The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio. The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio, is larger than the vast majority of Ohio’s traditional school districts, and received nearly $100 million in state taxpayer dollars last school year.
On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance.
That hasn’t stopped ECOT’s founder, William Lager, from continuing to get paid. And getting paid he is.
Lager is also the owner of two privately-held companies that provide both the management services (Altair Learning Management) and curriculum (IQ Innovations) to the online school. According to audits released by the Ohio Auditor of State, here’s a summary of the funds that have gone from taxpayers through ECOT and directly to Lager’s companies:
In addition, the State Controlling Board approved that “bonus” of $2,951,755 to ECOT, of which Lager’s private company, IQ Innovations, will receive $2,725,250, upping Lager’s total haul to over $108 million. For FY14, based on the existing contracts, Altair’s fee for last year increased to $3,971,510 while the IQ Innovations fee rose all the way up to $15,886,040.
The updated chart now looks like this:
Lager’s personally-owned private companies have now received over $130 million in tax dollars – money that has been taken directly away from other, higher-performing public schools and for which Lager does not have to account for publicly.
These astounding dollar figures explain help explain how Lager is able to donate an inconceivable amount of money to political campaigns. We’ve dug even deeper into Lager’s campaign contributions and discovered that he not only donates under his own name to Republican campaigns in other states, he has also made donations directly from his two companies over the past decade totaling over $184,000. Here’s an updated list of Lager’s political donations (under his name and from his two companies)since he entered the charter school business in 2000:
Over the last eight years, Lager’s average annual donation amount is $199,826.85. For some perspective, the Toledo Public School District recently hired a new superintendent to a five-year contract. Toledo has better performance numbers than ECOT, serves nearly twice as many students, and the new superintendent will make an annual salary of $175,000 — $25,000 LESS than Lager donates on an annual basis!!!
Let’s just say that Lager is living pretty well thanks to Ohio’s Republican legislators who keep the money flowing. While Ohio’s public schools are are pinching pennies due to funding cuts and most public school employees are seeing modest (if any) raises, Lager’s companies take is increasing at a rate of nearly 15% per year.
Lager is living large off of public education funding.
In 2002, Lager upgraded to a $300,000 condominium in downtown Columbus, which he paid off in full in 2011 and still owns. In 2008, he paid $276,000 for a 2,100+ square foot home in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, a home that he paid off in 2010 and then gave to his daughter, Jessica Lager, in 2012. Jessica is Vice President of her father’s privately-owned company, Altair Learning Management. Then, in 2013, Lager purchased a 4,600 square foot estate in Upper Arlington for just shy of $1,000,000.
Not bad for a “public educator” who’s “doing it for the kids” while running companies that can only be described as utterly failing students and families.
You see, William Lager and his private companies are solely responsible for the performance of ECOT.
First, his Altair Management Company (over $3.9 million/year):
ECOT contracts with Altair Learning Management I, Inc. (Altair) for a variety of services including management of personnel and human resources, the program of instruction, purchasing, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting, recruiting, compliance issues, budgets, contracts, and equipment and facilities.
Lager and Altair are responsible for hiring, firing, and the entire program of instruction for the school and have been for over a decade. In this area, based on the continued poor performance of the school, Altair should be evaluated as a failure. The management company has been unable to turn the school’s performance around despite complete control.
Second, Lager’s IQ Innovations Company (over $15 million/year):
ECOT contracts with IQ Innovations, LLC for the purchase of curriculum services for ECOT students.
As we hope is obvious, ECOT’s main promotional feature is its online curriculum. According to the ECOT website:
- A great curriculum is only as good as the way it’s delivered to students, and in the virtual world, delivery must be vibrant yet user-friendly, immediate, and technically sound.
Based on the school’s perpetually low report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education, the online curriculum that ECOT is delivering must also be considered a failure. This is twice as damning to Lager’s companies as IQ Innovations is the curriculum provider as chosen by the Altair Management Company.
Do you think the Columbus Dispatch would cover a story in which the Superintendent of the Columbus City Schools hired his own two privately-held companies to provide services for the school district at a cost of over $20,000,000 per year without having to disclose how that money was being spent?
And then what if that same Columbus City Schools superintendent bought two $300,000 homes, paid them off, gave one to his daughter (who he hired to help run one of his companies), then proceeded to purchase a million-dollar estate?
And what if he did so while still managing to donate nearly $200,000 per year to political campaigns?
And what if this all occurred while the district was putting up performance numbers that are dramatically lower than the district’s results that the Dispatch loves to criticize on such a regular basis?
Would the superintendent have lasted the fourteen years that Lager has been in power while receiving significant 15% raises every year?
Ask yourself, what would your annual income have to be to so readily give away $200,000 per year to people who “supposedly” aren’t giving you anything in return? If Lager worships at the Republican altar, then his “tithe of 10%” would put his annual income in the neighborhood of $2,000,000! Would the Columbus Dispatch ignore this story if the Columbus City Schools superintendent was making over $2 million per year?
Now to be fair and bring this to an apples-to-apples comparison, since Columbus has 3.5 times as many students as ECOT, the Columbus City Schools superintendent’s actually annual salary would be at least $7,000,000 to be close to equivalent to Lager’s annual take. Think the Columbus Dispatch would write about that? Would there be a newspaper in the world that would ignore such a contract?
THAT is the story of William Lager and ECOT. THAT is at least how much Lager is making on a salary funded by Ohio’s taxpayers and approved by Ohio’s Republican majority.
But, since Ohio’s Republican legislators, including Lager’s close friend, John Kasich, aren’t truly interested in transparency as far as charter schools are concerned, we’ll never actually know the true extent of William Lager’s fleecing of Ohio’s taxpayers or why “Ohio’s Greatest Home Newspaper”, the Columbus Dispatch, continues to ignore Lager’s gross abuse of taxpayer-funded, public education dollars. Let’s just say Lager’s making and donating enough to keep it a secret.