Monday, March 28, 2016
ALL BUCKED UP: What Exactly Did The Grand Traverse Academy Get For Its $300,000 Annual 'Curriculum Fee', And How Many Years Did It Pay For Ingersoll's Snake Oil? Padding The Bill, Because A Seven-Figure Management Fee Is Not Enough To Live On!
Part 4 of Miss Fortune's exclusive examination of Kaye Mentley's Ingersoll sentencing hearing testimony!
According to her October 19, 2015 affidavit, former Grand Traverse Academy Superintendent Kaye Mentley revealed she knew Steven Ingersoll's company, Smart Schools Management, owed the Traverse City charter school $2.5 million...in November 2012.
Mentley reported the two talked for several months about the debt and when Ingersoll started another charter school in Bay City, Mentley “urged him to keep GTA separate from the Bay City Academy, as well as from other projects” he was pursuing.
But what did Kaye Mentley do with that knowledge?
Not a hell of a lot, as you'll see from her testimony during Steven Ingersoll's sentencing hearing.
Monkey business...or business as usual for those in control of the Grand Traverse Academy?
You be the judge.
We resume with Kaye Mentley under direct examination by Assistant U. S. Attorney Janet Parker:
BY MS. PARKER:
Q. Let me put it this way: Your understanding is -- what is your understanding, excuse me, as to who owns Smart Schools Management?
A. Steve Ingersoll.
Q. And is -- what is your understanding regarding whether he has any other person who's a co-owner or anything like that?
A. I do not know that he has any co-owners.
Q. So let me rephrase the question, I guess, to address the Court's concern. Did you learn at the meetings that you attended of the GTA board that Smart -- Dr. Ingersoll was taking the entire management fee for Smart Schools Management at the start of the school's fiscal year?
Q. That was not discussed?
Q. How did you learn that that was the case?
A. I learned that later, after the IRS investigation came to my attention and the school began working with more attorneys and also with a new accounting firm and also by questioning the current auditor who was Tony, Tony Henning. Then I was told that it was -- the whole prepaid issue was because of Smart Schools taking the management fee on July 1st of each year.
Q. What do you mean by the "whole prepaid issue?"
A. The IRS investigators, when they came to my office, showed me on the audit a section that talked about accounts receivable and then that later also became synonymous with prepaid.
Q. And had those accounts receivables on the audits been discussed at the board meetings you attended?
A. No, not to my knowledge.
[NOTE: However, in his September 10, 2015 affidavit, Mark Noss contradicts Mentley's claims. Noss states that while president of the Grand Traverse Academy board between 2009 and 2014, he “was aware of the fact that SSM extended financial support to GTA on an annual basis in the form of rebated Management fees and facility lease payments. This financial support was discussed at board meetings many times as evidenced by the documents produced to GTA by Dr. Ingersoll on or about January 22, 2015.”]
Q. And you said you discussed that with Tony Henning?
Q. What did Mr. Henning tell you about that?
A. He said that the other party that was referred to in the audit notes was Smart Schools and that it was Smart Schools taking more money than it should have for -- beyond the expenses of running the school.
Q. Did Mr. Henning explain why it was identified in that fashion rather than an account receivable from Smart Schools Management?
Q. Did you discuss that with him?
Q. Did you discuss it with Steven Ingersoll?
A. Steve and I talked about it after the IRS investigators came, yes.
Q. All right. Up until the investigation was made known to you, had you had any discussions about that, that account receivable?
A. Not really about that line item, and we also did -- we never had discussion on the management fee being taken on the first day of the fiscal year each year.
Q. All right. And once you became aware of the IRS investigation, what was your discussion with Mr. Ingersoll regarding that account receivable?
A. He told me that it was money that he had pledged back to Grand Traverse Academy and that it was coded like that and that prevented Grand Traverse Academy from going into the red. (As you can see at left, the school's June 30, 2012 balance sheet reveals Ingersoll 'coded' $4,050,884.10 as 'Accounts Receivable' and $1,020,822.67 as 'Prepaid Expenses', two devices Ingersoll used to 'keep it in the black'.)
[NOTE: In her affidavit, Mentley referred to Ingersoll's ongoing practice of manipulating the school's financials: “One way that I saw Steven Ingersoll manipulated the financial records was by putting a curriculum development line in GTA's budget. Ingersoll made the curriculum development payments to SSM, in addition to the management fee. Steven Ingersoll told me he did this because he did not want to make the management fee too large. Because I was in charge of the curriculum, I know that the school's curriculum was not designed by SSM or Steven Ingersoll.” It appears that the so-called 'coding' was just another example of financial manipulation.]
Q. Did he indicate whether he had actually ever paid that money back?
Later in our discussions he had said that he had paid some of it back.
Q. And did you have a communication from him regarding how he had supposedly paid some of it back?
Q. You mentioned something about another type of item on the budget, and perhaps that brings us to the topic of curriculum development. As an educator, how do you define the term curriculum?
A. It is a broad sent -- set of learning expectations for students at all grade levels supported with materials, both textbooks, teachers' manuals, assessments. Sometimes it includes mechanisms for reporting pupil progress to parents, and then it's sequenced grade by grade or age by age and articulated in between the grade so that there aren't holes in the student's learning.
Q. Are you familiar with a body of knowledge that we call IVL?
Q. Is IVL a curriculum?
A. In my opinion I would not call it a curriculum. I would call it some teaching strategies, some styles to help certain students who are having difficulty in a traditional curriculum.
[NOTE: Mentley, the woman who now posits Ingersoll as a financial manipulator, willingly looked the other way just a few years ago while she was earning thousands of dollars in consulting fees at Ingersoll's side. The Great Valley Academy, a California charter school, with locations in Modesto and Manteca, used Ingersoll's Integrated Visual Learning process as its "curriculum model". During its fiscal year 2009 (from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009), the Great Valley Academy paid $147,427.00 to Ingersoll and Mentley via an entity described in its IRS Form 990 report as "Smart Schools of Michigan, Inc."
In addition, the school cited Ingersoll and Mentley in its promotional materials, referring to IVL as an education program.
Well, if it wasn't a curriculum, why would any school pay six-figure consulting fees to use it?
I'm waiting, Kaye!
Q. Can you explain the difference between a curriculum and what IVL provides.
A. Well, a curriculum, like a purchased reading series, would be far more comprehensive, would give the teachers materials to teach from, lesson ideas, activities to do if a student hadn't mastered that particular lesson as well as extension activities to do if the student had mastered it, here are some things to do next.
Q. IVL was used at Grand Traverse Academy?
Q. Can you explain to the Court how IVL was used over time at the Grand Traverse Academy?
A. Over time it was used predominantly as a pull out method for students whose eye testing showed that they needed more help with focusing their eyes, tracking with visual memory. Some of the strategies were used in classrooms for general education students to help kids memorize things, like the presidents, so an IVL strategy was used to help them memorize presidents.
Q. All right. So initially was IVL used in one way in the educational program at Grand Traverse Academy that changed or evolved over time?
A. Yes, it gradually morphed over time.
In the beginning teachers were guided to use IVL strategies almost all the time and then the frustration became that there weren't supporting materials, there weren't assessments.
Parents were questioning whether or not their children were making learning progress because we didn't have assessments to show that.
There was also very difficult to have continuity between one classroom and another because without having a well-articulated program, you were never real sure that this teacher's instruction was the same as that teacher's, so then when kids went on from these two teachers to the next teacher there were often grade differences in their learning based upon what the teacher had done.
Q. And if that was how things were at the start, how did it change over time?
A. We gradually -- and we would be, Steve and I, in discussion, began purchasing more prepared curriculum, more commercial curriculum for teachers. We started with a math series, Saxon math, and we went from that into a reading series and then also science and social studies textbooks.
Q. Let me just stop you for a second for the sake of the court reporter. You said a word before you said math. Something math?
A. Oh, I'm sorry, Saxon math. It's just a publisher. It's the --
Q. Can you spell that for us.
Q. You don't want to know what it sounded like to me, but anyway. Sounded like interesting curriculum, but anyway, going back to your answer, you started to develop a more standard classroom curriculum and then what was the role of IVL?
A. Then IVL was used predominantly for the memorization of parts of knowledge that I talked about, like presidents, to help students learn ways to use their visual memory, and then it was also used in a pull out for students who were identified to need a little bit more than what was provided in the regular classroom.
Q. And what do you mean by a "pull out?"
A. We might have a classroom of 20 students and one or two of them would be identified as needing more ocular motor help or something like that, so they would be removed from their classroom for about 30 minutes a day, every day, and work with a paraprofessional in the room we called the IVL lab.
Q. All right. So that was in a different room outside of their regular classroom?
Q. And when did that transition occur?
A. I'm not sure there was a specific date of when we're doing this and when we're doing that. I think it was more a gradual osmosis.
Q. I understand that, but at what point would you say that IVL was primarily a pull out component of the instruction as opposed to a standard throughout the classroom instruction?
A. I would estimate probably 2006.
Q. And what was the impact that this change had on the performance at the school?
A. Well, in a couple ways.
One is it greatly helped teachers because they had materials that were ready to go and useful in the classroom instead of having to define activities by themselves, because that took a huge amount of time.
In terms of student performance it helped raise test scores and give us a better result on our mandated tests, and I think it helped parents because it was teaching and learning that they could relate to a little bit better, and the communication that they received about their child's progress was more regular as well as more meaningful.
Q. And when you said that you and Steve Ingersoll went about buying a more standardized traditional curriculum, do you know what part of the budget was used for that purpose?
A. There was a line item for textbooks and so it would have come from there.
Q. And were you involved in making the purchases of, you know, selecting the materials and making the purchases within that budget?
Q. Did you become then aware eventually that there was a separate line item in the budget for curriculum development?
A. I became aware of that the last couple years that I was there.
[NOTE: The time frame falls within the years Mentley was paid six-figure consulting fee sums earned at the side of Steven Ingersoll.]
Q. And when that became something that you were aware of, did you explore the use of that, the funds allocated under that category?
A. Uh-huh. I was told that that was put into the budget so that the management fee from Smart Schools wouldn't look so large, and that it would be taken by Smart Schools.
Q. Who told you that?
A. Steve Ingersoll.
Q. So that was not money that was being used to purchase the textbooks and things related to the curriculum that you were installing into the educational system?
Q. How was IVL taught to the teachers at GTA?
A. Steve would do workshops for teachers, more so in the beginning when we first formed. Also Patty Engler would do some workshops and then after a while we had some teachers who were pretty good at classroom strategies and they would do workshops for each other.
Q. Can you give the Court an idea what that training entailed in course of time?
A. I would say during our first few years of operation teachers were probably given the equivalent of three to five full days per year of training.
Q. And as the use of IVL transitioned, how much time would Steve Ingersoll invest in instructing the faculty at Grand Traverse Academy in the methodologies of IVL?
A. Well, I think that there -- in addition to us using IVL a little differently, there was also the issue that more of the teachers had had the initial training, so then his training was largely with teachers who were new to us, and then teachers would stop him and ask specific questions when he was at the school so the training changed probably from being more formal, you know, to less formal.
Q. Did the amount of time invested by Steven Ingersoll and efforts in teaching IVL to the faculty increase, decrease or stay the same in your estimation?
A. I would say for the most part it stayed the same, again being a function of the longevity of the teaching staff.
Q. And is there any way that you would consider IVL training to be curriculum development?
A. Probably not with what was done with our teachers because it was never put into a well-articulated comprehensive program.
Q. And were you aware of the amount that was budgeted for curriculum development in the last couple years of your involvement?
A. I believe it was $300,000.
Q. Anything commensurate with that in value provided to the school?
Q. Were you familiar with the concepts involved in IVL before you became associated with Steven Ingersoll?
Q. Based on your subsequent involvement with it, how much of the methodology of IVL that was taught by Steven Ingersoll was original, as he developed it?
A. I could not answer that.
Funny, it didn't seem to matter to Kaye Mentley when she was cashing those massive consulting checks!