With just more than half of its nine-member roster present, the board of directors for the Akron Digital Academy voted 4-1 Wednesday night to shut down the online school.
By Thursday afternoon, word of the closure had spread to teachers, students and eventually parents like Julie Barker, who enrolls her three children at ADA, along with nearly 600 students.
“My kids came home upset and crying,” Barker said Thursday after her children returned from their biweekly instruction at ADA. The remainder of her kids’ education is conducted at home on an ADA-supplied computer.
She’s irate at the loss of what she calls a good educational opportunity.
“This is the first time that my kids have gotten A’s and B’s in school,” she said.
“There are so many families that are going to be displaced,” said Dominic Donatelli, director of operations at ADA. “Julie Barker has three kids here. She was crying when she called.”
Donatelli said that an hour after teachers and students were notified of the closure, at least a dozen parents had called.
The closure, tentatively scheduled for mid-June, affects 100 teachers and about 580 students. Ninety percent of those students live in Akron and otherwise would attend Akron Public Schools or a neighboring district.
But there’s more at stake than jobs and students, Donatelli said.
He said his school was shut down because the board of directors asserted that “financially we weren’t doing well.”
He said that’s not true.
“We have $2.5 million in the bank. We are not for-profit, but we are not in the red.”
He also asserts a conflict between certain board members and Akron Public Schools.
That’s because each student who leaves Akron schools to attend ADA draws state money away from the public school district. So while Akron schools sponsors ADA, it also competes for the same student population.
ADA is sponsored by Akron schools, which has lost 472 students worth of funding, or about $3.1 million, to the online school this year. Last year, 534 students and $3.4 million left Akron schools for the digital academy.
With two Akron schools employees, including Superintendant David James, sitting on the ADA board of directors, administrators at the online school question the driving factors behind their school’s closure.
“It just so happens that the leader of Akron Public Schools made a motion to shut us down knowing well where 580 students are going to go,” Donatelli said of the students who might end up in Akron schools if the closure occurs. “The problem we have is that a lot of kids come here because they were already at APS.”
Those students, many who left Akron because they were bullied or kicked out, now again face displacement, he said.
James agrees that many students already have left Akron once, but it’s not his decision where they will go.
“I don’t see how it’s a conflict, because those students can go wherever they choose ... I don’t have any control over that,” said James, the only board member who voted to shut down the school who returned phone calls seeking comment Thursday.
“If [Akron Digital Academy proponents] are thinking that those students are going to return to APS, that’s false.”
The decision to shut the digital academy down, James said, was because of poor academic performance. The digital school has received an “Academic Watch” rating (the state’s second lowest) for the past four years. James also considered competition from other charter schools and the fact ADA’s enrollment continues to decline.
And even though James cannot recall a time that ADA operated in a deficit, the elementary school was losing money and the high school was subsidizing that lack of efficiency. That’s why the board had planned Wednesday night to restructure the elementary school.
Talk of restructuring the elementary school, however, turned into talk of closure when James made the motion to shut down the program. Donatelli remains hopeful that does not happen. He cites Ohio law that suggests James cannot vote on ADA matters while he is employed by the same organization that sponsors it. He said he contacted legal staff at the Ohio Department of Education who are “on their way down.”
“We are aware of it and looking into it,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education. He said ODE’s legal and community, or charter, school teams will meet today.
Donatelli, who attended Wednesday’s board meeting, said board President Curtis Howard was the only member present to vote against the closure. James made the motion, which Laraine Duncan, deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations for the city of Akron, seconded. Both voted to close the school, along with Stanley Silverman, who works in the Summit College dean’s office, and Sajit Zachariah, dean of Cleveland State University’s college of education and human services.
Absent were APS Curriculum Director Ellen McWilliams, Fred Tolbert, Gregg Manes and Linda Lanier.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.