Bud Kennedy

How two smart ‘A’ and ‘B’ Texas charter schools flunked at handling taxpayers’ money

One of Texas’ best public charter school systems is also one of the worst at obeying the law.

As school starts Monday, both the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and partner campus Texas School for the Arts (TeSA) are under state monitoring, TeSA for misspending tens of thousands of state dollars meant for special education.

When Texas schools were given grades Friday under the state accountability system, FWAFA’s high school rated an A with a 96 score. Both elementary schools graded a B.

But the campuses, part of a 20-year-old system now named the Texas Center for Arts + Academics, are drawing other attention from the Texas Education Agency.

Two years ago, Texas School for the Arts (TeSA) misspent nearly $25,000 in state money, according to a TEA investigation.

Both schools rely on public funding. Last year, they received $7.2 million from the state.

That makes up the vast majority of TCAA’s $8 million-plus budget. (Some private money is donated for the schools and another TCAA activity, the 73-year-old Texas Boys’ Choir.)

Before the TeSA discrepancy was uncovered, FWAFA had already been under TEA’s watchful eye.

Back in 2015, the school charged parents $193,524 in “fine arts fees.”

But the fees weren’t legal, and had to be refunded.

Two public complaints remain under review, a TEA spokesman said.

Both schools start a new year with a new leader: Interim TCAA chief executive Patricia Thomson, a former administrator with several nonprofits. Beneath her, Superintendent Natalie Texada is in her second year.

(Seven-year chief executive Clint Riley resigned July 16.)

In a statement, board chair Melissa Goodroe of Fort Worth said TCAA is “committed to providing free and appropriate education for every child.”

“In a prior year,” Goodroe wrote, “due to administrative error, we did not spend the required percentage of a special allotment of funds for special education. We improved our checks and balances so that these amounts are monitored monthly by the Principal, Chief Academic Officer, Finance Director, and CEO.

“Going forward, with these measures in place, we do not anticipate that this will be a problem.”

Dr. Carla Morton of Fort Worth is a pediatric neuropsychologist. She represents special education PTA parents in the larger Fort Worth school district.

“I have personally considered reporting FWAFA to the state,” she wrote in a message, “because of their apparent inability to adequately educate students with even mild reading disorders.

“So it does not surprise me that they are under monitoring.”

They’re good schools.

But they must take better care of both our money and our children.