New Castle News

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September 19, 2012

State’s largest cyber school fires four top executives

NEW CASTLE — Four top administrators have been fired from Pennsylvania’s largest cyber-school, whose finances are being scrutinized as part of a federal investigation into organizations founded by its former CEO.

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s board fired the school’s executive director, chief financial officer, chief compliance officer and personnel director, spokeswoman Christina Zarek confirmed Tuesday . She said it would be conjecture to comment on whether the firings were related to the investigation.

About 10,000 students from across the state attend the school. It was founded in 2000 with about 500 students by Nick Trombetta, who resigned in June. A month later, federal search warrants and subpoenas were issued. Trombetta has not returned calls since he left.

The school also fired its law firm, Barry & Worner LLC, without explanation. The law firm issued a statement saying it was shocked and entirely unaware of a reason for its removal.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton of Pittsburgh declined to comment on the probe, which involved searches by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general.

Records were seized or subpoenaed from the charter school, which has more than 10,000 students from districts across the state, and the National Network of Digital Schools, a nonprofit firm founded by Trombetta that manages the charter school.

Trombetta was superintendent of the Midland School District. He founded NNDS in 2005 and later Avanti Management Group, a consulting firm with offices in Calcutta, Ohio, which does work for NNDS. Avanti’s records were subpoenaed as part of the federal investigation, too.

The U.S. Justice Department said when the warrants and subpoenas were issued that the cyber charter school was “not a current target of this investigation.”

Charter schools are funded by per-pupil subsidies that are paid by the home school districts of its students. That has prompted some school district and education officials to criticize charter schools for drawing money away from bricks-and-mortar public schools and the districts that run them.

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