NEWS ROOM

[Op-ed] What we’re not talking about and what we are talking about

March 5, 2022

“I want to cover what we’re not talking about and what we are talking about”, stated Jennifer Lambert, Executive Director of the Utah State Charter Board (USCB) in their monthly meeting on March 3rd. Lambert and the board had just listened to a presentation by Vanguard Academy, who had been invited once again to respond to the “warning status” and “audit deficiencies” identified by the USCB Finance & Compliance Manager Stewart Okobia.

According to Lambert, what we are NOT talking about when it comes to problems the USCB has with Vanguard:

We’re not talking about lack of diversity. The school serves a student body who is 66% economically disadvantaged, 82% first generation college students and one of the most traditionally underserved populations in the state. “The fact that [Vanguard] may be serving students who are maybe otherwise under-represented or underserved or may not feel comfortable in different schools; that is a positive thing,” stated Lambert.

We’re not talking about fraud. Lambert and other board members stated in Thursday’s meeting that they had not found “any evidence of fraud or any evidence of mis-spending.” In fact, the school shows an exemplary record of frugality and management of funds. Mr. Okobia states, “there were really no significant deficiencies or any material deficient audit findings in their financial statements” after an extensive review.

We’re not talking about an under-performing school. USCB board members and Vanguard staff stated multiple times the exemplary and outstanding academic performance of the students at Vanguard. Members applauded Vanguard for having “one of the lowest costs per pupil, and one of the highest performance and growth rates in Utah.” Director Lambert states, "through their test scores in language arts, math & science, it shows in fact the students are being well taught."

We’re not talking about any deficiencies by statute. Everything in the public realm must be governed by statute and process. USCB member Michelle Smith stated, “just the fact that we may be uncomfortable with an appearance is not actionable. As the attorney so aptly pointed out, show me where they did it wrong and if you can’t then we have no business in causing issues. If they are behaving legally, we should be respectful of that.”

Director Lambert clearly stated, we’re talking about the “nature of the relationships” for alleged members of the Davis County Cooperative Society (DCCS). Lambert states, “What our conclusion is, is that because of the ‘nature of the relationships’, we cannot assure that the sacred trust of public funds is being sufficiently or adequately overseen by [Vanguard’s] governing board.”

Ms. Lambert falsely stated that, “it is by nature a conflict of interest” for members of a social cooperative to serve on the same charter school board.

Does simply being a member of the DCCS create a conflict of interest in financial matters?

The legal answer to this question is no. Federal statute, the Utah constitution and State law very clearly protect this type of affiliation as a federally protected right, whether social, economic, ethnic, family or religious. Legally, it is no different than two individuals paying tithing to the same church, or dues to the same social organization. The DCCS strongly opposes this type of discrimination against our members.

Lambert stated in Thursday’s meeting, “we just cannot confirm that because of the ‘nature of the relationships’ that there is adequate oversight” even though there had been no evidence of fraud or mismanagement through extensive disclosures and third-party audits. The nature of her suggestion is not only discriminatory, it is illegal.

The suggestion that anyone within a certain social affiliation must recuse themselves, or is not capable of sound financial judgement, is very inappropriate and would illicit public outrage if applied to most other groups. This appears to be a classic violation of federal civil rights by the USCB.

In Thursday’s meeting, Lambert further states, “having disclosures is not sufficient, having the procedures is not sufficient.” Vanguard finance committee chair Grace Mitchell, responded to Lambert stating the board suggestions would require Vanguard to implement discriminatory practices against its vendors, opening the school up to legal liability.

So, what are we really talking about?

After dancing around the issue and trying for a year and a half to find anything on Vanguard, USCB members clearly communicated it was membership in the DCCS community they believe excludes individuals from the right to act as full board members. This is the type of second-class citizenry that has been practiced by educators, news media and activists in Utah for decades against our communities.

It is the very reason why the student body at Vanguard, many of whom are from a plural family background, are 82% first generation college students. They have been systematically excluded and abused in the public school system for nearly 100 years. The suggestion that board members are “second-class citizens” who are not capable of making sound decisions on the board regardless of oversight, regardless of disclosure, regardless of procedure, hails back to a day when other minority groups have been excluded from full participation as citizens.

We’re talking about 100 years of bigotry and hatred displayed once again by individuals in the public school system who seek to reinforce “otherisms” and maintain the established ruling class against a second-class citizenry.

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