In the ongoing lawsuit by ECOT vs. Ohio Department of Education (ODE),  ODE has responded by filing a motion requesting that the court compel ECOT to produce extensive, detailed financial information about the online charter school’s operations.  If ECOT is forced to turn over the documentation detailing how they have been (and continue to) spend the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars they are given annually, the public will finally be given an unprecedented look into how their money is spent and whether the money is actually focused on providing the “high-quality learning opportunities” that ECOT claims exist.

The response filed by ODE had a deadline of yesterday, July 29, for ECOT to comply with the responses to the following:

FIRST SET OF INTERROGATORIES

Interrogatory No. 1: Identify each person answering, supplying information, or assisting in any way with the preparation of answers or responses to these discovery requests.  

Interrogatory No. 2: Identify each information system, process and/or methodology used to deliver education programming to ECOT students.

Interrogatory No. 3: Identify each person or entity with whom ECOT currently has a contract with a value in excess of $500,000.

Interrogatory No. 4: For entities identified in response to Interrogatory No.3, state (a) the percentage of that entity that William Lager owns either directly or indirectly, (b) any position that William Lager holds or held with such entity from 2009 through the present, and (c) the total compensation that the entity paid to William Lager for each year from 2009 through the present.

Interrogatory No. 5: Identify the amount that ECOT paid to (a) IQ Innovations LLC, (b) IQ Innovations II, Inc., (c) Altair Learning Management LLC, (d) Altair Learning Management I, Inc., and (e) WL Innovations, LLC, in connection with services that those companies purportedly provided to ECOT in connection with the 2015-16 academic year.

Interrogatory No. 6: Identify each of the 36 independent contractors who received more than $100,000 in compensation from ECOT as reported on ECOT’s 2014 IRS Form 990.

Interrogatory No. 7: State the steps, procedures or methods that ECOT used during the 2015-16 academic year, if any, to measure or ascertain whether students were actually present at their computers at the time that ECOT claims that computer-or internet-based learning opportunities were being delivered to those computers, and identify all records or other documents that ECOT prepared or maintained to document the amount of time that ECOT students were purportedly receiving computer-or internet-based learning opportunities from ECOT.

Interrogatory No. 8: Identify all accrediting organizations in which ECOT is a member or participant, or whose accreditation ECOT holds.

Interrogatory No. 9: Identify each reason why requiring ECOT to provide documents substantiating student participation in learning opportunities “would likely force [ECOT] and other e-schools to close our doors altogether,” as ECOT superintendent Rick Teeters recently stated in a July 11,2016 Facebook post.

Interrogatory No. 10: Explain ECOT’s understanding of what IQity’s “Session Time” represents as pictured at 3:56 to 4:02 on the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc3w4HuxXP0

Interrogatory No. 11: Identify each witness, lay or expert, you intend to call at the trial or any hearing in this matter.

Interrogatory No. 12: Identify any and all documents upon which you intend to rely at the trial or any hearing in this matter.

FIRST SET OF REQUESTS FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

Request No. 1 – Produce all documents that you identified, referenced, reviewed, or relied upon in answering any discovery request.

Request No. 2 – Produce all documents reflecting communications with ODE personnel relating to FTEs, including but not limited to documents reflecting communications regarding the ODE FTE review process or the results of the FTE review process for any academic year.

Request No. 3 – Produce all documents reflecting communications with ODE personnel about the 2015-16 FTE review in which ODE personnel “allegedly assured ECOT and other eschools that any log-in duration requirements would be imposed in future years.” (Comp. 36) (emphasis original).

Request No. 4 – Produce all documents reflecting communications with Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West (or its predecessor) relating to FTEs, or to the FTE review process conducted by ODE.

Request No. 5 – Produce all documents discussing FTE reviews conducted by ODE personnel, or the results of such reviews.

Request No. 6 Produce all documents you provided to ODE personnel during the FTE review conducted by ODE on March 28-30, 2016.

Request No. 7 Produce all documents used in training ECOT personnel regarding certificating learning opportunities.

Request No. 8 Produce all documents reflecting the methodology that ECOT uses for certificating learning opportunities.

Request No. 9 Produce all documents reflecting the Log-in/Log-out Information for the 2015-16 school year for the 750 ECOT students selected by ODE for the July 11-13, 2016 year-end FTE review.

Request No. 10 Produce all documents discussing or addressing whether actual student participation is an appropriate consideration in determining FTEs.

Request No. 11 – Produce all documents discussing or addressing steps ECOT could or should take to ensure that ECOT students are actually participating in ECOT’s computer-or internet-based learning opportunities.

Request No. 12 – Produce all documents discussing whether it is important whether students actually participate in computer-or internet-based learning opportunities.

Request No. 13 – Produce all documents discussing or addressing whether ECOT students are actually participating in ECOT’s computer-or internet-based learning opportunities.

Request No. 14 – Produce all documents discussing steps that Eschools can take to determine whether students are actually participating in educational programming, or to ensure that students are doing so.

Request No. 15 – Produce all documents reflecting any national standard or trade group standards or best practices for online schools to employ in determining whether students are actually participating in educational programming.

Request No. 16 – Produce all documents reflecting agreements with Altair Learning Management LLC, Altair Learning Management I, Inc., IQ Innovations LLC, IQ Innovations II, Inc., or WL Innovations, LLC.

Request No. 17 – Produce all documents reflecting payments from ECOT to Altair Learning Management LLC, Altair Learning Management I, Inc., IQ Innovations LLC, IQ Innovations II, Inc., or WL Innovations, LLC.

Request No. 18 – Produce all documents reflecting ECOT’s communications with members of the Ohio General Assembly regarding FTEs.

Request No. 19 – Produce all documents discussing the Funding Agreement.

Request No. 20 – Produce all documents prepared on or after January 1,2011, referring to or discussing the contents of any version of ODE’s FTE Review Handbook and any correspondence with ODE regarding such Handbooks.

Request No. 21 – Produce all documents referring to or discussing what constitutes a “learning opportunity.”

Request No. 22 – Produce all of ECOT’s IRS Form 990s filed from 2003 through the present.  

Request No. 23 – Produce documents sufficient to show that amount of money that ECOT has received from the State of Ohio for each fiscal year from FY 2005 through the present.

Request No. 24 – Produce all documents reflecting ECOT’s truancy policies.  

Request No. 25 – Produce all documents reflecting ECOT’s policies for expelling students for truancy or absenteeism, or for taking other steps in response to concerns about truancy or absenteeism.

Request No. 26 – Produce all documents reflecting efforts undertaken by ECOT’s outreach program to increase student engagement.

Request No. 27 – Produce all documents upon which you intend to rely at any hearing or trial in this matter.

For those not well-versed in education-funding lingo, FTE stands for Full Time Equivalent (shorthand for full-time student), the key issue being debated in this lawsuit as this is the key metric for how school funding is calculated.  All public schools in Ohio receive state funding based on the number of full time students (FTEs) they serve.

Now, I know there are many of our readers that are not exactly “fans” of ODE, and the actions of the more recent leadership at ODE justifies such feelings.  ODE’s reaction to ECOT’s failure to cooperate in this routine audit, however, might well be viewed as a turning-point of sorts as it is the first time in many years that the department is acting in a manner befitting an independent state agency tasked with overseeing not only the education of Ohio’s children, but the oversight of how taxpayers’ dollars are spent in our public schools.   Yes, ECOT is a public charter school.

Let’s look at a couple of the more interesting requests from the above list.

Request No. 3 – Produce all documents reflecting communications with ODE personnel about the 2015-16 FTE review in which ODE personnel “allegedly assured ECOT and other eschools that any log-in duration requirements would be imposed in future years.”

One of the central claims by ECOT has been that “ODE told the school” that the terms of the FTE review would be different than what ODE is now requesting.  It will be interesting to see what documentation ECOT provides to substantiate their claim and whether they have more than the current argument of “but they said…”.

Interrogatory No. 4: For entities identified in response to Interrogatory No.3, state (a) the percentage of that entity that William Lager owns either directly or indirectly, (b) any position that William Lager holds or held with such entity from 2009 through the present, and (c) the total compensation that the entity paid to William Lager for each year from 2009 through the present.

Interrogatory No. 5: Identify the amount that ECOT paid to (a) IQ Innovations LLC, (b) IQ Innovations II, Inc., (c) Altair Learning Management LLC, (d) Altair Learning Management I, Inc., and (e) WL Innovations, LLC, in connection with services that those companies purportedly provided to ECOT in connection with the 2015-16 academic year.

We already know that William Lager has been the major contributor to Ohio’s GOP politicians for the past decade and that he is the principal owner of the two key companies that both operate ECOT and provide the online curriculum & delivery system, but ODE is now specifically requesting the exact amount of compensation that Lager himself is receiving from the school and these companies.  If ECOT is indeed compelled to provide this information, as public school districts are routinely required to provide about the public dollars they spend, we will finally know just how much Lager has benefited from his campaign donations that have resulted in keeping his profits protected for all these years.

Request No. 18 – Produce all documents reflecting ECOT’s communications with members of the Ohio General Assembly regarding FTEs.

Now THIS is the one request that I personally find most interesting and seems to cement the idea that ODE is truly acting independently to try to determine just how ECOT has been lobbying for protection from this routine review.  This information would also expose just which legislators have been involved in the discussions.  Has ECOT been trying to push their agenda of simply “providing computers and access” to students and not really worrying which students have been participating or “attending class”?

Interrogatory No. 9: Identify each reason why requiring ECOT to provide documents substantiating student participation in learning opportunities “would likely force [ECOT] and other e-schools to close our doors altogether,” as ECOT superintendent Rick Teeters recently stated in a July 11,2016 Facebook post.

Another fantastic request.  Why would ECOT be forced to close by simply providing ODE with records that any other public school in the state of Ohio be expected to turn over to the state agency that is tasked with governing them?

This reminds me of catching your child by surprise and having them turn to face you with both hands behind their back.  When you ask them to show you their hands they respond with, “No, I’ll get in trouble.”

“Huh.  Then perhaps you shouldn’t have had those taxpayer dollars in the first place, son.”

 
  • Maureen Reedy

    ECOT Alert! William Lager may soon be “indisposed” as CEO of his unregulated, parasitic cash-for-kids business “offering learning opportunities” with no attendance required. ECOT’s billion dollar shell game ripping off students and taxpayers is finally being ‘outed’ thanks to years of relentless research and reporting by Greg Mild and Plunderbund. Monumental Thanks are also due to all of the grassroots Public Education advocacy groups and courageous individuals across the state who have demonstrated, spoken with legislators, blogged and written letters to editors to expose ECOT’s ruthless corporatization of public education to build Mr. Lager’s billion dollar financial empire off of the backs of our kids.

    Mr. Lager, Ohio’s parents, educators, students, newspaper reporters and taxpayers have a unified message for you… We will not relent until ECOT complies with ODE’s records requests. You had the gall to sue the Ohio Department of Education for doing its job to protect the education of Ohio’s children. It follows that you will reap the consequences for your blatant disregard for truth and justice for our kids and Ohio’s taxpayers. ECOT – Enough.

  • ecotPALS

    Ms. Reedy, Ohio’s parents, educators, students, citizen media reporters and taxpayers have a unified message for you. We will not relent defending ourselves from the misinformation, lies, childish and divisive us vs. them narratives, and the continued attempts to politicize this very important fight for public school innovation and school choice in Ohio. You fear schools that break away from the traditional model and lash out at the expense of our rights, our choices and our kids. You have the gall to speak from conjecture and agenda regarding a school that currently serves nearly 16,000 of Ohio’s children, employs over 800 of Ohio’s educators and has helped over 20,000 Ohioans achieve their high school diplomas since opening its live online classroom doors a little over 15 years ago…. an achievement that so many give sole credit to ECOT for allowing them the opportunity. We are your Ohio neighbors. Let’s make one thing explicitly clear, you don’t speak for us but still we fight for you and your family’s right to choose a school that’s best for your student’s individual needs. No thanks necessary.

  • Public Ed Partners

    Jeremy Aker, Ohio’s parents, educators, students, newspaper reporters, and taxpayers have a unified message for you as well. We realize that you will never relent in your bombastic tirades on social media as an “ecot PAL” in favor of the troubled online charter school. It’s what you’re paid to do! Let’s make one thing explicitly clear, though- you don’t speak for the majority of Ohio families. Your pretentious rants are designed to benefit Bill Lager, the person who hired you to bully those who speak out against ECOT.

  • Maureen Reedy

    Mr. Aker, I concur with the Columbus Dispatch editorial last week, which stated that despite a small minority of success stories in ECOT’s history, it has the highest drop-out rate percentage of any school district in the United States of America (as researched and reported by the New York Times, May 2016). The Columbus Dispatch, along with the State Auditor, the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio’s citizens and many Ohio legislators are publicly requesting truth and transparency from ECOT in support of ODE’s comprehensive records requests. Instead of wasting our time engaging in “back and forth” dialogue, let’s let the hard facts and data from ECOT’s records and Mr. Lager’s communications with select members of Ohio’s General Assembly determine what is really going on behind the “closed doors” of ECOT’s corporate headquarters.

  • ecotPALS

    Ms. Reedy, It’s easy to throw around stats like the Dispatch, the NYT and the others while conveniently not providing context to the measured stat and what variables are impacting the numbers. This is called a “sin of omission” in the “journalism” you subscribe to. There’s one thing I learned about statistics a long time ago that has proven true time and time again in my career. When you’re measuring things involving humans, it’s important to use regression analysis before attempting to translate a simple numeric result to conclusions and meaning… especially when doing comparisons. Some would argue that a stat is a stat. That may be true for mechanical processes but again it’s different when there are humans and human circumstances involved. The 4 year “on time” graduation stat is an unfair measure for all schools not just ECOT. What your sources won’t tell you is that the vast majority of ECOT students first enroll there in high school. They also won’t report that 65% of ECOT high schoolers are ALREADY at least a year behind when they enroll there…. and that’s just one of many variables that should be considered. This poses a number of problems with the measure. ECOT accepts these students and helps many of them achieve their diplomas where other schools could not or chose not to… even if a little late. ECOT accepts them and the default penalty on their on time grad. rate stat while the other schools that failed these students get a positive bump on the same stat – Just one of many reason why the stat is hollow for comparisons sake. ECOT accepts these students even knowing that agenda media platforms will twist the data and attempt use it against them. This is a critical FACT for readers to know because the greatest achievements of this school and these students are totally dismissed in this bias reporting… Apparently these kids just don’t count. Sadly, It’s intentional. It’s calculated. It’s insulting and it’s enough already. I don’t agree that we are wasting our time engaging in the back and forth. Listening and learning from opposing view points is at the center of what learning and democracy is all about. What I’ve learned from those on a tear to destroy my child’s school is that they know little about what goes on in my daughter’s classrooms. They are more obsessed with some evil man behind the curtain than they are with the real life ECOT school experiences of their parent, student and teacher neighbors like me. I’ve also learned that they think this man behind the curtain is somehow more influential and powerful than their own massive traditional education lobby and protectionist gang. I’ve learned that we’ve got a long way to go to focus this discussion where it really matters.

  • ecotPALS

    1 out of 20 Ohio Grads come from this one school. You can’t sit there and dismiss the voices and choices of 5% of Ohio’s graduating class all hailing from ECOT. I’ll agree that we don’t speak for the majority but that doesn’t mean our voices don’t count. If you’ve been paying attention to my bombastic tirades, you would know I am and have been an ECOT Parent for 4 years as well as the parent of 2 traditional brick and mortar school students. I have significant professional background in learning and development and online education. I am helping organize a newly formed community of ECOT parents, teachers alums and other supporters. Politically I am an independent. I’m an Ohio taxpayer. I’ve been studying the anti-choice media & politician misrepresentation of my child’s school for well over 2 years now. If people like me don’t deserve a voice in your education system, then this is obviously not about education for you at all.

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