The director of Eagle Arts Academy announced Wednesday that he will return more than $46,000 that the school steered to him last year in the guise of a loan repayment, two weeks after school district administrators ordered the school to recover the money.
Gregory James Blount, who founded the Wellington charter school and now serves as its executive director, had convinced the school last year to pay his company $37,000, plus an additional $9,600 in interest, to repay what he said were costs he incurred while assembling an application to create the school.
The Palm Beach Post revealed the arrangement last year, and school district officials concluded this month that the loan “repayment” was a violation of the school’s charter with the school district because the original expenses predated the school’s creation.
Facing a warning that the school could be shut down, Blount announced on the school’s website that the money would be returned.
“In an effort to help EAA move forward and to allow our wonderful school to focus on what is important, I am agreeing to voluntarily pay back the $37,101.70 of the start-up funds along with the interest paid to my company, per the request from Superintendent Robert Avossa’s office,” Blount wrote.
“Even though I believe these funds were legitimate start up expenses necessary to open this school and approved by both our Founding Board and also our Governing Board,” he added, “I do not want this issue to detract us from what is important.”
The Post’s report last August found several problems with the payments to Blount’s company.
For one, Blount and the school had no formal loan agreement.
And the amount of money that Blount asked to be compensated was far more than what experts say it normally costs to assemble a charter school application.
Also, Blount provided little information about how he had spent the money he claimed, and the records he did provide included expenses as well as payoffs of other loans, raising questions about whether he had double-billed the school.
The decision to pay Blount was approved without debate by just two members of the school’s board of directors, board minutes showed.
Immediately after approving the payout, the board’s then-Chairman William “Patch” Paczkowski, a business professor at Palm Beach State College, resigned from the board and nominated Blount to replace him.
Blount assumed the chairmanship just moments after winning the payout. Charter school rules ban board members from profiting from the school, but the payments to Blount began to flow during the next year, including the extra $9,623 interest payment.
Charter school experts told The Post that even if Blount’s expenses had been fully documented and vetted, it would still be inappropriate for the school to use taxpayer dollars to cover them since the expenses occurred years before the school’s charter was approved.
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa agreed, concluding that the school charter prohibited any compensation for startup costs preceding the school’s opening in 2014.
“Many of the costs that were reimbursed were for charges connected to preparing the application and not the start-up of (Eagle Arts),” Avossa wrote. “The allowable start-up costs are only those costs incurred after (Eagle Arts’) application was approved by the school board.”
In his announcement, Blount said that he hoped that his decision would allow the school to move forward.