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State auditor investigates three charter-school sponsors

Warren County ESC to be audited

Warren County Educational Service Center (ESC) officials said they welcomed scrutiny of their charter school operations as part of a special audit acknowledged Thursday by Ohio Auditor of State David Yost in response to the closing of a series of new charter schools last year.

“We welcome any audit. That helps us when we go out to pitch new business,” said John Lazares, superintendent of the Warren Educational Service Center, based in Lebanon.

Along with the Warren County Educational Service Center, the initial special audits will focus on two sponsors of new charter schools that closed quickly, including the St. Aloysius Orphanage in Cincinnati - which sponsored schools that closed in Dayton - and the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center, according to Blaine Kelly, spokesman for Yost’s office.

“We chose them because they have first-year charter schools in place right now,” Kelly said. “We’ve seen an unusually high failure rate in first-year charter schools.”

Three other ESCs, not part of the special audit, sponsored new charter schools this year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Yost’s office declined to say specifically why it selected the Warren County ESC alongside two sponsors with histories of problems.

It’s the first time that the state has conducted special audits of charter sponsors.

The audit began three weeks ago after The Columbus Dispatch reported that 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have closed since 1997, including charters sponsored by the North Central Ohio ESC, based in Marion and Tiffin, and St. Aloysius.

No reports identified problems at charter schools sponsored by the Warren County ESC.

The Warren County ESC is sponsoring two new charter schools: the Ohio Construction Academy, Columbus, operated by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, and the Akron Digital Academy in Akron, Lazares said.

Neither school has closed or encountered problems so far, Lazares said.

In addition, Lazares said the Warren County ESC has sponsored two successful charter schools. The Warren County Virtual Community School has been sponsored and run from ESC offices for 12 years. Woodbury Academy in Dayton, sponsored for three years by the ESC, is operated by Imagine, a national charter school operator.

“We don’t have any that have opened and closed,” Lazares said.

Lazares said there are about 500 students in their charter schools and about 100 students are graduated each year.

Before a charter school can open, it must secure a sponsor: a nonprofit group, university, school district or educational service center — which enters into the “charter” with the school and acts as the check on decision-making.

Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this report.

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