PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There are serious new concerns about the current spending practices at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.
The school’s founder, Nick Trombetta, is charged with fraud, accused of stealing millions in tax dollars from the school and spending it on himself. But while Trombetta awaits trial, Pennsylvania tax dollars are still being poured into the education empire he built.
In the coming months, prosecutors will try to prove that Trombetta funneled millions in tax dollars into non-profit and for-profit companies he founded with the ultimate aim of enriching himself.
But while Trombetta is now gone from PA Cyber Charter, questions about the school’s spending remain.
In particular, some question the amount of money being spent on curriculum.
For years, PA Cyber Charter paid $50 million a year for online curriculum to The National Network of Digital Schools, now called Lincoln Learning Solutions.
This year, citing declining enrollment, PA Cyber Charter laid off two dozen teachers and cut the expenditure to Lincoln to $36 million.
But the teachers who KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan spoke with under the condition of anonymity say the taxpayers still aren’t getting what they’re paying for.
Teachers tell us, in theory, the school is giving them new curriculum every year, but in practicality it’s only updated every couple of years.
In fact, some teachers Andy spoke with say they’ve developed their own curriculum and ignore what comes from Lincoln, which they find inferior and outdated.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has now launched a comprehensive audit of PA Cyber Charter School’s spending.
DePasquale says, “If you’re spending that kind of money and the teachers are developing their own curriculum it really leaves a big question as to what the taxpayers are getting for that $36 million.”
Lincoln Learning Solutions didn’t return KDKA’s phone calls or emails and PA Cyber Charter School CEO Dr. Michael Conti declined an on-camera interview, but defended the contract with Lincoln in a statement, saying “While some teachers supplement the course materials, that was always envisioned by the agreement and was taken into consideration in the price.”
Conti also defended the school’s integrity, saying “PA Cyber’s culture is one of providing the best education possible through innovative teaching methods to our students and their families, many of whom see us as their last chance to succeed in public education. We are proud of that culture and see no need to defend it against anonymous gossip.”