WATCH: Tater tot eating gets competitive at Valley bar

Bar Louie in the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley hosted its first-ever Rock the Tot eating competition.

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Tater tots are the PBR, the Genny Cream …

Man Pretends to Help Couple with Finances, Writes Checks to Himself

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Kid designers and models light up Crayola fashion show (PHOTOS)

The 4th annual fashion show and runway competition raises money for Northampton County Special Olympics.

There was some serious struttin’ going on Thursday at the Crayola Ex…

Lehigh Valley schools near top in sending money to cyber school

The audit of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School highlights why the state’s charter law is the worst in the nation, the state’s top fiscal watchdog said.

The Bethlehem Area and Allentown school districts are among the top 20 Pennsylvania school districts in taxpayer dollars sent to a cyber school whose leaders put their own interests above educating students, the state’s fiscal watchdog said Thursday.

PA Cyber chartHere is a look at the top sending school districts to Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. (Courtesy image | For lehighvalleylive.com) 

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a sharp critic of Pennsylvania’s charter school law, again slammed it during a news conference announcing the results of his audit of PA Cyber Charter School, Lincoln Performing Arts Center and the Midland Borough School District.

All three schools are linked to Nicholas Trombetta, who recently pleaded guilty to a charge of tax evasion connected to a scheme to funnel $8 million from the cyber school he founded to other entities he created. He has yet to be sentenced.

“Auditors found that leaders involved with all three of these schools had intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs while controlling hundreds of millions of taxpayer education funds from nearly every district in the state,” DePasquale said.

The state’s largest cyber charter school, PA Cyber had almost 10,000 students from 484 school district enrolled as of Oct. 1, 2014. It received more than $118.6 million from the districts where its students live in 2013-14.

Bethlehem and Allentown school districts ranked in the top 20 of sending school districts with 67 and 96 students enrolled that year, respectively.

“Publicly elected school boards from nearly every school district in the state are sending state and local tax dollars to the cyber school with zero input and accountability,” DePasquale said.

This highlights why Pennsylvania’s charter school law is the worst in the nation and must be overhauled, DePasquale said.

Who is behind ‘deplorable’ charter school mailer?

In its response to the audit, PA Cyber notes that Trombetta has had no role with the school since 2012 and the school has “undergone significant structural changes” to its board and administration.

It disputes many of the findings, but also notes reforms are in place and many of the issues flagged in the audit have been fixed.

“PA Cyber has moved on,” the school wrote in its response. “So, too, should the auditor general.”

Trombetta is a former Midland Borough superintendent, who went on to found PA Cyber and serve as its CEO until 2012. At the same time, he founded a performing arts center and served as its executive center.

He also in 2005 founded the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, housed in the arts center, and served as an officer. He created the nonprofit charter school management company later known as Lincoln Learning Solutions, and was its president from 2005-08.

That management company was PA Cyber’s biggest vendor, receiving $153.8 million, or almost half of the school’s spending, over the three years the audit covered, through June 2014.

“Our audits … illustrate just how poorly our charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers and ensuring that education dollars help students learn, not help individuals profit,” DePasquale said.

Most of the serious problems found in the audits — particularly the ones associated with the management company — are allowed under current charter school law, he said.

“It is clear that the charter school management company was operating without boundaries or accountability to the officials from either charter school or to the taxpayers, who were footing the bill,” DePasquale said. “As a result, we really have no idea what was provided by the management company in return for the public education money it received.”

PA Cyber’s board and administration did not oversee the services the management company was supposed to be providing allowing it to miss deadlines and forgo a $4.2 million penalty for not delivering curriculum on time, DePasqaule said.

“That penalty money should have been used to provide additional classroom resources to teachers and their students,” DePasquale said.”Instead it went to the management company that failed to deliver on its promises.”

Several trustees and administrators had connections with Trombetta and some were related to other people or groups doing business with the cyber school, the audit found.

The audit points out that rather than being paid through a cost-based formula the management company got 12 percent of the school’s funding from its sending districts.

DePasquale emphasized this isn’t a critique of all charter schools.

“Most of the problems we see in our audits can be traced directly back to gray areas in the 20-year-old charter school law, not issues caused by the charter schools themselves,” DePasquale said.

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at ssatullo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo and Facebook. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

 

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