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Pa. Cyber Charter School fires four top officials
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School's board voted late Monday to terminate four high-ranking staff members and one of its longtime legal advisers.

Gone are the school's director, Andrew Oberg, finance director, Scott Antoline, personnel director, Nancy Yanyanin, and compliance officer, Judy Shopp. Also dismissed is law firm Barry & Worner, of Green Tree, whose attorney W. Timothy Barry has long served the state-chartered online school.

A school spokeswoman confirmed the changes but had no immediate comment.

Mr. Oberg, 43, a former principal for West Allegheny School District, who was in charge of all of the cyber school's day-to-day operations, said he was not warned of his firing in advance. He could not attend the meeting at which it occurred and was "shocked" when he got the news.

"I'm leaving with a heavy heart," he said. "I don't understand what happened. It hasn't been explained to us."

He declined to speculate on whether the moves were related to a federal probe of current or former executives of the school.

He said four of the five managers who report directly to school CEO Michael Conti were removed Monday night.

"We are shocked by this development and are entirely unaware of the reason for the termination," wrote Shon Worner, of Barry & Worner, in response to emailed questions. "We are saddened by the fact that we will no longer have the opportunity to represent the school" but will help with the transition to new lawyers, he wrote.

Ms. Shopp, an attorney, joined Pennsylvania Cyber last year, following a stint as chief counsel at the state Department of Education.

While in that post in 2010 under then-Gov. Ed Rendell, she was involved in department demands that the cyber school provide more information about its relationships with vendors. But after Gov. Tom Corbett took office and Ms. Shopp joined the cyber school, those demands were dropped.

Ms. Shopp also took a post with Avanti Management Group, a firm that works for the cyber school's nonprofit management organization, according to financial disclosures she filed.

Ms. Shopp, Mr. Antoline and Ms. Yanyanin could not be reached for comment.

The scope of change "seems to be extreme," said Ralph "Jerry" Longo, an associate professor at Pitt's school of education and former superintendent of the Quaker Valley School District. "I know Andy Oberg personally. "He's a very bright, good, young man and it's shocking to me. ... He was really committed to that organization."

William Ouchi, a professor of management and organizations at the University of California Los Angeles who specializes in education and is on the board of a network of 22 charter schools, said such a "clean sweep" is very unusual.

"You've removed essentially the entire executive leadership of the school except for the people who actually run the school," he said when told of the news, adding that it doesn't necessarily mean that there is any problem with the educational product, but could reflect on its financial viability.

Mr. Oberg said that he believes that "others will step right in" and ensure continuity. "I have so much confidence in the folks that work here, and I told them at a meeting today that it needs to continue."

Pennsylvania Cyber is a public school that does most of its teaching online, and is open to students from throughout the state.

When a student enrolls with the school, his or her home school district is compelled to pay tuition based roughly on its average per-pupil cost.

The school started this academic year with 10,284 students and about 900 more in the application process.

The school has been under scrutiny since July, when IRS and FBI agents executed a search warrant. The school itself does not appear to be the object of the probe and associated federal grand jury process. But in July the school hired attorney Robert E. Stewart of the Downtown firm Stewart & Zinski to protect its interests.

"I still believe in choice for students and I am always going to be a staunch advocate for it," Mr. Oberg said.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542

First published on September 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm
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