Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

‘I believe Mr. Lewis Googled her.’ Local charter school board member resigns after fraud conviction comes to light

Special to The Macon Newsroom
Cirrus Academy’s governing board members attended the July 17, 2023, meeting via Zoom.

The newest board member at Cirrus Academy stepped down from her role last week following revelations about her past by a fellow board member who searched her name online.

Charlene Frame served on the board for less than a month after her appointment at a June 30 board meeting that was not advertised to the public as required by the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Frame was among 26 people indicted in a $480 million telemedicine fraud scheme. She pleaded guilty in July 2020 in what is so far the largest fraud operation ever prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Georgia, according to a news release.

Frame was sentenced in 2021 to three years of probation, required to pay restitution of $1.2 million and complete 100 hours of community service, according to federal court records.

The board’s new Executive Director Gregg Stevens told The Macon Newsroom Frame tendered her resignation by phone Thursday to Cirrus Board President Shirlynn Kelly. Frame did not respond to an email from The Macon Newsroom.

Asked what prompted Frame to step down, Stevens said, “I believe Mr. Lewis Googled her.”

In a phone call last week, Lewis told The Macon Newsroom he was unaware of Frame’s background and was unsure whether other board members knew about it.

Frame’s resignation brings the board down to four members: Kelly, Lewis, Latrell Taylor and Tosin Olagunju. An amendment to the board’s bylaws in October 2016 changed the minimum number of board members from seven to five.

Kelly and Lewis reached their two-term limits in 2019 but remain on the board.

The board apparently voted to amend its bylaws again in its meeting June 30, school administrators said. It is unclear what changes were made as the updated version was not immediately made available upon request as of Tuesday.

In an emailed statement to The Macon Newsroom on behalf of the board Tuesday, Stevens said the board “will recruit additional members of the community to help strengthen its service to students following Ms. Frame’s resignation from the Board. As we begin the new school year, the Board is confident that our leadership will provide an excellent education that is a safe, inclusive, and nurturing environment for all students.”

Executive Director of the Board

The board voted last week at its regularly scheduled meeting to approve a tentative contract with Stevens for him to work as the board’s executive director, a newly created role. The contract with Stevens’ company, 21 Cobalt LLC, costs $211,700 for one year, Stevens said. That amount exceeds the yearly salaries of the school’s top leaders and highest-paid employees.

“I am to help the board function logistically and fulfill its legal and compliance obligations, but also to help review current serious operations policies, procedures and systems and make strategic recommendations for improvement,” Stevens said by phone earlier this week.

In the past, Stevens worked as deputy director and general counsel for the State Charter Schools Commission. The commission is a seven-member board of political appointees responsible for providing oversight of state charter schools, which fall under its purview instead of the Georgia Department of Education.

More recently, Stevens was the vice president of new school development for the Georgia Charter Schools Association, which provides training for charter school governing boards among a wealth of resources meant to help boards meet training and compliance requirements. Cirrus pays about $5,000 to the association each year to have access to the association’s assistance and resources.

Stevens said he resigned from the association last Thursday, a couple of days after the Cirrus governing board voted to tentatively approve his contract. Stevens said he is working as an independent contractor and Cirrus is his only client.

“My intent is to work in the school as often as possible, five days a week,” Stevens said. “Everybody involved, the administration and the board, the public, all want that school to do good. … If we can get the administration and the board working together, then that’s my hope.”

Earlier this year, the school announced it met the State Charter Schools Commission’s academic standards for the first time in its history. The school plans to seek a five-year charter contract renewal from the commission in November.

Stakes are high for Cirrus as it has one more year left in its current two-year probationary charter. Failure to meet state performance measures and academic stipulations in the charter could warrant state closure of the school.

Cirrus was Macon’s first state charter school. It opened in 2016 on Pio Nono near Mercer University Drive in Macon’s Unionville neighborhood.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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