Springfield City Schools officially joins legal action against ECOT

Springfield City Schools have officially joined in the effort to intervene in a lawsuit against what was the largest online school n Ohio.

The local school district is seeking more than $3.5 million from the Electronic School of Tomorrow — ECOT — because the district says millions of dollars were stolen from its students over the last six or so years. The Springfield Board of Education passed a resolution late last month giving its administration permission to seek all legal remedies to get the money back.

The Ohio Department of Education’s enrollment reviews of ECOT found the school overbilled the state by $60.35 million in 2015-16 and by $19.3 million in 2017. ECOT’s appeals were rejected by ODE and the Ohio Supreme Court, leading to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filing a lawsuit against them.

The state began clawing back millions in funding that ODE said the school should not have received, eventually leading to ECOT closing.

MORE: Springfield City Schools seeks $3.5 million from ECOT

The Springfield News-Sun attempted to contact ECOT for this story but phone calls were not returned.

Springfield City School District joined Dayton Public Schools, Logan-Hocking Local Schools, and Lake Local Schools in Woods County this week in an attempt to intervene in that lawsuit. Springfield City Schools Superintendent Bob Hill previously told the Springfield News-Sun there is a fear among superintendents that the lawsuit is political because DeWine is running for Governor.

A release sent to media by the law firm representing the schools who are seeking to intervene in the lawsuit also says it doesn’t trust DeWine.

“We are excited to have two more districts join the effort to intervene. Districts across the state understand that they must take matters into their own hands with this case,” said attorney Ellen Kramer.

The release says Springfield City Schools questions if DeWine can handle the ECOT case.

“These districts echo the concerns of Dayton and Logan-Hocking – they do not believe that Attorney General DeWine can adequately represent their interests in this case,” the release says.

DeWine’s campaign said he is dedicated to going after ECOT funds and said the school’s intervention is without reason.

“This is a politically-motivated lawsuit without merit,” Joshua Eck, spokesman for the DeWine campaign, said. “Mike DeWine has taken action, not just against ECOT, but also to hold its founder personally liable.”

In a legal filing that was submitted earlier this month in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the attorney general’s office argues it has obtained, or is pursuing, $66.4 million in misspent public funds paid to charter schools or their operators across Ohio.

The AG’s office filing said the schools lack standing to intervene in the case, that their interest is adequately represented by the state, and the AG’s office “has successfully pursued multiple cases addressing charter school fraud.”

DeWine is facing Richard Cordray in the race for Governor.

EXTRA: Springfield City School employees celebrate start of new school year

Court documents say ODE has collected $17.6 million of those debts, and a balance of roughly $62 million is due, plus costs and interest, with that debt, referred to the attorney general for collection.

Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney, said the AG’s office is working to collect the full amount of money for Springfield and the other school districts.

“One of the reasons that the Attorney General sought assignment of the ECOT claims is that hiring an outside attorney, such as the one’s hired by Springfield and other school districts, will result in less money being returned to schools due to the fact these outside attorneys generally work on a contingency fee basis, often taking one-third of any collected funds as a fee. The Attorney General’s Office does not assess fees and can pass along 100 percent of the recovered funds,” Tierney said in a statement.

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