Closed Ohio charter school returns $423,421 to state's coffers

Much has been written about spectacular charter school blow-ups that have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rarely, if ever, do we see headlines that read ???Closed charter school returns $423,421 to state's coffers.??? But that's exactly what happened yesterday when the treasurer for the East End Community School in Dayton hand delivered a check to the Ohio Department of Education. Fordham served as the school's authorizer from 2005 to 2008, when it closed at the end of the school year.

East End had facility problems since its inception in 2002. When the church in which it rented space terminated that arrangement, the school had nowhere satisfactory to conduct class. In its final year of operation the school was one of Dayton's highest performing schools with its students' reading proficiency scores fully 15 points above those of district students. In 2008 the school was rated Continuous Improvement (C) and met AYP. Despite its achievement and an enrollment of 210 students the school couldn't function without a decent facility.

And so, in May 2008, the school's governing board reached an agreement with the Dayton Public School district whereby East End would cease operating as an independent charter and its pupils would be encouraged to enroll in the district's newly built Ruskin Elementary School. Many teachers and staff from East End subsequently took positions in the new school. This arrangement allowed the district to fill an otherwise underutilized new building with students while enabling East End's pupils to move into a suitable facility. Further, community leaders in East Dayton ??? some of whom were on the board of East End ??? wanted to support one school rather than two competing schools. It was sad to see East End close and for our partnership to end, but we understood and agreed with the logic of the school's governing authority. As a good authorizer should, we helped them in the closure and provided various forms of technical assistance along the way.

More than two years later it is a remarkable testament to the school's governing board members, its leadership, and its treasurer that after closing out all costs and expenses, including two state-required audits, the school was able to return nearly half a million dollars to the State of Ohio. The school not only delivered academic results for its students during its six-year run, but it actually did this while building up a cash surplus. This is a remarkable story of how thoughtful community leaders can serve children and their neighborhood well through charter schools, while also providing a bargain to taxpayers.

- Terry Ryan

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