October 23, 2014

Elyria
Mostly cloudy
46°F
test

Lorain Arts Academy battling its sponsor in court, may close

LORAIN — The Arts Academy is fighting being put on permanent recess.

The charter school and its sponsor, the Cleveland-based Ashe Cultural Center, are scheduled to resume their legal battle Thursday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The academy is seeking a restraining order to keep the center from closing it.

The fight comes on the heels of the Thursday release of a damning 2009 audit by state Auditor Dave Yost’s office, which accused the academy of money mismanagement, unethical behavior and flouting of open meeting laws. The audit said the school had a $55,425 deficit.

State funding for the academy, which received some $1.56 million in state taxpayer money last year, was cut off in April because the school missed the deadline for turning in its financial report to the state auditor’s office. Funding resumed earlier this month.

According to the audit, academy founder Alexis Rainbow violated Ohio ethics laws by making a total of $44,688 in payments for school services to businesses she owns. Rainbow didn’t return calls for comment last week or Tuesday.

Besides Rainbow, the academy’s dean of students was accused of unethical behavior for a $22,521 payment his brother received for services and a board member’s company received $9,460 for psychological services. The academy, which has about 250 students attending classes from the kindergarten to ninth grades, also failed to post notices of public meetings or record meeting minutes, according to the audit.

The complaint filed by the academy’s lawyer, Timothy McGarry, accuses the center of sabotaging the school by bouncing numerous checks and losing health insurance for the school. McGarry noted the center’s poor financial track record for other charter schools it sponsors in Ohio.

However, the center accuses the academy of being a rogue school. In a May 17 letter to Eric Bode, the state Department of Education’s finance executive director, center co-chair Jorethia Chuck said the school had stonewalled the center’s requests for financial information and was out of control.

“To continue this posture is an invitation to disaster,” wrote Chuck, who didn’t return calls for comment Tuesday. “Parent complaints are mounting (and) staff feel intimidated to the point of silence.”

Charter schools, publicly funded but privately run, are touted by proponents as innovative alternatives to traditional public schools. While some have thrived, the academy is not alone among charters that have experienced problems in Ohio and nationally.

An analysis of state statistics last year by the watchdog Forum for Education and Democracy found 60 charter schools had closed in the last five years due to money mismanagement, poor academic performance and other reasons. Some 89,000 students were attending 332 charter schools in Ohio at the end of the 2008-09 school year, according to the forum. A 2009 study by the Stanford-based Center for Research on Education Outcomes found Ohio charter school students had significantly lower math and reading scores than traditional public schools.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.