State spent $1.2M on shuttered charter schools

The state of Ohio paid nearly $1.2 million to a string of charter schools — including three in Dayton and one in Trotwood — that closed abruptly last month mere weeks after opening.

The schools — all operating under the name Olympus High School — were operated by Education Innovations International, a company operated by two brothers who were forced to step down from managing a charter school in Reynoldsburg last year due to budget shortfalls and nepotism concerns.

Each Olympus school was aiming for 200 students and was paid this year for an estimated enrollment of 87.5 kids. The schools reported to the state that they had an average of 59 kids. An inspection by the school’s sponsor found far fewer: Two Dayton schools were only teaching nine kids combined.

The Olympus schools are now facing a state audit and have been ordered to pay back some of that money after enrolling far fewer students than they were paid to teach.

The schools were operating under an unusual model that blends classroom learning and e-learning. The classrooms had no teachers, only coaches to help the students with their online lessons.

Management company CEO James McCord and his brother Ed also ran Virtual Community School of Ohio, an online charter school based in Reynoldsburg that was taken over by its sponsor amid budget deficits and concerns about nepotism.

Repeated phone calls to the listed number for Education Innovations International in Dublin were not returned.

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that it obtained copies of an internal agency email dated Oct. 25 in which McCord told staff: “EII and Olympus Schools are finished as an organization. So now it is with sorrow and regret that the company and schools must end.”

The Dispatch also reported that James McCord’s wife, brother, children and an in-law all had jobs with the company.

Signs in the windows of the schools locally tell parents and students: “The Olympus school operation is suspended pending further notice. You will be notified by mail or personal contact if we can reopen.”

The Olympus schools are sponsored by St. Aloysius Orphanage in Cincinnati, which subcontracts its oversight of charter schools to the company Charter School Specialists.

Charter School Specialists spokesman Mike Maurer told the Dayton Daily News that the Olympus schools were suspended, and no final decision had been made to close them. He said they suffered primarily from getting off the ground too late.

“They opened late, and the difficulty is that if you’re not open when the families are enrolling for schools, then you lose your window,” he said.

Maurer said his agency is “excited” about the teaching model. As for the nepotism issue, “we are not aware of any conflict of interest,” he said.

A woman in the area of the Olympus school on Linden Avenue told reporters she walks by the building every day on her way to work and that there were people from the school outside trying to recruit students off the street.

They would always ask her, “Hey … you got any high school-aged kids?” she said.

The Dispatch reported that recruiters would entice students with bookbags, T-shirts and $50 gift cards and enrolled students without their parents knowing.

Dayton City Schools spokeswoman Jill Moberley said she is aware of some of the Olympus students filtering back into the public school system. But she said failed start-ups like this have an impact on education.

“I think that sometimes families will check out a new program and if they’re dissatisfied or the program closes they will return to us and they’ve missed out on receiving consistent instruction,” she said.

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