaries rose if they taught more students. But the audit found no evidence that teachers were overpaid.

Teacher evaluations and their follow-up also weren't systematic enough, auditors said. The report urged that procedures be established and followed to "consistently monitor the teachers for quality and effectiveness."

Auditors finished gathering information for the virtual school report at the end of May, said Wood's spokesman, Bill Holmes. In June, the state Department of Public Instruction began screening online teachers to make sure they can't influence course enrollment, state schools Superintendent June Atkinson said in a letter responding to the audit. A review was launched this summer to ensure enrollment counts and teacher pay calculations are accurate, Atkinson said.

The North Carolina Virtual Public School began offering online courses to high school students in 2007 and now costs the state nearly $20 million, about three-quarters of which goes to teacher salaries.

The audit comes as state judges are weighing whether a for-profit company should get taxpayer money to operate an online-only charter school. The state Court of Appeals could rule as early as next week whether to allow a North Carolina nonprofit created by Virginia-based K12 Inc. to offer classes to students whose parents opt out of existing public school classrooms.

The nonprofit, N.C. Learns, and the nation's largest online educator want to set up a charter school with a statewide reach in a deal with Cabarrus County's school board. N.C. Learns agreed to pay 4 percent of its revenue to the school system in Cabarrus, located north of Charlotte, as well as paying K12.

A state judge last year blocked the plan from advancing without approval of the state Board of Education. Wake County Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones said the online school anticipated enrolling about 1,800 students and could have collected about $18.5 million in state and local funds.