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USLegislature dismantles Florida Virtual School board

18:00  06 may  2019
18:00  06 may  2019 Source:   msn.com

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Legislature dismantles Florida Virtual School board© Sarah Espedido / Orlando Sentinel The Florida Virtual School's Board of Trustees met in February. The board will be replaced with the State Board of Education under a plan approved by lawmakers.

The state would take direct control of the Florida Virtual School for the rest of this year, eliminating its board of trustees and auditing its operations and finances, and then decide how the online public school should be run, under the budget passed this weekend by the Florida Legislature.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran praised lawmakers’ decision, calling it a “much needed review … in light of more than a year’s questionable management practices that otherwise unchecked could eventually threaten the tremendously valuable educational options that FLVS provides to students.”

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The House had proposed what amounts to wiping out the virtual school’s board last month, and the Senate agreed to the plan in its vote Saturday on the state budget. The move now needs Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature as part of the state budget. A spokeswoman for DeSantis told the Sentinel last month that he supported replacing the school’s board and a new audit.

The virtual school, the largest online program in the nation, operated on more than $180 million of taxpayer money last year, providing online classes to more than 200,000 students. Founded in 1997, it is run by its own board, operating as its own public school district.

But its leadership has faced a tumultuous year, with its former general counsel, Frank Kruppenbacher, resigning in August after a dozen employees complained about his behavior. The investigation of those complaints led to an audit that detailed questionable spending and approval of contracts outside the school’s normal procurement process, among other problems.

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An Orlando Sentinel investigation published last month revealed a series of cozy relationships between Kruppenbacher and FLVS board members, all appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott. Those relationships allowed Kruppenbacher to amass authority at the school and make decisions that went unchecked. He paid his now son-in-law to spy on a school executive, for example, and took long trips for his work as chairman of the board that runs Orlando International Airport without taking vacation from his full-time FLVS job.

Since August, six members of the board of trustees have resigned, leaving it with the minimum members needed for a vote.

Under the lawmakers’ plan, the board would be wiped out and the State Board of Education would take control and then hire an outside consultant to review the school’s finances, operations and performances. The board would also appoint an executive director for the school, who would report directly to Corcoran.

The audits would be sent to Corcoran by Oct. 1 and then he and the Florida Department of Education, which he oversees, would send recommendations to DeSantis and the Legislature on how the school should be run in the future. Those recommendations would be due by Nov. 1.

lpostal@orlandosentinel.com 407-420-5273

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