Board to probe Hmong school superintendent’s hedge fund loss, might pay her attorneys fees

The Hmong College Prep Academy board on Wednesday hired an attorney to investigate the school’s $5 million hedge fund investment, which resulted in a $4.3 million loss and has the charter school’s future in doubt.

The school’s authorizer, Bethel University, last month recommended the board fire the school’s founder and superintendent, Christianna Hang, who made the investment on the school’s behalf in 2019.

Board attorney Jim Martin advised the board earlier this month that if it’s going to fire Hang, it must provide her due process in the form of an external investigation. But some board members are wary of moving in that direction.

“In the last 10 years, Dr. Hang and her team has accomplished a lot,” Maisian Schuing said. “I believe that Dr. Hang has done her due diligence job in relation to this incident, Woodstock investment.”

The board agreed at a prior meeting that the investigation was necessary. But on Wednesday, they considered reversing that decision.

Martin, however, made clear that Bethel expects the investigation to move forward. If the school loses its authorizer, it must close unless it finds another one.

“I don’t think you’re in a position with your authorizer to not conduct the investigation,” Martin said.

The board ultimately voted 5-0 Wednesday to pay attorney Jeanette Bazis $350 an hour to investigate. Bazis expects the work to take about a month.

“I’m going to be pulling all the threads around” the investment, Bazis said.

Three board members — Schuing, Christy Yong Vang and Mee Vang — expressed strong support for Hang on Wednesday.

“We have an obligation as a board to exonerate a superintendent who has done her best for the school,” said Vang, a new board member and mother of eight students. “I love what the school stands for and I do not want to see it disappear.”

During the discussion on hiring Bazis, Hang interjected: “Does anybody want to know how much she’s charging?”

ATTORNEYS FEES

The board postponed a related decision Wednesday on whether it would pay an attorney to defend Hang in the board’s investigation, as well as any other matters related to the investment.

Hang already has hired attorney John Cairns, who refused to tell the board how much he’s charging her or to describe the scope of his work, citing attorney-client privilege.

Hang and Cairns argued the board is obligated to pay for her attorney, citing clauses in her employment contract.

“I would like to be represented by counsel while we are in the middle of all these issues with Woodstock … so that I can support the school,” Hang said.

She said “these things happen,” and that according to her contract, “I am able to ask the board to help me.”

Martin, the board’s attorney, argued otherwise.

“The board, in essence, is conducting the investigation,” he said. “The board should not be reimbursing Dr. Hang’s attorney … related to the investigation.”

Schuing and Vang argued for reimbursing Hang for any attorneys fees, and board member Fue Vue seemed to agree, but the decision was postponed to a future meeting.

BOARD CHANGES

The board on Wednesday also implemented some of the changes Bethel ordered in the wake of the failed investment, which violated state law.

Yong Vang was installed as board chair, taking over for Crystal Robideau, whose status as a Hmong College Prep teacher raised concerns about conflicts of interest.

The board also agreed Wednesday to pay Charter Source $20,703 to implement a training plan for board members.

“The board needs to be more educated about our agenda and minutes,” Yong Vang said.

Additionally, Hang, who is both superintendent and chief financial officer, offered Wednesday to give up her financial duties. Bethel has called for severing the two jobs. The board did not discuss Hang’s offer.

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