Pocono Mountain Charter School

With trustees warring over control of Pocono Mountain Charter School, a Monroe County judge on Friday placed the future of the embattled institution in the hands of a court-appointed custodian.

The decision came as part of a settlement between factions of the Tobyhanna Township school's board of trustees, who have accused each other of violating state laws and the school's charter since November...

One faction is aligned with Pocono Mountain Charter School founder and Shawnee Tabernacle Church pastor, the Rev. Dennis Bloom, who resigned as the school's CEO in 2010 and has agreed to plead guilty to a tax evasion charge in federal court.

The other faction accuses those board members of taking orders from Bloom, improperly voting to spend public money to pay off his taxes, committing the school to a 15-year lease with his church and rehiring a former principal who lost his certification after pleading guilty to theft...

The Pocono Mountain School Board gave Bloom permission in 2003 to open the charter school with the provision that more than half of the charter's board of trustees could not also be members of his church.

Concern about the school quickly grew, however, and in 2007 lawyers for the district discovered that taxpayers had paid $900,000 to build a school expansion that included a gym floor emblazoned with "SHAWNEE TABERNACLE" that would revert to church ownership when the school's lease expired.

The Pennsylvania auditor general's office found that the church's pastor and his wife held executive positions on the school board, which blurred "the line separating the public charter school from the private religious entity."

In October 2010, the Pocono Mountain School Board revoked the charter school's right to operate as an independent public school after a district investigation found similar problems allegedly occurred between 2007 and 2010.

But that revocation was reversed in September 2011 by the state Charter Appeals Board, headed by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. The school's charter remains in limbo, according to a district official.
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Pocono Mountain Charter School failed to reconcile its payroll records for six years and made a personal loan to Principal Jeffrey McCreary using taxpayer funds, the Pocono Mountain School District's superintendent charged Wednesday.

The charter school also paid a Christmas bonus to staff despite the U.S. Constitutional separation of church and state, PMSD Superintendent Elizabeth Robison told the board...
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Former Pocono Mountain Charter School Principal Jeffrey McCreary tried to smuggle payroll records from the school and had to be escorted off the property by constables Monday, according to the school's operations manager.

The incident marks the latest escalation in tensions between factions in the K-12 school, which has a $4 million budget funded by taxpayers.

School board President Lisa Bansa called on four Pennsylvania state constables Sunday to prevent McCreary from entering the school, following a court ruling last week that returned the one-time principal's supporters to the school's board of trustees.

McCreary was fired as the school's principal late last month after losing his legal fight to retain his principal's certification.

McCreary lost his certification after pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft charges in connection with accusations that he stole almost $90,000 from a Scranton School District administrator fund while working as a principal there...

Two opposing groups within the school board have fought over control of the school. The three members reinstated by the board tried hiring McCreary as the director of operations to avert the license deficiency and supported paying indicted school founder the Rev. Dennis Bloom's $77,000 tax bill from school accounts.

Bloom has been charged by the federal government with tax fraud, although it's unclear what — if any — connection the tax case might have to the charter school.
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Taxpayers in Pocono Mountain School District have footed the bill for almost $650,000 in legal fees in the battle between the district and Pocono Mountain Charter School.

Figures released recently by both sides show $648,544 in legal fees since 2008 — when the district started charter revocation proceedings against the school.

Figures from the charter school show the school spent about $366,000 in legal fees and related costs, while the district said it has spent about $283,000.

The amounts include legal fees incurred for the local revocation hearings, the appeal hearings with the state and a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by the charter school against the district.

The amounts do not include regular services by the respective legal teams outside of the revocation fight.

Both law firms for the respective sides — King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul of Bethlehem for the district and Anderson, Converse & Fennick in York for the charter school — also provide contracted legal work outside of the revocation process...
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A Monroe County charter school has violated the state charter school law by having "improper entanglements" with a church run by the school's founder, according to a preliminary report issued by the state auditor general's office.

The report, obtained by The Morning Call, says the Pocono Mountain Charter School in Tobyhanna also may have illegally diverted taxpayer money to adjacent Shawnee Tabernacle Church. It also may have improperly received $87,101 from the state in rental reimbursements for its building lease agreement with the church.

The report also says the charter school may have violated the state Ethics Act rule against conflict of interest in other dealings with the church, which is run by the Rev. Dennis Bloom.

The Pocono Mountain School Board in October 2010 revoked the charter school's right to operate as an independent public school after a district investigation found similar problems allegedly occurred between 2007 and 2010.

But that revocation was reversed in September by the state Charter Appeals Board, chaired by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis...

The attorney general's preliminary report comes as Pocono Mountain officials are assessing the Charter Appeals Board ruling...

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“Embattled Pocono Mtn. Charter School hires administrator accused of theft in Scranton.” The (Scranton) Times-Tribune (PA), 8/14/2011
A former Scranton principal facing a charge for stealing money from a principals' fund has been hired to lead Pocono Mountain Charter School in Tobyhanna.

Jeffrey McCreary, who resigned from his job at McNichols Plaza Elementary last year, is now principal at the embattled charter school.

McCreary, 49, of South Abington Township, Lackawanna County, was charged last month with theft by failure to make required disposition of funds after he allegedly stole $87,000 from the Scranton Association of Administrators and Supervisors to fuel a gambling addiction...

The charter school, which is fighting to keep its charter while Pocono Mountain School District attempts to revoke it, hired McCreary in July, said Lisa Bansa, president of the school's board.

Bansa said the board is aware of the allegations against McCreary and that the "lawyers are handling it."...

The charter school, which is awaiting a decision on its future from the state's Charter Appeal Board, has had a strained relationship with the Pocono Mountain School District...
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TOBYHANNA - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a charter school against the Pocono Mountain School District.

The Pocono Mountain Charter School claimed the school district's attempt to revoke its charter was motivated by racial and religious discrimination. The district's school board voted to revoke the charter in October.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo has dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the school is a "political subdivision" and did not have standing to sue the district under First Amendment and equal protection claims. The civil rights and defamation claims were also dismissed.
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The future of Pocono Mountain Charter School was dealt a serious blow when its charter was revoked by the board of directors of the Pocono Mountain School District on Wednesday night.

But the charter school vowed to appeal the decision to the state, and it will remain open until a ruling is rendered.

No comments from the audience preceded the unanimous school board vote to yank the charter of the 300-plus students K-12 school in Tobyhanna. The decision to revoke the charter centered largely on a church-state issue.

"The school board has reached the inescapable conclusion that Pocono Mountain Charter School is significantly and improperly entangled with Shawnee Tabernacle Church," said Jeffrey Litts, the attorney who presided as the hearing officer over 16 public hearings on the matter, as he read from a prepared statement at the start of Wednesday's meeting.

The church and the charter school are housed in the same building and share a common entrance. The Rev. Dennis Bloom serves as pastor of the church and CEO of the charter school…

Facts that compelled the board to reach its conclusion, as recounted by Litts, centered on using public money to benefit the church in several ways:

  • $900,000 in taxpayer money to make improvements to the church property
  • $920,000 in annual rent paid to the church by the charter school
  • Nearly $125,000 to build a gymnasium floor with the name of the church painted on the floor and used by church groups after hours; and
  • $39,000 to install an electronic message board featuring the name of the church that ran religious messages.
The charter school's spokesman said the district still had not proven its case, and that the charter school was not surprised that the school board reached the decision it did.

"We don't think this has been fair from the beginning," said Ken Kilpatrick.

He added that the charter school will appeal the board's decision to the Charter Appeals Board. The appeals board, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, would review the record from the hearings. It typically rules within a matter of months…

The future of the school also may lie elsewhere. Bloom told the Eastern Poconos Community News that the school was preparing an application to open a school in the East Stroudsburg Area School District, where he has identified five possible sites. He is eyeing a fall 2011 opening…

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