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Imagine boards dissolve, but decisions still on table

– The boards of both Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway have dissolved, but former members will review $95,000 in what they believe are unauthorized legal fees charged to the schools.

The charter schools will cease to exist June 30, the day their charters expire through authorizer Ball State University. The university announced earlier this year it wouldn’t renew the charters of the two schools because of low performance and insufficient improvement.

The schools’ management company, Imagine Inc., has forged a partnership with Horizon Christian Academy, a small, private Christian school, to turn both schools into Horizon campuses that will continue to be run by Imagine Inc. The students will be encouraged to apply for publicly funded vouchers.

Ball State and the state of Indiana have specific guidelines for the boards to follow to close the schools and dissolve the nonprofits, including paying liabilities and donating any remaining assets. Both boards met this week to finalize the closure of the charter schools.

The MASTer Academy board met Wednesday and will contract with Imagine to carry out many of the items on the list, including overseeing an audit and maintaining student records for the required amount of time.

According to the budget, the school was charged $95,000 for legal fees, which was not authorized by the board, board members said. Board policy allows the board to spend only $10,000 in legal fees, MASTer Academy board President Pat Sheean said.

Sheean said his board authorized $5,000 to be spent on legal fees when it voted in May to submit an application to Ball State to become a turnaround charter. He told the board he became aware of the legal bills earlier this week and took action to stop any recurring expenses.

MASTer Academy’s portion of the total bill was about $55,000, said Amy Williams, business manager for the school. The board authorized Sheean to review the bills and approved a resolution to stop paying any legal fees after June 17.

Imagine will charge MASTer Academy $320,000 to provide services, including $50,000 for building maintenance, $44,500 for utilities and $150,000 for salaries.

The school’s bank account will be left at zero on June 30 after it pays the fee to Imagine, along with $815,000 in salaries, benefits and bonuses to teachers who stayed until the end of the school year despite the charter school’s closure.

Other items include $231,773 for property taxes and tax liability for the building, which the school rents from a real estate arm of Imagine, and $137,300 in rent payments for June and July, according to the final budget approved by the board.

Any excess cash in the school’s budget will be returned to the state, Jason Bryant, president and CEO of Imagine, told the board.

The board voted to have three members – Don Willis, Norm Roelke and Phil McKenzie – review the assets of the board after the July inventory and donate them to appropriate nonprofit entities, as required by the state.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted 6-0 to dissolve. The seventh member, Steve Webb, was absent. Sheean closed the meeting, thanking those present for their hard work and service.

“I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, but at least we have an alternative for the kids,” he said.