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SCASD Taking Civil Action Against Wonderland Charter School

by on September 25, 2018 10:58 AM

State College Area School District will pursue civil action to recoup at least $49,100 from the now-closed Wonderland Charter School.

The school board voted unanimously Monday night to authorize district solicitor Scott Etter to initiate proceedings against the school's nonprofit corporation and its founders, Harold and Marilyn Ohnmeis.

According to Etter, the district made a payment of $49,100 to Wonderland in July to be used for instruction during the 2018-19 school year. Wonderland announced on July 31 that it was closing, six weeks after the school board voted to initiate charter revocation proceedings against the school, located on Sandy Drive in Ferguson Township.

Etter said the district administrators sent a letter requesting that the money be returned but have not received a response. The board's action also authorizes Etter to potentially seek other assets and resources funded by taxpayer money.

"We want to be a part of the process to see how much money is left, how much money should be left and how that money should be disbursed, since we are a major contributor to that," Etter said.

Etter added that the charter school law provides that when a school ceases operations remaining money should be returned to the districts that paid into it. As of the spring, 48 of Wonderland's 79 students resided in the State College area.

He also said that the $49,100 is a minimum that will be sought by the district.

"I believe when we are done with discovery the number will be higher than that," Etter said. "Substantially higher."

The school board voted on June 4 to initiate charter revocation proceedings against Wonderland as a result of "systemic, institutionalized and longstanding" failures allegedly uncovered during a review for the school's charter renewal.

The district alleges that Wonderland did not with comply with requirements of the Charter School Law as well as other statutes and regulations, particularly in the area of special education.

Etter said in August that district officials believe Wonderland "was taking active steps to preclude and discriminate against potential students who had special education and other needs. It was taking action with respect to students who were enrolled at Wonderland to ensure … that they would not receive programs and services that would cost Wonderland additional money but were nonetheless needed."

The district also alleges that Wonderland prevented teachers from appropriately communicating with parents about their children's progress and needs.

Other alleged issues have been raised as well, including including performance on state and national assessments, average teacher pay and experience, and the school's curriculum, which was "very scripted" and "resembles what most school districts use as interventions for at-risk learners."

A report in June said the school's expenses were not commensurate with the money it received from the district; that Wonderland was not following mandated protocols for identifying students with limited English proficiency; and that the review team observed students in reading lessons that were multiple grade levels below the age-appropriate placement.

In August, Etter raised several ethical concerns, including a 10-year lease Wonderland signed with a for-profit corporation owned by Harold and Marilyn Ohnmeis, who most recently served as business manager and educational director, respectively. He also said the district had concerns about a lead teacher also serving on the school's board who he said appeared to have participated in discussions about employee bonuses then voted to approve a $16,970 bonus for herself.

In the announcement of its closure in July, Wonderland said the district "has continued to inundate Wonderland with increasingly numerous costly and time consuming requests, as well as intrusive, harassing and redundant inspections. All the while, refusing to present specific charges allowing the legal renewal proceedings to continue.”

Wonderland administrators have not responded to requests for comment.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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