Board president steps down at scandal-ridden PA Cyber school


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The man who guided the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School's board through a year of probes and staff turmoil resigned late Thursday, and the board accepted the resignation against the backdrop of an apparent state review of educational benefits provided to his daughter.

David Jaskiewicz, who had been on the board for at least five years and served as its president during a federal investigation of its founder and vendors, was not at the special board meeting at which his resignation was accepted. After the meeting, the online school's attorney provided a two-line email, dated Thursday afternoon, from Mr. Jaskiewicz tendering his resignation. It provided no reason.

Acting school CEO Michael Conti said the administration is "absolutely, fully and completely" cooperating with a state Department of Education review related to Mr. Jaskiewicz, which he would not detail.

Mr. Jaskiewicz declined to discuss the state review Wednesday and could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Last week, PA Cyber employees received a notice from the Philadelphia law firm Conrad O'Brien ordering them to preserve any materials related to related to the education of Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz, the board president's daughter. The notice indicated that the school had hired the firm to "conduct an independent investigation" into a complaint received by the state.

According to the notice, the complaint received by the Department of Education alleged that "David Jaskiewicz and his wife, Cynde Frederick, requested and/or directed that the transcript of their daughter ... be altered and/or manipulated."

The notice goes on to say that the complaint "alleges that Cynde Frederick wrote and prepared the [Gifted Individual Education Plan] of Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz to include such requirements as her enrollment in numerous college-level courses to be paid and funded by PA Cyber."

Parents typically participate in their children's individual education plans, and are free to ask for any special services that they want. It's then up to the school to grant or deny the services, though the parent has several options for challenging the school's decisions.

The law firm's notice tells PA Cyber employees to preserve any relevant records from Aug. 27, 2001, to the present, including records reflecting spending "related to college-level classes taken by Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz at Johns Hopkins University, La Roche College, Robert Morris University, ALEKS, The Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science, the University of Nevada, Reno, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh."

ALEKS is the privately-owned Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces program, which provides a web-based question-and-answer for determining a student's academic level. The Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science is a privately owned distance learning program focused on logical reasoning skills.

The state provides funds to offset public schools' costs for dual enrollment programs with any "public or private college of university approved to operate in Pennsylvania" and authorized to confer associate degrees, according to Department of Education guidelines.

Mr. Conti said that PA Cyber, however, has no formal dual enrollment program in which its students can take college courses. He said the school had such a program years ago, but the Department of Education then instructed all cyber charter schools to discontinue dual enrollment efforts.

He said the National Network of Digital Schools, which manages PA Cyber, has sometimes provided scholarships to students to attend area community college classes while enrolled in high school.

Asked whether there was a program under which PA Cyber would pay a high school student's tuition to take college courses, he said, "There are no provisions for that." He declined to go into further detail.

Two Conrad O'Brien attorneys listed as contacts on the notice could not be reached for comment. A Department of Education spokesman did not respond to a request for information.

PA Cyber featured Ms. Frederick-Jaskiewicz in a July 23, 2012, release that placed her age at 16. At the time, according to the release, she had 52 college credits and was preparing for a semester course load of 14 credits at Robert Morris, including calculus, physics, marketing and argument and research classes.

The school's release also said that Ms. Frederick-Jaskiewicz was a champion black belt in Taekwondo, an accomplished pianist and violinist, made toys for shelter cats at Animal Friends and founded Origami Salami, a program meant to use the Oriental art of paper folding to teach science.

The school's board elected longtime member Edward Elder as its new president.

PA Cyber, the state's largest charter school which typically enrolls around 11,000 students, has been under the microscope since July 2012, when FBI and IRS agents executed a search warrant at its offices.

Its founder, Nick Trombetta, of East Liverpool, Ohio, has pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment that accused him of diverting nearly $1 million in school money for personal uses through a series of management companies. He left the school's employ in June 2012.

Mr. Trombetta's sister, Elaine Trombetta Neill, of Aliquippa, this week pleaded guilty to a tax charge. Mr. Trombetta's accountant, Neal Prence, of Koppel, has pleaded not guilty to a tax conspiracy charge.

Mr. Jaskiewicz last month led the charge to cut off the school's payments of Mr. Trombetta's legal bills, which had exceeded $234,000. Last year Mr. Jaskiewicz presided over the removals of four top school administrators and a reorganization of the school's upper management.

education - breaking

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord First Published October 10, 2013 4:21 PM


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