A co-founder and former executive director of the now-closed Nia Community Public Charter School has been charged with embezzling $29,000 from the school, according to court documents.
Between March and August 2008, then-Nia Executive Director Monique Murdock wrote five checks to her foster child, each ranging between $4,000 and $8,000, using school funds, according to the criminal filing filed this month in U.S. District Court. The checks were then deposited into a savings account that Murdock had created for the child -- who is identified in the documents only as D.N. -- and all but $100 was transferred into other accounts belonging to Murdock.
Though the comments section on one check read "Professional Development" and on another "Educational Consultant Specialist," D.N. told officials that he or she never performed either of these services, nor did the child ever receive any of the funds.
Murdock's attorney, Wanda Dixon, said she had "not been authorized to comment" on the charges.
The charges come as charter schools take on an increasing role in the education of the District's students. Enrollment in charters has grown 60 percent since 2008, with 41 percent of the city's 76,753 public school students now attending the nontraditional campuses. The DC Public Charter School Board expects enrollment to grow by 10 percent next year as DC Public Schools plans to close 15 schools -- 13 in June and two a year later -- because of perennial underenrollment.
Nia Community Public Charter School, in Ward 7, closed in 2011 after the DC Public Charter School Board revoked its charter. The decision was the result of a combination of poor academic performance and poor financial management, but it's not clear the extent to which Murdock's alleged actions contributed to the school's closure.
The Public Charter School Board put Nia on probation in July 2010, "as it appeared to be on the verge of insolvency due to questionable use/misallocation of funds [in 2008] by a former employee," charter board Chairman Brian Jones wrote in a letter to Nia board Chairman Rev. Willie Wilson explaining the history behind the school losing its charter.
"We had financial difficulties continually after [Murdock] was no longer there," Wilson told The Washington Examiner. "If in fact it holds to be true that funds were misappropriated ... it would have to be related."
Despite the probation, Nia was ultimately shuttered based on its academic failings, said Public Charter School Board spokeswoman Audrey Williams. Between 2007 and 2010, Nia students' scores in reading proficiency on the DC Comprehensive Assessment System, the District-wide standardized test, dropping from 44 percent proficient to 28 percent.
But corruption and embezzlement are not unique to charter schools.
"Corruption is corruption," said David Pickens, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group DC School Reform Now. "It could happen in a traditional school. It could happen in a private school. It could happen in a charter school."
Staff writer Matt Connolly contributed to this report.