John Higgins

Former Akron Councilman Ernie Tarle’s Academy of Excellence charter school has lost its sponsor and won’t open this fall in Akron.

Charters are publicly funded, privately operated schools that must have a state-approved sponsor to operate.

The Toledo-based Ohio Council of Community Schools initially agreed to sponsor the Academy of Excellence to meet a state deadline in May, but did not guarantee the school would open until the sponsor had completed its investigation of the school’s finances and ensured the school met all of the requirements.

The sponsor suspended the school’s operations earlier this month “based on information learned during its review and investigation,” Chief Operating Officer Frank W. Stoy said.

The board of trustees voted June 15 to terminate its contract with the Academy of Excellence, revoking any authority for the school to open for the 2012-13 school year, he said.

Tarle said the sponsor objected to comments he made to prospective parents that were reported in the Akron Beacon Journal last month.

He told parents the Academy of Excellence would not be a religious school, but he also told them this: “The truth is, for something like this to come together, so many stars had to align there is almost no denying the presence of God.

“I’m not in the business of denying that presence. I’m in the true-believer business. In fact, the only reason I’m here today is because I know that the best way to serve him is to serve you.”

He said the sponsor asked him to assure parents the charter school wasn’t a religious school.

“The sponsor decided to pull the plug after reading my comments about being a true believer in God,” Tarle said. “They felt this sent a ‘mixed signal’ about whether or not we would be a religious school. They asked me to send a letter of clarification to the parents, which I did, but in the end, they just didn’t feel it was good enough and thus suspended our operations.”

Stoy couldn’t be reached to respond to Tarle’s account.

Although Tarle asked parents to sign letters of intent that they would enroll their children, the school didn’t sign any formal agreements with parents.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic wrote a letter, dated June 14, to Stoy and the Ohio Council of Community Schools opposing the charter school. It arrived after the board of trustees had voted to terminate the contract.

Plusquellic noted that the city was legally obligated to grant an occupancy permit for the new school, but he didn’t want the sponsor to interpret that as an endorsement.

“A simple search of Tarle shows that he has a history that should raise red flags for anyone who is thinking of approving a school operated by Tarle, and for any parent thinking of enrolling their children in?Tarle’s school,” Plusquellic wrote.

The mayor cited several reasons for denying Tarle’s application, including his recent bankruptcy that settled about $4.5 million in debts and the city’s current criminal case against him.

The city has charged Tarle with five misdemeanors regarding property at 2191 19th St. SW. He is charged with failure to maintain electric service, failure to provide heat, failure to maintain water and two housing code violations.

Tarle said he transferred his ownership rights in the company that owns the property to his wife, Amy Tarle, in 2009. The city argues, however, that he is the operator of the property and still responsible.

The mayor’s letter to the sponsor also quotes from a ruling this year by Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer regarding a separate civil case in Summit County Common Pleas Court brought against the Tarles by the Chicago Title Insurance Co. in 2010.

According to Stormer’s Feb. 21 ruling, “the defendant, Amy L. Tarle, acted in concert with Earnest J. Tarle Jr. and defendant Eleanor Jones Properties LLC to conceal, divert and place assets beyond the reach of creditors’ claims.”

Stormer ordered the ?Tarles to pay the plaintiff about $46,000.

Tarle said that Stormer’s ruling isn’t consistent with the findings in his bankruptcy, which was approved in January. He said his wife is seeking to have the ruling vacated.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that given the embattled state of our city and our public schools that the mayor would spend so much time trying to derail my efforts to help poor children rather than try to fix some of the real problems he has helped to create,” Tarle said.

It’s too late to find another sponsor, Tarle said, and the staff he had hoped would open the school this fall is “scrambling to find other work.”

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com.