In his latest move to secure public funding for his would-be charter school, Legacy Academy, Bishop Norman L. Wagner would have the community believe that if the Youngstown City Schools agree to sponsor the school, he would return to the Youngstown schools half of the approximately $400,000 in public funds Legacy Academy would receive to educate its pupils. School board members aren't buying. Good for them.
Aside from the fact that Bishop Wagner neglected to pay the rent on one of the buildings he leased from the city schools in the past and has a notorious record of not meeting his obligations in other areas -- notably Idora Park -- how can he possibly justify a plan that would take $200,000 away from his school's budget, funds that are supposed to be used to educate children?
If, as he says, some 200 children attend the K-10th grade school, giving $200,000 to the city schools would mean $1,000 less for each child's education. His plan may not even be legal. But regardless, when school districts throughout Ohio are trying to get more money to fund their educational programs -- especially in inner city schools -- Wagner's offer to give money away should sound alarms.
Supporting evidence: The school board members who reacted coolly to Wagner's proposal have plenty of evidence to support their views.
For example, in 1999, the Youngstown School District was bending over backward trying to collect nearly $40,000 in past due rent from Wagner's church Mount Calvary Pentecostal for the former Princeton Junior High School building the church was using as Calvary Christian Academy, a private, tuition-funded religious school. That school closed at the end of the last school year after a legal dispute with the city schools. Calvary Christian re-emerged this year in its new incarnation as Legacy Academy.
Because community schools are in fact public schools, a separation between church and the tax-supported schools must be maintained. Nevertheless, Legacy Academy opened in October with classrooms in the church and six adjacent modular buildings.
Mount Calvary is also still embroiled in disputes over Idora Park which it has owned since 1985 with plans to build a "City of God" on the property. But for the past 16-plus years the church has allowed the property to deteriorate significantly. A year ago, a fire consumed the old Idora Park Ballroom, endangering firefighters and the community with asbestos ceiling material and leaving within the city a hazardous mess.
Clearly, Wagner's track record does not inspire confidence -- either financially or educationally.
The problems resulting from the school's opening, well after the school year had begun, can probably be laid at the door of the State Department of Education, whose operations were recently criticized by state Auditor Jim Petro. But the Youngstown City Schools should not have to pick up the tab for ODE's lack of oversight. And the children attending the school should not be pawns in Wagner's fight with the state.