"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 04, 2009

Agora Cyber Charter School Sued by State of Pennsylvania

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
by Martha Woodall

The Pennsylvania Department of Education yesterday filed suit against Agora Cyber Charter School in Devon, alleging fraud and breach of fiduciary responsibility by its board of trustees.

The civil complaint maintains that cyber charter's board entered into improper contracts with the Cynwyd Group LLC., a management company that was co-created by Agora's founder Dorothy June Brown "for the purpose of making money from managing and operating the school."

According to documents filed in Commonwealth Court, the state Department of Education has concluded that Agora "is operating in such a grossly unlawful and improper manner" that if the department continued making payments of taxpayer funds, it "would be "facilitating and enabling Agora in the perpetration of ongoing and pervasive unlawful and improper conduct."

Brown declined comment and Board Chairman Howard Lebofsky could not be reached.

. . . .

Based on current enrollment, Agora officials have projected that the charter's revenues will total about $41 million in taxpayer funds this school year. The management contract calls for Brown's company to be paid 7 percent of gross revenues. The fee could be as much as $2.8 million this school year.

The education department also has contacted all 500 school districts in the state directing them to send tuition payments for Agora students from their districts to the escrow fund instead of to the school, the suit said.

The suit asks the court to declare that the Agora board, which is dominated by associates of Brown, violated terms of its operating charter and state law by contracting with her management company.

Brown's Cynwyd Group not only has a management contract with Agora but owns the school's administrative offices on Chestnut Street in Devon. The school pays $25,000 per month in rent.

The suit contends that Agora's board of trustees "participated in a scheme to defraud" the department and had "defrauded Agora students by entering into a lease that was far above fair market value" and paying Cynwyd Group a management fee when "little was done by Cynwyd. . ."

The complaint, which was signed by Education Secretary Gerald D. Zahorchak, also asks the court to replace Agora's board.

"Agora's students will not be impacted by our decision in any detrimental way," Zahorchak said in a statement today. "Moving forward, these students will continue to have the same curriculum and day to day education experience to which they have become accustomed." The school's academic program is administered under contract by K-12 Pennsylvania, LLC, a for profit education company.

By state law, the education department has oversight responsibility for the 11 cyber charters that provide online instruction to students in their homes.

The suit is an outgrowth of an investigation the department launched in response to complaints from several Agora parents seeking information about the school's finances and the role that Brown and Cynwyd Group played in Agora's operations.

A state team, including the department's top lawyer and two auditors, spent a day in mid-March at the cyber school's administrative headquarters reviewing documents and interviewing staff, including Brown.

State officials followed up with a visit two weeks later to Brown's business offices in Bala Cynwyd, and continued seeking information related to Agora's operations, sources with knowledge of the investigation said.

Brown, who initially was Agora's chief executive officer, is Cynwyd Group's senior consultant to the cyber school and an ex-officio member of the charter board.

Federal criminal investigators and the Philadelphia School District's inspector general also are examining Agora's finances, the sources said.

In January, Brown and Cynwyd Group took the unusual step of suing six Agora parents, including those who complained to the state, for slander, libel and civil conspiracy. The Agora Parent Association also named in that suit, which is pending in Montgomery County. . . .


  1. Anonymous12:31 AM

    On Friday May 29, the Pennsylvania Department of Education DROPPED the lawsuit against the Agora Cyber Charter School.

    The department apparently had no concern over allowing The Cynwyd Group to be paid millions of Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars for doing little to no work.


    Stunned in Pennsylvania

  2. Anonymous7:56 AM

    What is going on in our state? The Department of Education should be investigated.
    Attorney General Corbett should be looking into this something stinks to high heaven!

    Angry Taxpayer

  3. Anonymous11:51 PM

    I as a Parent of students who attend Agora have seen what these children get from this type of schooling.

    The program is amazing. There are holes that do need fixed as far as technical issues for parents when it comes to navigating the school system.

    However for anyone who has the time to help with their childs education, the program is great when compaired to the state of PA's public schools.

    The advantages far out number the disadvantages. Teacher that actually work with the kids and the parents.

    No kids come with guns to this school. No drugs, no prejudice, every kid has the same rights not like public school where the sports teams get all the money and the kids dont get a real education.

    The only reason there was even a issues was because the public schools are pissed off they dont get the money for kids in their district.

    My children went to Slippery Rock School district before Agora. No one there cared at all about my kids because they were not ritch or popular or in sports.

    I watched as some kids were allowed to brake rules just because of what family they came from or because they were on a school team.

    When I pulled my kids out because they were not being educated I was harassed, My daugter was pulled into the office and told she would be nothing and drop out and not be able to get a job.

    I was refused to uninroll my child, told I was stealing money from the school if I enrolled my kids into Agora.

    I said no they are just going to give it to someone who will actualy give my kids an education since its soo hard for them to do it.

    These are the people who say they are educationg my kids? I dont think so!

    My kids had so many advantages with Agora. Yea some bugs need worked out but if the public schools did half of what agora does for a child all our children would be able to get equal education.

    I dont see that happening any time soon.

    So for those of you who would rather throw your tax money into a school that might educate your child , that might not discriminate against your child, and might not abuse your child.

    I say Go right ahead as long as its your Child!

    As for me im happy to pay every penny of my taxes to a school that cares.

    1. Anonymous5:59 PM

      You must have been paid by agora to say all this bull, my child enrolled this year and the "holes" you refer to are so great that it forces me into a second career just trying to straighten out agoras mess.
      From a laptop that took 5 weeks and 20 phone calls to get, and then will not allow her to sign in, to every day calls thet she has not logged in, even though I log her in myself on her personal laptop.
      To an administraighter who could care less about these problems, to a homeroom teacher who is never available, and only contacts you for social events, and doesn't want involved in the Academic part at all..... and on and on and on
      This school is rated very poorly by the State board of education as far as Academic acheivment "wonder Why ?

  4. Anonymous12:23 AM

    The trouble is that your money isn't going to a school that cares. It's going to someone who has an illegal contract with the Board of that school. I am an Agora parent also and I want the money intended for our kids to get to our kids. I want to see justice done and our school run ethically.

  5. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I tried to post an update earlier today on the situation, because the discussion so far leaves a wrong impression.

    While the PDE did drop the suit as the first post comments, the PDE continues to put funds into an escrow account and money for Cynwyd is still being held. The PDE states this was the primary reason for the suit and say there is no need for a trial since they obtained their objective.

    Eight days ago the PDE sent a demand letter to the Board of Agora, requesting that within 10 days they are to 1) terminate the contract with Cynwyd, 2) all resign, and 3) reconstitute a new board that does not include friends or colleagues of Dr. Brown (subject to approval by the PDE). If they do not comply the PDE will begin the revocation process. (See Inquirer article by same writer on 6/11).

  6. Anonymous1:28 PM

    As a high school student at agora I definately do not agree that we get what we need from board or the teachers. I needed a recovery disk for the computer the school sent me because of a virus that was going around. Once I emailed them about it I never heard anything back. I had to email 3 more times until I gave up and used the family computer. One month later the cd came in the mail. I live only a half hour from the office. The same thing happened when I needed ink for my printer. My family doesn't have a printer so I went a month and a half without printing valuable study guides and lesson papers. When I need help from a teacher I use the school email called "kmail" but I never receive any response that day. Nor do I get one the next day. Usually I will carry out an email conversation with the teacher for over a week until I finally either give up or get the answer I need. I would use yahoo instant messanger but whenever I try the teachers are either offline, logged on but away from the computer, or they are "busy". Even that takes several days. When I first started the program nobody helped me figure out how to use the confusing site. I had no idea how to do my work or turn it in. I had no idea what to do at all. I've been in the program a year now and I should graduate this year. But they lost my transcripts. They have no record of my past so now I am in 9th grade. They told me last year didn't count because I only did one semester and this year won't count because they have no record of my transcripts. If I don't go back to the public school I came from I will not graduate before I turn 21. Basically agora just ruined my life. Also, this is high school, we should not have mandatory classes at 3:30 or 4:00. School should be over at 2:30 just like public school. I have a job and cannot make it to classes after 3. But instead of working with me they tell me work is no excuse. The teachers and the board do not help at all with the exception of one or two teachers. They do not deserve any tax dollars.

    1. Anonymous1:00 AM

      I wish I could speak to you... If there is any way i can contact you please let me know...

  7. Anonymous6:59 PM

    I am considering enrolling my child in Agora to complete his senior HS year as he is very unhappy in our public school. Based on what the last student wrote, I have pause. I certainly do not want him to loose the time he has put in nor for any transcript or other material to be lost. Is this school credible or a big risk?

  8. Anonymous4:57 AM

    I used to highly recommend Agora but it has changed negatively in the last year & seems to keep on changing. As a result, I no longer recommend Agora & I have switched schools.