By Robert Guttersohn
State and local officials are demanding an accounting for thousands of dollars worth of educational equipment that belonged to Liberty’s former conversion schools but whose current location is largely unknown.
After the Liberty Board of Education approved in 2009 the opening of the conversions schools Liberty Early Academic Resource Nest and Liberty Exemplary Academic Design, the state poured $500,000 in federal grants for the schools.
Some of that money was invested into iPods, Smartboards and other technology equipment used to enhance the students’ educational experience.
Today, Liberty school officials and state Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, are asking where the equipment is located and which students, if any, are using it.
Although the portion of the $500,000 that was spent on equipment is unknown, it was enough to completely fill a room, said Superintendent Stan Watson.
In June 2011, when the board suspended the schools, the “tens of thousands of dollars worth of supplies and equipment” were locked in a classroom, Watson said.
“The room was completely filled,” Watson said.
But so far, the schools current sponsor, Portage County Educational Service Center, has been mum on the issue, not responding to questions from The Vindicator.
After Portage County ESC became the sponsors of LEARN and LEAD in September, Watson said the conversion schools’ then- superintendent arrived with a truck and trailer to remove the items from the classroom.
They removed the equipment without making an inventory of what was being moved out, Watson said.
Several times, he asked them to sign an inventory of what was taken from the classroom and “next thing I knew the truck was gone,” Watson said in an interview.
The schools were operating in the Akron area for a month in the fall of 2011 before Portage County ESC again suspended the two schools for failing to enroll the minimum number of students, 25, and for not securing an authorized building in which to hold classes.
Although Portage County ESC still considers the schools viable, Paul Preston, a community school consultant with Ohio Department of Education, said in January the schools were not authorized to educate children.
In March, Watson wrote a letter to eight state officials, including Gov. John Kasich and State Superintendent of Education Stan Heffner, demanding an accounting of the equipment.
“These materials and supplies that were purchased by the taxpayers of the state should be used for the intended purpose; the education of the state’s children,” Watson wrote. “As taxpayers we all deserve an explanation and a full accounting for what was purchased and where it is currently.”
Watson goes on to say that he’d like to see them used for Liberty’s school children.
“If that cannot be the case, certainly they should be used for the benefit of some children throughout the state and not stored in an unknown location,” he wrote.
Cheryl Emrich, the executive director from Portage County ESC who in the past has spoken for them, refused to answer questions regarding the equipment. And attempts to reach board members for LEARN and LEAD were unsuccessful.
As of Friday, only two officials had responded to Watson’s letter, Preston and Gerberry.
“I think Portage County ESC has some explaining to do to Liberty and to the public,” Gerberry said.
After receiving the letter from Watson, Gerberry wrote an additional letter to Heffner demanding answers.
“Don’t you find it curious that the others [who received the letter] aren’t as outraged as me?” Gerberry said. “It’s only an indication to me that some of the people in charge don’t want to see the bad side of charter schools.”
He called the situation typical of charter schools and their lack of transparency, adding that if a public school’s equipment were being kept at an unknown location, there would be much more outrage.
“Can you imagine if that happened in Boardman or Poland?” he said.
Patrick Galloway, a spokesman for ODE, said the community schools division was investigating the matter through Portage ESC.