By Robert Guttersohn
The Portage County Educational Service Center has suspended operations of the former Liberty conversion schools LEAD and LEARN.
The suspension, announced Friday, is effective today.
The two conversion schools were renamed Academy of Learning and the Academy of Design and Technology while operating in the Akron area.
According to the suspension, Portage County ESC suspended the two community schools for not enrolling 25 students, a state requirement, and for use of an “unauthorized facility.”
The suspension calls for the schools to “cease operations the next business day.”
Adam C. Miller, the attorney representing both schools, was unavailable to comment.
Starting in 2009, Liberty Early Academic Resource Nest and Liberty Exemplary Academic Design operated as conversion schools within the Liberty Local School District.
After district Treasurer Tracy Obermiyer resigned in May, state auditors revealed that the district was not receiving the federal and state foundation money the district thought it was.
The district suspended LEARN and LEAD, and the state froze its foundation money in June.
In September, Liberty lifted the conversion schools’ suspension for a $250,000 payment to the district with an additional $100,000 within a year and the guarantee that LEAD and LEARN would never operate in the township again.
After the settlement, Portage County ESC picked up the sponsorship, requiring the service center to provide oversight both academically and fiscally.
In Doylestown, Ohio — a village 16 miles southwest of Akron — advertisements for enrollment in the Academy of Learning and Academy of Design and Technology first appeared in newsletters and newspapers in early September.
“We have supposedly lost a portion of our students to that program,” said David Fischer, superintendent since August of the Chippewa school district in Doylestown.
He was interviewed by The Vindicator before the suspension was announced and couldn’t be reached to comment afterward.
The advertisements for the schools said parents could fill out applications on the spot after a Sept. 22 presentation in Doylestown’s JAS Building — a complex that houses a fitness center, auditorium and a day care.
Eight days after the presentation, 13 Doylestown students from various elementary grades stopped attending school, Fischer said.
Fischer said the common denominator among the 13 students is that they all attended the same day care within the JAS Building.
Fischer said a parent came into his office and told him his children now were attending Academy of Learning. But as of Friday, he had received only three withdrawals and one record request from Academy of Learning.
According to Portage County ESC and the Ohio Department of Education Office of Community schools, the schools’ staff is filled mostly with former Liberty administration staffers, but some of their roles are unclear because attempts from The Vindicator to interview the Academy of Learning staff were unsuccessful.
Its director, Kathie Carlile, was Liberty’s curriculum director, and former Liberty Assistant Treasurer Lisa Hosack is the treasurer. Peg Dolwick was the Guy Middle School principal, and though her role with the schools is unclear, the enrollment advertisement bears her byline.
Its superintendent, Kathleen Cintavey. is the former superintendent of Wickliffe schools, 16 miles east of Cleveland.
Where the schools were having classes is unclear. In both Doylestown and Wayne County, which zones for Doylestown Township, there were no permits filed for a community school. Pictures on the schools’ website shows pictures of children sitting on overturned buckets outside.
“They have been going on a series of field trips,” Cheryl Emrich of Portage ESC said Thursday. “[Academy of Learning staff] wanted to get them in while the weather was good.”
Emrich said Academy of Learning was trying to open a location in Akron along Easter Avenue but did not know at what address.
But zoning officials from both Summit County and the city of Akron said there are no current or pending permits for Academy of Learning. And the one successful contact with the community school, a woman who identified herself as the “secretary” for the schools, refused to identify herself to The Vindicator. When asked about the school’s location, she said it was on Easter Avenue but did not know the address or the phone number to the building.
Fischer said he received the first records request Friday from Academy of Learning. The fax sheet had the address of 790 Easter Ave. in Akron printed on it — the address of the First Apostolic Faith Church. But the address the fax came from was St. Patrick’s Parish, 315 Main St., in Hubbard.
Joni Hoffman, associate director of ODE’s office of community schools, said the state foundation money to Academy of Learning was frozen. She said the funding was contingent on the community schools’ finding a location, but before the suspension was announced, she defended the out-of-classroom instruction.
“A community school is able to provide an out-of-classroom-based instruction,” Hoffman said.
Recently, Portage County ESC became one of nine sponsors prohibited by the state from sponsoring any additional community schools. A press release from ODE cited poor performance index among all of the community schools sponsored by the education center.