ECOT appeals in fight to stay open; emails show state fight

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was Ohio’s largest online school, according to contested enrollment figures that the school submitted.

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The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was Ohio’s largest online school, according to contested enrollment figures that the school submitted.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow on Tuesday announced it is appealing the decision of its sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, to close the embattled online school.

ECOT officials called it “a final attempt to keep the doors open through June,” saying in a press release that the school’s contract provides a method to appeal the sponsor’s vote.

RELATED: Sponsor votes to close ECOT online school

The release said that ECOT founder William Lager would “suspend all management and learning platform fees through June” and would agree to the court appointment of an interim master to oversee the school through June.

Emails show dispute

A series of emails in the past week between leaders of the Ohio Department of Education and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow spell out the final back-and-forth before Friday’s closure of the online charter school.

ECOT had claimed an enrollment of more than 15,000 students just two years ago, but state officials suggested there were closer to 6,000 full-time students. After multiple court rulings, the state began the process of “clawing back” $80 million that it paid the school in 2015-2017 based on higher enrollment figures. ECOT officials said the financial change put the school’s future in jeopardy.

11:38 a.m. Wednesday Jan. 17

ECOT Superintendent Brittny Pierson emailed a “last good faith effort” to ODE Chief Legal Counsel Diane Lease for the state’s consideration that “allows our students to finish this school year.” There were four main bullet points that Pierson presented:

RELATED: Thousands of families scramble to adjust

** Altair (the management company that runs the school) would suspend any fees it was owed under contract for five years.

** William Lager would resign from Altair, ceding operational control, and a new president/CEO would be appointed.

** The license fee for software provider IQ Innovations would be cut from 16 percent of ECOT’s state funding to $675,000 per month for five years.

** ODE would withhold $1.9 million per month in ECOT funding to satisfy any adjustments for 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

RELATED: State withholds more money from ECOT

Pierson also said ECOT would agree to three points ODE presented in December – no future lawsuits against ODE about “durational funding,” reviews of ECOT’s number of full-time equivalent students for each year that ODE was seeking payback of state funds, and adjusting the “percent of time” factor that measures whether someone is a full-time equivalent, starting in January 2018.

4:34 p.m. Thursday Jan. 18

ODE Chief Legal Counsel Diane Lease responded to Pierson that ECOT’s settlement 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, even through the end of the school year. As a result, it leaves many continuing, unanswered questions. While we have carefully considered this settlement offer, the Department is not in a position to accept the offer at this time.”

6:07 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18

Pierson responded to Lease’s email with three questions, asking for clarifications:

** She asked what Lease meant by a “standard for its educational service,” and why Lease thought ECOT would not be able to maintain it.

RELATED: State auditor takes aim at ECOT funding

** She asked what statements ECOT had made that were inconsistent with the settlement offer.

** She asked what the “many continuing, unanswered questions” ODE had were, saying ECOT was happy to provide responses so ODE could “fairly consider our offer.”

Evening, Thursday, Jan. 18

ECOT’s sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, voted to suspend operations of ECOT, whose first semester had ended that day.

9:34 a.m., Tuesday Jan. 23

Lease responded to Pierson’s questions via email:

** On maintaining a standard of service, Lease wrote that “ECOT has represented in the past that monthly reductions of the amount that ECOT now proposes would have significant and immediate consequences for ECOT’s ability to continue providing services to its students.”

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** On inconsistent statements, Lease repeated the first point, then added, “the offer that ECOT sent, on the one hand seems to suggest that ECOT would close at the end of the academic year, but on the other hand talks about suspending payments to Altair for five years, suggesting that ECOT would remain in operation for that time.”

** On unanswered questions, Lease said before the sponsor’s action, ODE had had questions about when ECOT would close, suggesting that “a mid-semester closure would be far more disruptive for ECOT students and families than the current shutdown, which is occurring at a semester break.”

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