Eric Rasmussen & Rebecca Omastiak
Updated: September 21, 2021 06:34 PM
Created: September 21, 2021 10:35 AM
Bethel University, the authorizer of charter school Hmong College Prep Academy (HCPA), is recommending the superintendent's removal following a review of millions in questionable investments.
HCPA is a K-12 charter school in St. Paul with a curriculum geared toward preparing students for postsecondary education. According to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, its enrollment is over 2,000.
In a letter obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, the university outlined the areas in which it holds HCPA accountable, including its academic and educational program, its fiscal management, its governance and leadership, and its operations and legal compliance.
Bethel issued a statement Tuesday saying it became aware of "several issues" during its "annual regular authorizing oversight of HCPA" and notified both the charter school and the Minnesota Department of Education.
Federal court filings state that during an initial effort in May 2019, HCPA superintendent Christianna Hang reached out to a woman named Kay Yang to see if she knew of any potential investment opportunities for HCPA fundraising efforts. While Hang requested to allow HCPA to invest in Yang's hedge fund — Xapphire Fund, LLC — that request was denied. Federal court filing state Yang then introduced Hang to hedge fund Woodstock Capital, LLC.
That same year, a federal lawsuit claims HCPA wired $5 million from its Minnesota-based account to Woodstock Capital, which reportedly concerned the charter school's legal counsel as not being "within the parameters of (HCPA's investment) policy."
In an email included with federal court filings, the attorney representing the charter school noted to the superintendent his "reservations about HCPA's intent to invest" with Woodstock Capital prior to the wire transfer.
The attorney representing the charter school noted in a legal opinion to the superintendent the investments "involve the risk of a loss of capital" and that "Interests are suitable only for sophisticated investors who do not require immediate liquidity for their investments." The attorney advised reviewing the decision with an independent advisor.
The attorney representing Woodstock Capital also noted being under the impression the charter school and its counsel "had resolved any concerns with Woodstock's investment strategy" by individually consulting with an auditor.
HCPA then claimed the school was noticing "significant decreases in the value of HCPA's account," and Woodstock Capital noted "multiple" phone calls, text messages and emails were exchanged "after Dr. Hang became concerned about 'draw-downs' in the account."
An early September filing noted a "loss of approximately $4.3 million to date."
Meanwhile, Bethel University also reported receiving inquiries from the Minnesota Department of Education regarding certain HCPA conflict of interest conduct.
Lisa Wedell Ueki, a former employee of HCPA, says she filed complaints with the state after losing her job at the charter school in 2019.
"I listed some issues that I had concerns with like nepotism – the fact that it’s a husband and wife team running the show, misuse of public funds," Wedell Ueki said. "I think there have been concerns for Hmong College Prep for years by many many different people."
At the end of last month, Bethel, in its role as authorizer, requested the HCPA board fire Hang. The university requested HCPA then fill that position with a qualified candidate who has not had a previous connection to the charter school.
The university is also requesting HCPA hire an outside board consultant to carry out the recommendations outlined in a corrective action plan, which include creating a separate position to direct financial responsibilities away from the superintendent position.
On behalf of Hang, a spokesperson declined an interview request from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
HCPA's Board of Directors issued the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in response to the university's requests:
The Hmong College Prep Academy Board is in the process of reviewing and responding to the Bethel University's report and recommendations. The Board is in the process of retaining independent legal counsel to investigate and review specific personnel recommendations. It is important that the Board follow due process on employment related issues.
While Bethel's annual review found our academics and mission to be strong, it finds our governance and compliance needs greater focus. The board and administrative functions of our school will have stronger processes and checks and balances in place. We take the assessment of our management very seriously and have begun the process of partnering with Bethel and others to address the required corrective actions.
As we begin the academic year, Hmong College Prep is a strong school community our families, students and teachers can all take pride in. Our enrollment is healthy and robust. We are in strong financial position for the future.
Graduation rates at Hmong College Prep are higher than the state average and our test scores are above the district average. Hmong College Prep Academy is meeting our mission to provide a great education, cultivate a rich school community and focus on college readiness.
Read Bethel University's complete statement here:
"For the last twelve years, Bethel University has served as an authorizer of several charter schools in the Twin Cities. This connection is rooted in our commitment to transformative education—both in our own classrooms and in the communities where our students and graduates live and work. During our annual regular authorizing oversight of Hmong College Prep Academy (HCPA), we became aware of several issues and notified the Minnesota Department of Education as well as HCPA. We are working with both parties on next steps that promote organizational health, student success, and the long-term educational interests of the community HCPA serves."
Motions to dismiss and to change the venue will be heard on Sept. 29, according to federal court filings.
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