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The Investigator: Cleveland charter school sponsor dodges questions on missing property

1:19 PM, Mar 17, 2010   |    comments
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Most of Ashe's charter schools, including The Arts Academy, Lighthouse Community, and Elite Academy of the Arts, are in Cleveland.

Ashe receives up to 3 percent of taxpayer money for each school. In exchange, Ashe monitors the schools.

The Ohio Board of Education has sent a letter to Ashe, saying it has made a preliminary determination not to renew Ashe's sponsorship because it "has not sufficiently met its sponsorship obligations under its current agreement with regard to financial responsbilities."

Marsha Pettus, a former treasurer for one of the schools, and her attorney are familiar with the state's complaint.

"We're talking about $330,000 of missing inventory that we taxpayers paid for, so where is it? That's the question. Where is it?"Subodh Chandra said.

Chandra represents Pettus in a lawsuit against one of Ashe's schools. He says Ashe's CEO David Whitaker has failed to appear twice at depositions to answer questions about the missing property.

Chandra said Whitaker has ignored a subpoena to appear.

"They've been thumbing their nose at the law for a long time.  There needs to be a complete accounting. Where did the money go?" Chandra said.

A Sheriff's department inventory found only $14,960 worth of property, which includes desks, chairs, copy machines, lockers and computers.

Channel 3 News tried to talk with Whitaker. He told The Investigator Tom Meyer he would return a call, but he never did.

When Meyer went to various Ashe-sponsored schools looking for Whitaker, he was told to leave.

Of the 11 schools Ashe sponsors, the state says six are in academic emergency or failing.

Ashe plans to appeal the state's preliminary decision not to renew its sponsorship at a hearing scheduled for next week. If Ashe loses the appeal, then the state school board can take over as sponsor for up to two years while a new sponsor is found.

Also, Channel 3 News learned that, in the lawsuit filed by Pettus, Cleveland Municipal Court Magistrate Pablo Castro ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

Castro found the Ashe-sponsored school, Phoenix Village Academy, guilty of indirect civil contempt for failing to comply with the plaintiff's request to appear at a deposition to answer questions about the missing property.

The court imposed sanctions of $50 per day, starting 30 days after the court order is journalized.

If representatives of the school appear at the plaintiff's lawyer's office within 15 days of the journal entry, the finding of indirect contempt will be purged.

If the defendant fails to comply, further penalties may be ordered.


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