Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 26, 2014

Founder owes school $1.6M

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse Academy founder Steven Ingersoll, who also presided over its former management company, owes the school $1.6 million, a debt that hovers over his head as he defends himself against federal bank fraud and tax violation charges.

Grand Traverse Academy is a K-12 public charter school on Hammond Road that Ingersoll helped launch in 2000. His company, Smart Schools Management Inc., ran the charter school’s human resources and financial services wings until about a month before authorities announced an indictment against Ingersoll early this month.

Federal authorities contend Ingersoll used an unspecified amount of money from a $1.8 million bank loan that was supposed to be used to construct a school in Bay City to pay off some of his debt to Grand Traverse Academy.

Academy officials prepaid Smart Schools $2.3 million, and $1.6 million that’s still owed could hang in the balance of Ingersoll’s case, his lawyer said.

“If we’re successful, it can be repaid. If we’re unsuccessful, I think Dr. Ingersoll is going to have to look at his finances,” said Jan Geht, the lawyer who represents Ingersoll.

School officials said they severed ties with Ingersoll at his suggestion to prevent his pending case from casting a shadow over the school. But at least one strong thread ties Grand Traverse Academy and its new management company with Ingersoll: Mark Noss, another school founder and former board president who’s closely worked with Ingersoll for over 20 years.

Noss launched Full Spectrum Management, LLC, to take over for Smart Schools. Noss and Ingersoll are both optometrists who went to school together and collaborated 20 years ago to come up with the Integrated Visual Learning program, which applies behavioral optometry concepts to education.

Noss said he knew nothing of the transactions that placed Ingersoll on federal prosecutors’ radar.

“I’m surprised by the indictment because I only know Steve Ingersoll as a professional colleague,” Noss said. “I’ve only known Dr. Ingersoll to be of high character.”

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