Defense spending: A cyber school should not cover lawbreakers

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Due to an ongoing investigation and criminal charges filed against its founder, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School spent nearly half a million dollars on legal fees in the past year. That's bad news for the taxpayers, all across Pennsylvania, who fund the public school.

Even worse is the realization that any repayment to the school may not come for a long time, if ever.

The situation stems from the flow of PA Cyber money to offshoot companies set up as the school grew from its founding in Beaver County by former Midland superintendent Nick Trombetta into the state's largest charter by far, with about 11,000 students.

After a July 12, 2012, search by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI, the school hired an attorney to protect its interests. In addition, it has paid for representation for employees called to testify, including in a grand jury investigation that led to an 11-count indictment against Mr. Trombetta. Legal fees were also covered for a school board member, the board's attorney and a computer specialist.

Defending itself and its employees is the rightful role of the school, just as any other public school or private business would need to research and possibly rebut claims made about it. There are limits, however.

Based on information examined by the Post-Gazette's Rich Lord, some PA Cyber employees, including Mr. Trombetta, pledged to repay legal fees under some circumstances; the reasons that would trigger repayment have not been released by PA Cyber, citing privacy under attorney-client privilege.

At this point, the public can only hope that any employees convicted of wrongdoing, up to and including Mr. Trombetta, would be required to cover their legal bills. PA Cyber's new management will have to see that those obligations are met.

Taxpayers who fund the education of young Pennsylvanians should not be expected to foot the legal bills of school employees who abuse their positions for their own benefit.


First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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