Graham school fight continues

Public district, charter disagree over sponsorship.Academy serves 280 students whose fate hangs in balance.

Graham Academy serves more than 280 students from St. Paris and the surrounding area through an alternative learning setting that incorporates online, in-class and home-school learning.

The two school boards met in special session Monday, and Graham Academy told the Graham Local board it wanted to continue the relationship.

“Time is of the essence for the two sides to reconcile, to move forward in sponsorship, which ABGA certainly wishes to continue that is why we are here,” Graham Academy lawyer Brian Fox said.

Graham Academy board president Sean O’Connor said he was hopeful after the meeting, but Graham Local treasurer Bob Hoover made it clear if the board votes to not renew the sponsorship agreement, Graham Local would create a similar educational experience for next school year.

“We do believe that we can provide services that are the same as what they are providing,” Hoover said. “We lose money every student that leaves that goes to the community school. Graham would gain to have those students in our own program we would sponsor ourselves.”

Newly elected Graham Local board member Steve Setty asked Hoover what kind of educational and business plans were in place for that.

Hoover said he purposely had not looked into other options because the district was not completely separated from Graham Academy.

“I can’t answer that because I haven’t had a chance to explore that possibility with the staff, parents and students to see what it is they would want to have,” Hoover said.

“If I were to vote I’d like to see what I’m voting for, and right now I don’t see a plan that says we can meet the needs of this community based upon the same standards of ABGA, and I don’t see how in the next two weeks we are going to be able to do that,” Setty replied.

Hoover noted that Graham Academy’s staff belongs to Graham Local, and the district has space for students. He said he was integral in putting together Graham Digital Academy’s home-school program years ago.

Parents and teachers of Graham Academy came to the meeting to show their support. One mother talked about how critical the school was to helping her daughter catch up to her peers.

“I don’t know where my kids will be if you don’t renew the contract, because my daughter will not go back to the school she came from,” she said.

The dispute between the two boards started in a lease dispute last year and has boiled down to how much “institutional control” Graham Local should or is legally able to have over the school.

Graham Local Superintendent Norm Glissman said the board still feels it needs the two controls it proposed in the original sponsorship agreement.

“We need the ability to approve the board members and approve the leader of the school. If the school board does not have that, then it is not providing the proper oversight the state Superintendent of Instruction wants,” Glissman said.

However, Graham Academy and its lawyer said those requests are not in line with Ohio law and took that proposal to the Ohio Department of Education.

Graham Academy argued Graham Local wanted too much control and didn’t give enough “operational independence.”

The state agreed with Graham Academy and explained in a letter to Glissmann that, if the academy had signed the proposal from Graham Local, it would have lost state funding.

Graham Local had its lawyer send a letter back to ODE stating that the agreement was legal.

“We need more control. I’d say that is the biggest issue. Right now pretty much we have no control. I didn’t even know who the school board members were till June,” Graham Local Board President Duane Miller said. “If something goes wrong, it is Graham Local on the line.”

However, in the current agreement, Graham Local’s board has power to overthrow any board member at any time.

Also, Ohio Revised Code gives Graham Local the power to intervene should something be going wrong at the school.

On Monday, Graham Academy gave Graham Local a revised sponsorship agreement that included the ability to appoint two of academy board members but not have approval over the others.

Graham Academy hopes to negotiate to a new long-term sponsorship agreement before the appeal process is over Jan. 27.

Graham Local’s board plans to meet next Tuesday to vote on its sponsorship.

If Graham Local does not approve a new sponsorship agreement, Graham Academy plans to search for other sponsors.

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