ECOT sponsor votes to close the online school after state rejects settlement offer

January 19, 2018 GMT

ECOT sponsor votes to close the online school after state rejects settlement offer

TOLEDO, Ohio - The sponsor of the ECOT online charter school just voted to close the school despite parents and teachers begging to keep the school open for the rest of the year.

All three members of the governing board of the sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, said they regretted their vote but had no choice because the school does not have the money to survive.

The vote came just two hours after the Ohio Department of Education rejected an offer from the school that would keep it open through the end of the school year.

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The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the controversial e-school of 12,000 students, will be broke in March, the school says. Its savings are being depleted because the state is making it pay back $80 million in overpayments - payments the school disputes - for the last two school years.

THE ESC told the school last week that it would pull its support and force it to close unless the school has a solution for its financial issues.

Though the school said Wednesday that it has made a “final offer” to the state to reduce its payments to stay open the rest of the year, Ohio Department of Education officials rejected that offer in a 4:30 pm email to the school.

Neither ECOT or the state would provide a copy of the offer.

The offer “does not address ECOT’s ability to maintain a standard for its educational services during its continued period of operations and is inconsistent with statements that ECOT has made elsewhere regarding its ability to continue operating,” wrote Diane Lease, the department’s lawyer.

“While we have carefully considered this settlement offer, the Department is not in a position to accept the offer at this time,” she added.

With the school’s future in the balance, about 40 people came to the ESC’s governing board meeting, many of them ECOT teachers or parents to ask for the school to stay open.

Christopher Meister, ECOT’s deputy superintendent, told the ESC board that state deductions for the disputed overpayments are about $4 million a month. If the state would agree to cut them to $1.9 million a month, he said, the school could stay open the rest of the school year.

Teacher Andrea Bond told the board, crying as she spoke, that she chooses to work at ECOT, even though she could make more elsewhere, so that she can help the students. She asked the board to delay closing the school so that employees and students can finish the year.

Others said teachers and students deserved “fair warning” that the school year they started could be cut short.

Teacher Laura McNamara also told the board that some students are bullied and need the online school.

“My heart is breaking for our students,” McNamara said. “I’m going to be fine...but our children don’t always have choices and this was a choice that they had, to come to ECOT.”

Parents also told stories of how their troubled students are able to manage, only through an online school.

Parent Lisa Burford, of Toledo, said her deaf daughter had struggles in the Toledo schools and did not always have an interpreter there. She said that through ECOT, her daughter’s school experience is much better and she is scheduled to graduate early in May.

But closing the school, changing classes and having to transfer credits would put that in jeopardy.

“If this is really about our children, I hope that you consider our children,” Burford said. “A lot of these students don’t have any other choices.”

Parent Kara Kendall drove to Toledo from Miamisburg near Dayton to plead for the school on begalf of two of her children. She said her daughter enrolled in ECOT because of behavioral and academic and the school “turned her around.”

One of her sons, she said, was born prematurely and has had multiple eye and other problems. She said she was homeschooling him until enrolling him in ECOT.

“ECOT saved us this year,” she said. “He really got a leap forward.”

Now, she said,” he’s in a panic about what will happen to him” because he would likely be bullied at the local elementary school.

Though several pubic school districts across the state say they would welcome any ECOT students, others say a mid-year closure will create problems for many students and families.

Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute, a pro-charter group that has also had criticisms of ECOT the last few years, said he doesn’t want to let ECOT avoid paying the money back, but questioned the widsom of closing the school mid-year. He’s especially hesitant because many of ECOT’s students are at-risk students that may not pick another school.

“I’m concerned about how many of the 12,000 students will just drop out,” he said. “A closure in June gives families a lot more options.”