August 27, 2019

Virtual Charter School Board Members Resign Minutes Before Public Meeting

The locked doors of the Indiana Virtual School business office, 500 E. 96th St. in Indianapolis. - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

The locked doors of the Indiana Virtual School business office, 500 E. 96th St. in Indianapolis.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Tuesday night the board of directors who run two scandal-plagued virtual charter schools planned to hold a public meeting to discuss its closure. But what took place, leaves more questions than answers. 

Minutes before the meeting was to start, the attorney for the Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Pathways Virtual Academy said it's canceled. 

“Two board members are here for the executive session and resigned just a few minutes ago,” Mary Jane Lapointe said to a small group, including stunned former employees. 

They were standing in the lobby of a 96th Street business complex. The fourth-floor office for the schools, where the meeting was scheduled to happen, was locked. 

“We couldn’t get in upstairs,” Lapointe said. “I had a (key) fob and it wouldn’t work. So we had to move it down here.” 

The dissolution of the Indiana Virtual Education, Inc. board comes a day after Daleville Community Schools, the virtual schools’ oversight body, revoked its charters. Representatives of the schools sat in front of a federal grand jury earlier this month. A U.S. Attorney's office also issued a subpoena for evidence.

Indiana officials allege the schools received more than $40 million in state funds from exaggerated student enrollment data for three years.

Lapointe says since the board running the schools dissolved, and no employees or staff remain, the board is no longer responsible. 

“A corporation is run by its board of directors,” she says. “We have no board.”

Lapointe said some board members did not attend the meeting in person or by phone. It was unknown if they too had resigned. 

Asked who would respond to the federal subpoenas, or anything else, Lapointe said, “Ask Daleville.” 

It remains unclear how state officials will respond to the board’s action. State code requires some actions for charter schools organizers to complete as the close down a school's academic and financial activities.

The state wants to claw back the $40 million in alleged overpayments the school received from the alleged inflation of enrollment, including students who no longer attended the schools. The school has said there was no enrollment inflation. 

Tuesday those issues were not discussed. Two former board members, Tom Krudy and Sam Manghelli, remained briefly after an executive session with Lapointe. They sat near a small waterfall in the lobby. 

Krudy says he had no choice but to resign since Daleville revoked the charters. He described bringing education policy and an academic vision, along with Manghelli, to the board. 

“We’re deeply disappointed. Sam and I can both say the same thing. We thought this was the wave of the future and a way of educating kids,” Krudy says. “We believed in it.” 

In 2018, 24 percent of Indiana Virtual School students graduated. The same year at Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, when 6,266 students were listed as enrolled, just 2 percent of students graduated.

Krudy says he had no role in day-to-day operations and can’t help students who want their transcripts. 

Former counselor Carrie Bennett was one of a handful of former school staff who attended the meeting in hopes of getting some answers. And back pay. The schools did not issue checks for a mid-July-to-August pay period. 

Now, says she’s worried about the students. 

“We showed tonight because we were trying to support the kids," Bennett says. "It’s sad board members that are supposed to have them at their highest priority didn’t bother showing or resigned just before they could have the opportunity to do anything.”

Earlier this week, the school’s oversight body, Daleville Schools, revoked the virtual schools’ charters. Daleville attorney Sara Blevins says the dissolution of the virtual School board makes it harder to help students.

“Our hands are tied to some extent, and they just tied them a little more,” Blevins says. “I was hoping someone would take some measure of responsibility for the students’ sake.”

Daleville, a small district northeast of Indianapolis, authorized a charter for Indiana Virtual School in June of 2011. An additional online charter school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, was authorized in 2017.

A year ago, Daleville School Board members say they became concerned with the enrollment data after gaining access to school records. Daleville began the revocation process in February that could lead to the closure of the schools. Afterward, the schools proposed a voluntary shutdown: September 2019 for Indiana Virtual School and June 2020 for Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

But Daleville says leaders of the virtual charter schools did not follow through on their mutual agreement. The district then began the revocation process again.

Indiana Virtual School students should contact Daleville Schools for transcripts.

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