States rules no charter for Pocono charter school

School district revoked charter nearly three years ago

Published: 5:30 PM EDT Jul 30, 2013   Updated: 9:35 PM EDT Jul 30, 2013

The charter of Pocono Mountain Charter School in Monroe County will not be restored by the state's Charter School Appeal Board.

William Harner, acting secretary of the state Department of Education, said "excessive entanglement" existed between the charter school and Shawnee Tabernacle Church and added significant amounts of money that should have gone to the charter school mainly benefited the church.

In October 2010, the board of Pocono Mountain School District revoked the charter school's charter, after conducting 16 hearings.

The school appealed that decision to the state.

"The Charter Appeal Board originally granted the school's appeal, but then the (State) Auditor General released its report on the Pocono Mountain Charter School," explained Wendy Frable, spokeswoman for Pocono Mountain School District. 

She said the school district filed an emergency motion with the Charter Appeal Board, asking it to admit the Auditor General's report into the record, "since it substantiated many of the district's findings and offered additional evidence on those findings."

The Charter Appeal Board made its decision Tuesday.

Frable explained it took awhile for the Charter Appeal Board to rescind its earlier approval of the charter school's appeal and to appoint a hearing officer to review the Auditor General's report.

Pocono Mountain Charter School was started in 2003 at the church in Tobyhanna.

It rents space for the school from the Shawnee Tabernacle Church and pays the church more than $1 million a year for that lease, according to Frable.

Harner, who serves as chairman of the Charter Appeal Board, stated: “Upon reviewing the record, including the report of the Auditor General and the other materials provided after the record was reopened, I have concluded that excessive entanglement existed between the charter school and the church, and that charter school funds were not only used for charter school purposes, as the law requires, but rather that significant expenditures by the charter school mainly benefited the church.

"Examples of these expenditures are lease payments for a building still under construction; lease payments for the pastor’s car; payment for Shawnee Tabernacle Church signs at the property entrance, on the newly constructed building and on the gymnasium floor; and the purchase of audio equipment that was installed in the church sanctuary and used by the church.”

Responding to the state's decision, Frable said: "While it is unfortunate that it came to this, we know the charter appeal board made the right decision for the taxpayers and the students.

"The decision validates the appropriateness of the Pocono Mountain School Board’s decision to revoke the charter, and the seriousness of the ongoing violations of law committed by those affiliated with the Pocono Mountain Charter School."

Frable said the decision demonstrates the appeal board's commitment to ensure charter schools are providing a quality education in Pennsylvania.  She added it also "sent a clear message that charter schools will be held accountable to the law, our taxpayers and our students."

Said Frable: "We will be reaching out to the parents of Pocono Mountain Charter School students to try to ease any concerns they may have about transitioning their children to another school.

"We want to welcome the parents, guardians and students who choose to enroll in the Pocono Mountain School District. We can provide an excellent education and wonderful opportunities to their children and will work toward making any and all transitions as smooth as possible."