The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School board has axed its director, finance director, personnel director, compliance officer, and a longtime lawyer, in a near-sweep of its top management that education experts are characterizing as highly unusual and potentially damaging in the long term.
It’s unclear whether the firings, approved by the school’s board in September, have anything to do with the search of the school in July by FBI and IRS agents. A federal grand jury is probing current or former executives of the Midland-based school. School officials confirmed the moves, but said they had nothing to do with the federal investigation.
Andrew Oberg, the school’s fired director, said he believes the school will continue to thrive. “I have so much confidence in the folks that work here, and I told them at a meeting that it needs to continue,” he says.
The removal of so much of the top management, though, could have ripple effects, says Ralph “Jerry” Longo, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s school of education and former superintendent of the Quaker Valley school district. “I think when you remove that number of people who are in charge of an organization, obviously there’s an impact through the ranks,” he says. “Everyone becomes nervous with his or her situation.”
Along with Oberg, 43, the board terminated finance director Scott Antoline, personnel director Nancy Yanyanin, and compliance officer Judy Shopp. Also dismissed is law firm Barry & Worner of Green Tree, Pa., one of whose attorneys, W. Timothy Barry, has long served the state-chartered online school.
The purge leaves in place school Chief Executive Officer Michael Conti and just one of the four directors who used to report to him. It eliminates one of the two law firms the school leaned on for its legal work. Pennsylvania Cyber is a public school that does most of its teaching online and is open to students from throughout the state. When a student enrolls with the school, his or her home school is compelled to pay tuition based roughly on its average per-pupil cost.
The school has grown from around 500 students in 2000 to a total of 10,284 students, with around 900 more in the application process.
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2012 edition of Digital Directions as Pa. Cyber Charter School Fires Most Top Managers