The guilt or innocence of Nicholas Trombetta is a judgment for another day.
The former school superintendent and founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School -- hailed as the savior of the Beaver County town of Midland, but now charged with 11 counts of federal fraud and tax crimes -- will have a chance to defend himself in court, as is his right.
But it is not too early to see that the policies governing charter schools in Pennsylvania created a climate where it became too difficult to figure out who was paying whom, and for what. That's no way to properly manage public dollars that should be used to educate children, and it is a problem that the Legislature and the Corbett administration can remedy.
PA Cyber started with the best of intentions. Mr. Trombetta, who had been superintendent of the Midland School District, came up with the notion of an online school when Midland could not afford a high school and no close neighbors would take its students. That virtual innovation mushroomed into the largest charter school in Pennsylvania, with more than 11,000 students from across the state and an annual budget of more than $115 million.
The growth was accompanied by the creation of numerous spinoff businesses and a complicated series of contracts and overlapping relationships that were difficult to untangle.
After an investigation that lasted more than a year, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Trombetta on charges that he engineered a scheme to steal $990,000 in taxpayer dollars through the various entities and to funnel $8 million into one of the subsidiaries in order to conceal his actual income from the Internal Revenue Service.
No set of rules and regulations will be foolproof if an unscrupulous individual is determined to manipulate them for personal gain, and a jury eventually will decide whether that's what Mr. Trombetta did.
But policies that control the flow of tax dollars to cyber schools -- and that pay them the same sums to educate children as district and charter schools with brick-and-mortar facilities -- must be rewritten to make it easy to follow the money, and to make sure it's being spent on worthwhile programming.