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.”

 

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