This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
One day after being elected by Republican delegates in South Jordan to replace outgoing Sen. Aaron Osmond, businessman Lincoln Fillmore is facing accusations of violating campaign-finance law.
At issue is a $1,000 donation from American Preparatory Schools, a private company that like Fillmore's own business manages public charter schools and provides education consulting in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.
Mark Thomas, elections director for the Utah lieutenant governor's office, said Thursday that the state elections office is looking into the nature of the donation following a written complaint.
"Certainly if the school is using public funds to make the contribution, that would be a violation of the statute," Thomas said.
But Fillmore says the money came from a private company that works with charter schools, and not the schools themselves.
He compared it to his company, Charter Solutions, which contracts with charter schools to handle the business and financial side of education while leaving the teaching to teachers.
"We try to entangle ourselves in the red tape so the red tape doesn't fall to school principals and schoolteachers," he said.
While operating independently of the state's 41 school districts, charter schools are publicly funded on a per-pupil basis and are overseen by unelected governing boards.
American Preparatory Schools' executive director, Carolyn Sharette, compared her company to one that provides schools with food for school lunches.
"They're not the school," she said. "They're providing a service."
But the services provided by American Preparatory Schools go far beyond meals.
Sharette founded the American Preparatory Academy charter school in Draper before transitioning to her role as executive director of American Preparatory Schools.
The company offers a range of services to public and private schools, from curriculum materials and training to full management of a charter's day-to-day operations.
There are now seven American Preparatory Academy campuses in Utah and Nevada, which all have purchased the American Preparatory "brand" from the private company, Sharette said.
"It helps their enrollment if they purchase the brand," she said. "A school is an entity that has a brand just like anything else. They have a reputation."
Sharette said the contracts with her company vary among the seven campuses, but she maintains a loud voice on staffing at the flagship Draper school she founded.
"In Draper, I officially recommend to the board what they should do in regards to hiring and firing," Sharette said. "Technically the board has the ability to make any decisions."
The branded campuses are also headed by principals and directors who work for Sharette, not the schools' governing boards.
"The academic administrators are employees of my company," she said.
Sharette said there's a misconception about the relationship between charter management companies and the schools they serve. But she was not worried about how a political donation from her company would be perceived.
And Fillmore said he was confident an inquiry from the state elections office would confirm that the donation was made with private dollars.
"I don't know if the nature of that contribution is any different from any other contribution," he said.
After ostensibly winning the seat, Fillmore's name will now be forwarded to Herbert for certification.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @bjaminwood