BUSINESS

Graham school board votes down A.B. Graham sponsorship

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CASEY S. ELLIOTT

Staff Writer

ST. PARIS – A.B. Graham Academy and Graham Local Schools board members will be looking at alternatives to provide online educational options for next school year, as the Graham school board chose not to renew the A.B. Graham sponsorship agreement.

The decision puts A.B. Graham in a tough position, as it must have a sponsorship to operate in Ohio.

The Graham school board chose not to renew the agreement and to explore other educational options for students outside the traditional classroom experience at its Tuesday meeting.

The actions were approved 3-1, with outgoing board member Brett Evilsizor voting against the non-renewal. Board Vice President Alan Mitchell was not present.

A.B. Graham Academy provides online education for students inside and outside the Graham school district. For a charter or community school to operate in Ohio, it must have a sponsorship agreement. Graham has sponsored A.B. Graham since 2009. The current agreement expires June 30, 2014.

A.B. Graham board President Leigh Anne Roberts said the board will explore its options, which may mean seeking sponsorship through the Ohio Department of Education.

“Our first choice was to work it out with Graham,” she said. “We wanted to keep (the academy) in the community.”

She said there is an appeals process and the board would explore that option as well.

Roberts added she believes A.B. Graham is an asset to students and the surrounding community.

“The model works,” she said of online education.

A.B. Graham and Graham schools boards had discussed renewing the A.B. Graham sponsorship agreement the past few months.

Graham once had a separate digital academy, which closed earlier this year due to not having enough students to operate, Graham schools Treasurer Bob Hoover said. The digital academy only accepted students from the Graham school district. When the digital academy closed, its students were absorbed into the academy.

Both school boards had been wrestling with contract language – whether to extend the existing agreement or to craft a new one. Sticking points included use of the former Graham junior high building and academy board appointment and governance.

A.B. Graham is the only entity still using the former junior high. Earlier this year, the Graham school board moved its board offices from that building to the back of the high school.

The Graham board wanted some oversight on how board members of the academy are appointed and removed, but the A.B. Graham board wants to continue its current practice of appointment without consultation of Graham's school board. Graham board members wanted to be informed before a decision was made to appoint a new academy board member, not necessarily have veto power over those individuals, Hoover said.

Hoover said the Graham school board offered a couple options for a new agreement with A.B. Graham – extend the existing agreement for a year or create a new agreement with the Graham school board nominating A.B. Graham's board members. He said A.B. Graham's school board did not agree with either of these options, leading to Graham's Tuesday decision to non-renew the sponsorship agreement.

“We were doing this far ahead of time so (A.B. Graham's board) have plenty of time to find another sponsor,” he said.

The Graham board's decision to explore other options to provide parents a choice of academic environments for their children – in other words, providing an education for students who cannot learn in traditional classroom environments – is something the board has said is necessary for area students and their families.

“Some families like to homeschool their children,” he said. “By exploring these options, this enables students to do a program where they are still being primarily educated at home.”

Hoover said students leaving the district for community schools in other areas prompted the start of the now-defunct Graham Digital Academy. With the non-renewal of A.B. Graham's sponsorship agreement and exploration of its options, the Graham school board may look into another digital format for students.

“We were seeing kids leave Graham and go to other community schools, and we were concerned they were not getting a good education,” he said. “We wanted to provide a good online education for them.

“For some kids, the classroom isn't the greatest environment for them,” he said. “We don't all learn the same way.”

Casey S. Elliott can be reached at celliott@civitasmedia.com.