Beyond the Books: APA charter school blew nearly $500K in botched expansion plan

Beyond the Books investigates an effort by charter school American Preparatory Academy to meet fire code that cost taxpayers an estimated $500,000. (Photo: KUTV)

American Preparatory Academy is in the middle of a lengthy, expensive legal battle that has cost Utah taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, all thanks to what critics suggest is poor planning and a sense of entitlement.

“It was an expensive, dubious project to undertake,” said Carol Lear of the Utah State School Board.

It’s an undertaking that started in 2013, when APA started building a new campus in Draper. The fire marshal had warned the charter school that the site would require an emergency access road so fire trucks and ambulances could get to the kids if there was an emergency. According to the fire marshal, APA ignored the order.

Months after construction started, APA tried to solve the problem and offered to buy an 800-by-two-foot strip of land for the access road from a company called Price Logistics, LLC. APA reportedly offered $7,000 for a piece of property valued at 10 times that.

Price Logistics thought the offer was too low and, more importantly, believed having children so close to 30,000 people and heavy equipment traffic at a nearby business park was a terrible fit, so they refused to sell. Despite Price’s hard ‘no,’ court documents say APA cut an access route through Price’s property, installed a fence and even grated part of Price’s parking lot. APA then told the fire marshal they had access to the land when they did not.

When Price demanded APA fix the damage, APA sued, and demanded Price give them the land. To date, the school and its associated companies have burned through nearly $200,000 in legal fees trying to obtain that patch of grass.

“It’s public money,” says Lear, who says she’s concerned no one in state government is watching APA. “Should the charter board staff have looked at this? I think so."

So, Beyond The Books went to the State Charter School Board. They said when it comes to the finances, board staff only get involved with a school if students are failing or if the school's finances are failing.

Had the school board been required to look deeper into APA’s finances, they would have found that the school has spent a lot of time and money to fix its initial mistake.

APA also tried to get Draper City to condemn the property and give it to them. Draper flatly refused, saying it was illegal.

APA then tried to get the state to resort to the controversial use of eminent domain to snatch the property from the private owners. That failed, too.

Then Carolyn Sharette, the director of the school, through her non-profit, purchased a house to the north of the school. The house was demolished and the access road built. According to research by Beyond The Books, the school spent at least $300,000 to knock down the house and build the road.

As for Carol Lear, she is simply hoping for more eyes on taxpayer dollars.

“I think from a public accountability perspective, I think it’s problem,” Lear said.

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