Sunday, December 31, 2000

Charter school founder had financial problems

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The co-founder of the state's only taxpayer-financed Internet charter school did not disclose that he had financial problems twice in the past 18 years when he filed his application, The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday.

        William Lager's application for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow described him as a “strong leader ... (who) has a highly successful background in business.”

        But the newspaper reported that Mr. Lager did not mention that an office supply business he ran went bankrupt in 1982 and that creditors obtained eight court judgments against him in the mid-1990s.

        Charter schools were established in Ohio three years ago as an alternative to public schools. They are publicly funded, privately operated institutions.

        There are 17,000 students enrolled in Ohio's 70 publicly funded charter schools, up from 9,500 last year, the state says.

        Mr. Lager's resume was submitted as part of an application to the Lucas County Educational Service Center in Toledo, which granted eCOT a charter on April 30. Thomas Baker, superintendent of the Lucas County center, said a routine records check did not turn up anything about Mr. Lager's financial problems.

        Even if it had, it probably would not have mattered since the center is primarily concerned that officials do not have criminal convictions, Mr. Baker said.

        Mr. Lager told the newspaper that competition from nationwide chains caused the bankruptcy of Officeworks, a Columbus office-supply company he founded in the mid-1970s. He said his financial difficulties resulted from a divorce with his ex-wife, and that all judgments were paid by 1998.

        But the disclosure has raised concerns among state and education officials.

        “Something is amiss. Obviously, more checks and balances are needed,” said state Rep. Charles Brading, R-Wapakoneta, chairman of the House Education Committee. “This isn't the intent of the charter school movement.”

        Mr. Lager's financial background is only the latest issue that has arisen about eCOT.

        State Auditor Jim Petro is investigating the school's enrollment figures after eCOT officials claimed this month to be serving nearly 3,000 students statewide. The state gives charter schools about $4,600 per student in state aid.

        A recount conducted by eCOT, however, showed enrollment is actually about 2,200, a school spokesman said.


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