September 16, 2014

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Arts Academy charter school closes in Lorain

LORAIN — The closing of the Arts Academy has not created any teachable moments between the school’s founder and sponsor.

The charter school, plagued by money mismanagement, alleged unethical conduct and purported Ohio Sunshine Law violations, has closed after failing to find a sponsor.

The closing comes on the heels of a scathing May 18 evaluation of the school’s 2009 finances by state Auditor Dave Yost. The audit said Alexis Rainbow, the academy founder and operator, paid $44,688 in state taxpayer money to a company she owns in violation of Ohio’s ethics laws, which prohibit public officials from paying businesses in which they or their relatives have a public interest. In 2007, Rainbow was criticized by the auditor’s office for $15,129 in payments to a company she owned for school services.

The audit also said the brother of the academy’s dean of students received $22,521 for services and Jorethia Chuck, co-chair of the Ashe Cultural Center, the academy’s Cleveland-based sponsor, received $9,460 for psychological services. The audit said the school, which received $1.56 million in taxpayer money last year, ran a $55,425 deficit in 2009 and didn’t make notifications of public meetings or keep minutes of the meetings.

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run schools with less accountability than traditional public schools. Supporters praise charters for innovative educating; detractors say they underperform, lack accountability and siphon money from publicly run schools. Sixty Ohio charters have closed in the last five years due to money mismanagement, poor academic performance or other reasons, according to the watchdog Forum for Education and Democracy.

Rainbow on Wednesday said she didn’t pay herself but refused to discuss other details of the audit. Rainbow praised the K-12 academy, which opened in 2004, had an enrollment of about 250 students and focused on the arts and sciences.

Rainbow blamed initially low test scores on the public schools students came from. She said the state in recent years had rated the academy “effective,” academy students had a 100-percent graduation rate and all were accepted to college.

Rainbow said the academy was unable to get a new sponsor after Ashe dropped it because of state rules limiting the number of charters a sponsor can have. Rainbow called Chuck “an angry woman” and blamed the academy’s money problems on her.

“I can’t do anything without the permission of the sponsor,” Rainbow said. “We’re all sad about the school closing.”

Chuck, who runs a school psychological services company in addition to her Ashe job, said the payments she received were legal and that sponsors are allowed to provide services to charters.

“Believe me, if you couldn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it,” she said. “There was never pressure for anybody to accept it.”

After the state cut off funding to the academy, Chuck said teachers complained to her that they weren’t getting paid.

After Rainbow got a restraining order to keep Ashe from ousting her, Chuck said she had to insist on teachers being paid when a legal agreement was reached.

Chuck said Rainbow went “rogue” and refused to cooperate with Ashe.

“She just kind of wanted to do whatever she wanted to do,” Chuck said. “She didn’t want to follow any rules.”

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