OKLAHOMA CITY Citing conflict of interest, Sen. Ralph Shortey said Friday the chairman of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board should resign. Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, points to a clear conflict of interest involving John Harrington of Edmond, who currently serves as the chairman of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, while at the same time serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Funds for Learning, LLC, a company that he owns that performs e-rate consulting services for Oklahoma public schools.
I find both the lack of disclosure surrounding this conflict and the conflict itself deeply troubling. I believe that the only way to put the matter to rest is for Mr. Harrington to resign his position on the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, Shortey said.
Appointees are typically required to disclose their personal financial interests on the Form F-2R to be filed at the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Harringtons form is filed, but he only discloses earnings from private consulting practice and earnings from real estate holdings.
Mr. Harrington did not even mention the word education to describe his business in his disclosure filings, let alone the fact that the revenue for his business is derived from traditional brick and mortar public schools on a contingency and fee for service basis, Shortey said. His clients are the competitors of the schools that he is now regulating. Restricting the growth of those schools that he regulates is protecting the interest of the clients that pay him. That is a conflict of interest by any definition, and is unacceptable.
A new statute passed by the legislature in the 2013 session brings all statewide virtual charter schools under the newly created board as of July 1, 2014. Shortey added that legislators intended the board to be made up of citizen members whose only vested interest was the benefit of Oklahoma schoolchildren, not those protecting personal business interests.
Senator Shortey also intends to make an immediate public records request for all communications between the State Department of Education and Chairman Harrington and is requesting that the board not finalize any business until these records are released or the chairman has resigned.
The Oklahoma families that attend these growing innovative virtual schools under this board deserve oversight that is objective and not tainted by clear conflicts of interest, or even the perception of a conflict, Shortey said.