Pa. seeks financial, contract info from Agora Cyber Charter
Updated:May 24, 2016 — 6:39 PM EDT
The state Department of Education has expanded the scope of information that the Agora Cyber Charter School must provide by a deadline Friday.
A May 20 letter obtained by the Inquirer shows the department has directed the virtual charter based in King of Prussia to turn over detailed information about its finances, contracts and consultants.
Spokeswomen for the department and Agora confirmed the letter Tuesday.
The communication follows a May 16 letter in which the department told the charter with 8,500 students to submit accurate data on testing and attendance by the deadline or the department “will take appropriate actions against the school.”
The letters express the department’s growing impatience with Agora. Officials have been pressing the cyber for information about its operations since it laid off scores of employees in February without informing the state.
David W. Volkman, the department’s executive deputy secretary, wrote both letters.
He has told Agora that its problems providing requested information appear to be “another symptom of Agora’s ongoing operational issues.”
Since last August, Agora has been led by four leaders and experienced turnover on its board.
Last week, the current three-member board voted to retain Jon Marsh, the former CEO of 21st Century Cyber in Downingtown, to manage the school’s day-to-day operations and be an advisor.
In Volkman’s most recent letter, he asked Agora for monthly financial reports for this fiscal year; copies of contracts negotiated after Jan. 1 and copies of contracts with all independent consultants hired since Jan. 1, including Marsh.
JoAnn Gigliotti, an Agora spokeswoman, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the cyber was working to deliver the data and financial records the department requested.
The cyber has been seeking a five-year renewal of its operating agreement from the Education Department since October 2014. The department oversees Agora and the other 12 cyber charters, which provide online instruction to students in their homes.
“The department is continuing its comprehensive review of Agora Cyber Charter School as required to evaluate the school’s charter renewal,” a department spokeswoman said.
Agora is the second-largest cyber in the state. Its proposed budget for the current fiscal year of $110.2 million was based on an enrollment of 9,140 students, which it did not reach. The revenue comes primarily from taxpayer-funded tuition paid by students’ home districts.
Volkman has said that Agora’s problems recording student attendance raise concerns about whether the cyber is submitting accurate invoices to school districts and is billing for students who are no longer enrolled.
He also said that Agora’s data issues affect its ability to meet state and federal reporting requirements, which could jeopardize federal funding.
Many current and former Agora parents and staffers say some of Agora’s recent problems stem from the end of its management contract with K12 Inc., the for-profit company in Herndon, Va.
In 2014 the board voted to end K12’s management contract and said that Agora would begin managing itself in 2015-16.
According to some parents and teachers, Agora was not ready for the transition. They said numerous problems developed with the systems and software the cyber purchased to replace the technology that K12 had provided.
Volkman’s most recent letter asks for copies of contracts Agora awarded or renegotiated after Jan. 1 related to the cyber’s transition to self-management.