Educational equipment that Liberty’s former conversion schools purchased with federal grants has been stored at the Portage County Educational Services Center, the schools’ current sponsors, since February, officials from the conversion schools said.
Cheryl Emrich, executive director at Portage County ESC, said in an email that the center had turned over to the Ohio Department of Education Community Schools Division an inventory of what was being held at the center.
“PCESC is most anxious to resolve this matter as quickly as possible and is fully committed to continue our cooperation with the Ohio Department of Education to do so,” Emrich wrote.
Emrich also said Portage County ESC did not authorize the removal of the equipment from Liberty schools by the conversion schools’ former superintendent in September 2011, calling it “an action that was not sanctioned by PCESC.”
Liberty Superintendent Stan Watson wrote a letter in March to state officials demanding accountability for the equipment.
During the two-year existence in Liberty of both Liberty Early Academic Resource Nest and Liberty Exemplary Academic Design, they received $500,000 in federal grants. Some portion of that was used to buy equipment to enhance education such as iPads, iPod Touches and more.
Watson’s letter sparked an investigation by ODE into the equipment and whether any of it is missing.
Alec Brown, who said he is one of three board members for Liberty Early Academic Resource Nest, said the equipment was stored at the JAS Building in Doyles-town while the school educated students there.
In October, Portage County ESC suspended the schools’ operations for not having enough students and for not securing an authorized building in which to educate students. In February, the equipment was stored at Portage County ESC.
Brown also countered that Liberty still has equipment that belongs to the conversion schools.
“How would they possibly know?” Watson said. “There’s no inventory. There’s no reconciliation.”
This was echoed by Emrich.
“ ... PCESC has no way of determining if any equipment on that list was removed from the Liberty location or what still remains at Liberty,” she wrote.
Liberty school officials also have questioned the viability of the conversion schools, which would owe Liberty $100,000 based on the separation agreement signed in September 2011, if the schools were deemed not viable.
Brown said state auditors are combing through the schools’ financial records.
“We have no reason to doubt that we’ll be up and running when the audit is complete,” Brown said. “We are a viable charter school. We have a waiting list for children.”
Emrich also spelled out Portage County ESC’s intention when taking on the sponsorship of the schools from Liberty.
“Given the 2010-2011 state report card assigned LEAD and LEARN a rating of ‘excellent,’ we believed that maintaining the viability of the schools was very important,” she wrote.
Emrich called it a surprise to the educational center that the Liberty school board did not just close the conversion schools.
“Upon learning that ... Watson determined that the two schools were in terrible shape, PCESC was surprised that Mr. Watson and the Liberty board had not closed the schools and allowed PCESC to assume sponsorship of schools in that condition,” Emrich wrote.