By Shana Ford
I am a parent of Best Academy students. I have more than 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, and I am the board chair of Harvest Preparatory School.
You may be aware that on Saturday, August 25 reporter Steve Brandt of the Star Tribune wrote his fifth in a series of negative articles about Eric Mahmoud and Harvest Preparatory School (Harvest Prep). The only new news in Saturday’s article is that a Notice of Deficiency (Notice) was delivered from Harvest Prep’s authorizer, Audubon Center of the North Woods (ACNW), to Harvest Prep’s Board of Directors on Thursday, August 23, questioning the financial management of the school.
I am writing to assure you that the school is well-managed, and to ensure that you have a few additional facts.
The first thing you should know is that Harvest Prep went through an extensive and rigorous annual site visit by ACNW on February 12, 2012. The final site visit report was issued to the Harvest Board of Directors on April 26, 2012 at Harvest Prep’s regularly scheduled board meeting. In that report, ACNW evaluated the following performance areas: Educational Outcomes, School Culture, Operations, Finance, and Governance. In each and every one of these performance areas ACNW rated Harvest Prep as “Exemplary.”
The following are direct quotes from the ACNW 2012 site visit report about Harvest Prep:
“Exemplary school for all Minnesotans to be proud of. It’s not magic — there is a recipe here for success for other schools with similar populations — and dissimilar populations!”
Specifically regarding finances, the following is a quote from the site visit report: “The school received an audit that contains no material findings…”
The second thing that you should know as it pertains to Harvest Prep’s finances is that ALL of the internal finances of Harvest Prep are handled by one of the top accounting firms in the country, Clifton, Larson, Allen, which is nationally recognized for expert financial management, keen scrutiny, and attention to detail.
The third thing you should know is that the CPA firm of Schecter, Dokken & Kanter conducted a 2011 audit of Harvest Prep’s finances over the past year and issued a clean audit report with no material weaknesses.
The fourth thing that you should know is that in April the ACNW board of directors unanimously approved Harvest Prep for a new three-year contract.
Finally, one more fact: On July 26, 2012, Eric Mahmoud contacted Audubon representative Pat Bernhoft requesting that she share any issues or concerns with the newly installed board chair (me). Ms. Bernhoft’s reply did not include any of the issues raised in the Notice delivered four weeks later.
Given these facts, we now have serious concerns about the manner in which this Notice was handled.
Frankly, most of the issues in the Notice were never raised with Harvest Prep prior to the series of articles being written by Steve Brandt, which began on August 10, 2012. Then, less than 24 hours after the Notice was delivered by ANCW to the Harvest Prep board of directors, reporter Brandt had the Notice. We know this because Mr. Brandt sent an email to Eric Mahmoud seeking his response to the issues raised in the Notice.
If the true intent of “Notice” was for the purposes of corrective action, why would this letter immediately be sent to the Star Tribune for public consumption without giving Harvest’s board of directors a chance to address the issues in the Notice? We are disappointed, but also firmly committed to resolving any issues so that we can focus on the performance of our students, whom we believe continue to thrive at Harvest Prep.
Despite our concerns with the ACNW process, as with all requests for information from authorizers and others with oversight responsibilities, we are fully committed to responding to ACNW’s request for information in a timely manner, and we are confident that the questions raised will be clarified. This optimism is confirmed by David Greenberg, ACNW charter school lead coordinator, in his statement on August 24: “Audubon is confident that the board of directors of Harvest has the capacity to address all issues and ensure it carries out its responsibilities.”
As chair of a board whose mission it is to responsibly manage the public’s trust in educating our children and ethically managing the public funds to do so, I confidently stand behind not only the integrity and reporting of our financial systems and transactions, but also behind the inspirational and innovative leadership of Eric Mahmoud. In closing, our students are achieving, our finances are solid, and our leadership and management are strong.