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Ohio Department of Education challenges charter-school operator
State accuses Portage County Educational Service Center of completely disregarding the interests of students, parents and the public

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M.L. Schultze
John Charlton
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  • Update: The Portage County Educational Service Center issued a rebuttal tonight to the claims by the state. Their written statement has been added to the bottom of this story.

  • A troubled charter-school sponsor in Northeast Ohio is being investigated for allegedly trying to restart a troubled charter school in Southwest Ohio.

     The Ohio Department of Education sent a letter to the Portage County Educational Service Center this week accusing it of trying to repackage the VLT Academy in Cincinnati – which was closed this summer – as a school called Hope 4 Change.

    The letter accuses Portage of “actively and intentionally circumventing” the state laws that govern charter schoolS and their sponsors.

    The education department’s John Charlton says VLT went out of existence this summer after its local sponsor backed away.

    LISTEN: Charlton on Cincinnati setup

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    “They basically ended up closing the school. And then Portage County ESC tried to open this Hope 4 Change academy in the same building and to recruit the same students.”

    But the state says Portage contracted with someone to run the school who has no experience, and failed to confirm the operator would protect the students and “ensure academic rigor.”

    It also notes that Portage is forbidden from opening any new charter schools because of its own history of running low-performing schools.

    Here's the response by the Portage County Educational Service Center to the state's charges:
    The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has accused Portage County Educational Service Center (PCESC) of violating the law by taking steps to re-open LEAD Academy d/b/a Hope4Change Academy on September 2, 2014.

    PCESC has been open and clear with ODE that LEAD Academy was being allowed to re-organize and resume operation as Hope4Change Community School under the sponsor’s authority to lift school suspensions.  Section 3314.072 of the Revised Code allows a sponsor to remove a community school’s suspension, and the school may resume operation, after the school has been re-structured to address the problems that initially caused the suspension to be imposed.

    By way of background, PCESC—which presently sponsors eight other schools with ODE’s approval—commenced its sponsorship of LEAD Academy on September 15, 2011.  PCESC suspended the operation of LEAD Academy on October 10, 2011 due to low enrollment.  Shortly afterwards, the Ohio Auditor of State commenced an audit of LEAD Academy.  Once the audit was completed in May 2014, LEAD Academy proposed to have its suspension lifted by PCESC and resume operation as Hope4Change Academy beginning September 2, 2014.

    PCESC reviewed LEAD Academy’s detailed proposal for lifting the suspension and resuming operation, determined the proposal remedied the conditions that caused the suspension and demonstrated the school would provide a safe facility and quality academic program.  Contrary to ODE’s assertion, the management company hired by LEAD Academy is run by executives with numerous years of experience running K-12 charter schools in Ohio.

    In conclusion, ODE’s August 25th letter and subsequent press release misstate the facts, circumstances and relevant statutory law involved in PCESC’s sponsorship of LEAD Academy. ODE was aware in 2013 that LEAD Academy was not a defunct school and was anticipated to re-open at some point in the near future.  PCESC’s actions were lawful and taken in good faith under R.C. 3314.072.  PCESC is cooperating with ODE’s demand to halt the opening of Hope4Change School.  There is no justification for ODE to impugn the conduct or motives of PCESC’s staff and administration. 
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