DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A Dallas charter school CEO was convicted in a corruption scandal, yet she returned to school just days after a federal jury found her guilty.
Former Nova Academy CEO Donna Woods, 65, faces up to 80 years in prison after a jury earlier this month found the school administrator guilty of multiple counts of fraud.
While Woods awaits her sentencing in January, a CBS 11 I-Team investigation found Woods returned to campus.
School sources told the I-Team Woods returned to work after her trial as if nothing happened.
School board member CW Whitaker said the board accepted Woods retirement as CEO at its October board meeting, but she would be spending a few weeks at the school transitioning in the new superintendent, Eureka Fordham.
As the top school official for nearly two decades at Nova Academy, a three-campus charter school in South Dallas, Woods pledged to serve the students. But when it came to a lucrative contract for internet access for the school, federal prosecutors said Woods “blatantly disregarded her students for personal financial gain”.
According to evidence at the trial, Woods approved a grant for a federal telecommunication contract to ADI Engineering after school staff initially selected another contractor.
The contract for the E-rate federal program was for more than $337,951.
Prosecutors said Woods falsified paperwork to ensure ADI Engineering would get the contract, then covered up for the company when it botched the job.
In return, federal investigators said the company’s owner, Donatus Anyanwu, secretly gave Woods $50,000 in kickbacks.
Anyanwu pleaded guilty to conspiracy in July.
In a written statement, Woods’ attorney, Russell Wilson, said, “We are disappointed with the verdict but respect the jury decision. This is a tragedy for all involved. The verdict will directly impact educational advancement in the Pleasant Grove area. We will do everything in our power to ensure that children at Nova Academy charter school continue to receive a quality education.”
Parents told the I-Team the school has told them nothing about what’s going on. Most were not even aware the head of their child’s school had been indicted on felony charges nearly two years ago.
“I would hope that they would notify us, the parents. But no. No one has said anything,” said Anahi Salamaca, a parent of two students at Nova Academy. “We are unaware. I think they should address it. Send a letter to the parents or address it in a meeting or something.”
The executive director for the Network for Public Education, Carol Burris, said what’s happened at Nova Academy is not uncommon at charter schools.
“The potential for this kind of fraud and corruption is almost baked into the system,” said the outspoken critic of charter schools.
Burris said the issue with many charter schools is their lack of accountability.
The public school advocacy group said the issue with many charter schools is their lack of accountability.
Like most charter schools, Nova Academy is overseen by a private board. Charter boards are not elected boards.
Woods served as the president of the board while she was also the school’s CEO and superintendent.
“Essentially what you have is one person making all of the decisions and she is the boss of herself,” Burris said. “No one wants to see charter schools shut down. That would be a terrible disservice to kids. They should be run by elected school boards. However, without having that public accountability you are going to continue to see problems like this.”
When the I-Team asked the Texas Education Agency if Woods could still be at the school despite her felony convictions, the state agency wrote in an email, “We are aware of the matter involving Donna Woods and we’re reviewing it to determine how it may impact her eligibility for employment. Because of the ongoing investigation, TEA cannot comment further.”
According to Nova Academy’s 2017 tax forms, Woods made $278,357 in salary along with another $122,463 in other reported compensation from the school.