Thursday, September 27, 2001

Harmony charter school is homeless, state discovers

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        The public library has asked a charter school without a home to stop holding classes for dozens of students in its main building downtown.

        The state, meanwhile, wants to know why Harmony Community School did not inform it that the school was starting its year without a building. The state withheld the school's $232,000 payment this month as concerns about its facility situation grew.

        But Ohio still paid the school a total of $464,946 in July and August, even after the school received an eviction notice from its former landlord.

        The state terminated its contract with the 3-year-old school this summer after learning of the notice this spring. The school was housed in a Cincinnati strip mall.

        The state made the July and August payments as part of a good faith arrangement with the school, and with the promise that it would reopen in a new building, Dottie Howe, Department of Education spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

        The intention was to grant the school a new contract, she said. But on Wednesday, the state learned from the library about the classes there, Ms. Howe said.

        The school has until Friday to demonstrate it has a proper facility or see its students returned to traditional public schools and be forced to return the money, Ms. Howe said.

        Harmony superintendent David Nordyke did not return messages left Wednesday seeking comment.

        The school had about 450 students last year, according to state enrollment figures.

        Police were called to a fight among Harmony students at the library Friday, said state Sen. Mark Mallory, a Cincinnati Democrat, who said some of his constituents called him about the situation.

        One father said he had to pick up his son from the library Tuesday after his son called to say there were no teachers at the library, Mr. Mallory said.

        Mr. Mallory said no one at the school told the library that they would be holding classes there.

        Library director Kim Fender said the children have been in the library at least three weeks. She said school groups are welcome for research projects and to learn about the library, and to use the library after school.

        The increased number of students made it difficult to provide enough computers and work areas for scheduled student groups, Ms. Fender said.

        “We told them they could not conduct classes,” she said. “We would welcome them for research.”

        Mr. Mallory said it appeared that the school was stashing students at locations around the city while trying to find a building.

        “It's situations like this that really make me question the level of accountability for charter schools, when you can have a student body in excess of 400 youngsters being moved to different locations in the city during the school year,” he said.

        The school's landlord sent an eviction notice for unpaid rent in the spring. The school owes Allen Temple Real Estate Foundation more than $40,000 in rent and late fees, said Jackie Hobbs, an attorney representing the foundation.

        The school has sued the Education Department over special education funding. In a second lawsuit, the school claims an audit the state did of its enrollment caused it to lose funding.

        The president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, which has sued Ohio over its charter school law, said it was “unbelievable” that the state would pay money to a school without a building.

        “It speaks even more to the broader question of introducing the market system in education and how long taxpayers are going to tolerate their money being put at risk by various entrepreneurs and just plain amateurs,” said OFT president Tom Mooney.

        Steve Ramsey, president of the Ohio Charter School Association, said he was not aware the school was holding classes in the library.

        “Some decision-making along the management line has created some controversies that have disrupted the learning process, but my impression of the school is that it has been pretty well received by parents and students,” Mr. Ramsey said.


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