Low enrollment to shut Allegheny Intermediate Unit's online school after 1 year

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A cyber charter school founded by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and touted to provide a cutting-edge combination of online and on-site learning will close as of June 30 because of foundering enrollment.

The closure means 333 students must find another school for next year, and 52 employees, including 35 full-time and five part-time teachers, will lose their jobs.

The formation of STREAM Academy was announced in March and the school started functioning this fall. It was an offshoot of Pennsylvania Learners Online, the original online charter school operated by the AIU, which was chartered in 2001.

STREAM drew its name from the fact that its curriculum was to focus on science, technology, research, engineering, arts and mathematics and was intended to help students develop an interest and skills in areas that would be useful in the workplace. Each student was assigned to a collaborative group designed to work together using computers and other technology to communicate and compile their work.

Plans called for the students also to work together in person, and the AIU leased space in Wilkins for that purpose.

Despite high hopes for the program and some sleek prime-time television ads geared at recruiting students, STREAM's enrollment of 333 students from 92 Pennsylvania school districts as of December was not enough for the school to operate without a deficit, said AIU spokeswoman Sarah McCluan.

Projected revenues for the year are $4.23 million, but expenses are projected at $5.79 million. The projected deficit of $1.56 million will come from the school's $2 million fund balance. "It's about enrollment and budgeting. It was very clear," Mrs. McCluan said.

Any remaining funds at the time of closing will be reimbursed to districts that sent students to the schools, divided equally based on the number of students who are enrolled as of the last day of school, she said. Staff is working with students to help them find new schools for 2013-14.

The STREAM board, which consists of superintendents, or their designees, of 10 suburban Allegheny County school districts, voted unanimously on the closing at a Dec. 20 meeting. Those districts are: Allegheny Valley, Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley, Deer Lakes, Moon, Shaler Area, South Allegheny, West Allegheny and Woodland Hills.

Mrs. McCluan said when STREAM was launched, plans called for it to attract 650 students in the first year. "We are at half of our enrollment. It was clear that next year's projected expenses would be more than projected revenue and the projected fund balance combined," she said.

She said officials believe the fact that so many school districts in the county have started their own cyber programs made it difficult to attract students.

Despite the decision to close, the school calendar for this year will remain the same and all activities and events will take place as scheduled.


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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