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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Principal Says School Cheats Taxpayers

PHOENIX (CN) - A charter high school principal claims in court he was fired after he reported "illegal practices" that cost Arizona taxpayers "millions of dollars which SIATech had claimed and was not legally entitled to receive."

Eric Pawlak sued the Arizona School for Integrative Academics and Technologies dba SIATECH, and eight of its top officers and their wives, in Maricopa County Court.

On its website, SIATech describes itself as a nonprofit 503(c) corporation, "a public charter high school with campuses nationwide. The program re-engages disconnected students through an innovative curriculum that integrates technology with academics and provides the opportunity to earn a high school diploma."

Pawlak claims he worked "for several years as a principal at the SIATech site in Phoenix," and received excellent evaluations. But he says he was "precipitously discharged from employment with SIATech shortly after he discovered certain apparently illegal business practices of SIATech and made inquiries about those practices to company representatives."

But Pawlak claims that within a day of his inquiries to SIATech officials, two representatives came to his Phoenix office and put him on administrative leave.

In his complaint, Pawlak says: "SIATech enrolls every possible student that enters JC [Job Corps] without a high school diploma on the second day of each week, even the students that enter with a general equivalency diploma ('GED') and will never enter a SIATech classroom." At the Phoenix and Tucson charters - and possibly at five California and five Florida campuses - students remain with the Job Corps "for a maximum of two years and hundreds of these students never enter a SIATech classroom but SIA Tech is taking average daily membership ('ADM') and reporting these students to the Arizona Department of Education ('ADOE') as if they are SIATech students," the complaint states.

Averaged Daily Attendance (ADA) or Average Daily Membership is a primary money spigot for schools that receive federal dollars.

Pawlak claims SIATech enrolls students over the age of 22, at no cost to Job Corps, with the "trade-off" that "JC lets SIATech remain on its property rent free, maintenance free, insurance free, security free, etc." Of the 100 graduates last year, more than half were over 22, and were not given the state's standardized test, AIMS, which a student is required to pass before high school graduation, Pawlak claims.

When students enter Phoenix or Tucson Job Corps, they must go through 8 weeks of training during which they are not enrolled in classes, but "SIATech enrolls them as students and takes counts of them for purposes of ADM for every student that does not already have a high school diploma on the second day they enter JC," the complaint states.

"SIATech has been collecting ADM on students for years without the students even wanting a high school diploma or attending SIATech classes," Pawlak says. "Many students begin in the program but their decide to earn their GED and SIATech keeps them enrolled even when they are not scheduled or attending SIATech classes."

Pawlak claims that after he discovered these SIATech practices, "he realized they had gone on for years and involved conduct of SIATech costing the taxpayers of the State of Arizona millions of dollars which SIATech had claimed and was not legally entitled to receive."

Within a week of being put on administrative leave, Pawlak says, he was fired and told "that he was being discharged without cause pursuant to his contract of employment with SIATech."

Also named as defendants are SIATech president Bernadette Sampson, vice president Dana Brandon, secretary Eileen Holmes, directors Linda C. Dawson, Dave Meyer, Masaru Kameya, Dan Tilton, and Ron Suokko.

Pawlak seeks back pay, compensatory damages, and reinstatement for wrongful termination. He is represented by William Hobson of Chandler.

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