Dayton schools argue DeWine conflicted, inadequate to handle ECOT suit

Dayton Public Schools and Logan-Hocking Local Schools are arguing in court that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is incapable of adequately representing school districts in a lawsuit seeking to recoup funds from the failed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

A filing Monday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court argues that DeWine – who is running for governor – has a conflict of interest because of the amount of political donations he has received from ECOT founder and defendant in the suit Bill Lager. It also argues that DeWine has a history of inadequately representing Ohio school districts.

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“Ohio school districts have a duty to their students, parents and taxpayers who lost tens of millions of dollars to ECOT,” said attorney Ellen Kramer, who is representing the schools. “Mike DeWine has a history of being an ally to charter schools, ECOT, and Bill Lager. Given DeWine’s past, school districts – not DeWine – should be leading this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit says ECOT received $20 million that would have otherwise come to Dayton Public Schools since 2012.

Attorney general’s office spokesman Dan Tierney said his office has been as aggressive in the ECOT case as the law allows without siphoning money off to private attorneys like Kramer.

“By the state doing it, 100 percent of the money goes to the taxpayers,” he said.

“This seems like a political filing, but we will certainly respond in court.”



Dayton Public Schools’ agreement with the Cleveland-based law firm Cohen Rosenthal & Kramer LLP is contingency-based. That means that if they sue and win, the law firm gets a third of the damages. If they don’t win, DPS pays nothing.

Tierney said his office had a court order to file its lawsuit against Lager on behalf of ECOT to collect misspent funds. Money collected will go first to the retirement funds for ECOT employees, then private creditors, then school districts and the state.

This process is the same if Dayton and other districts pursue legal action without DeWine, meaning the amount of money Dayton schools could get is the same either way — minus attorney fees if they go it alone — according to school officials. The difference is that the district lacks confidence that DeWine would litigate as aggressively as they would.

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“The districts have considerable reservations about whether the AG will adequately represent their interests in this proceeding. The AG has been a solid supporter of charter schools, including ECOT, for many years, at a great cost to all public schools in Ohio, and especially to the Logan-Hocking Local and Dayton Public Schools,” the legal filing says.

ECOT shut down earlier this year after an Ohio Department of Education review found it was inflating its enrollment and attendance numbers. By some estimates, the online charter school collected more than $591 million from the state since 2012, money that would have gone to public schools if students had stayed in their local school district.

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DeWine filed a lawsuit to recoup from Lager and other former ECOT officials the $62 million the school was found to have over-billed the state, as well as profits Lager’s companies Altair Management and IQ Innovations received for work done with ECOT.

The schools’ legal filing says DeWine and his running mate Secretary of State Jon Husted together received tens of thousands of dollars from Lager. It doesn’t note that his Democratic challenger, Rich Cordray, also received campaign cash from Lager, though far less.

DPS’ legal filing also says Husted and Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, who is running to replace DeWine as AG, both gave commencement speeches at ECOT. Yost also received campaign donations from Lager.

Both DeWine and Yost donated the amount of money they received from Lager to charity after the school’s collapse this year.

The lawsuit accuses DeWine of dealing far less aggressively with charter schools connected to GOP donors – such as White Hat Management – than those that are not.

DeWine campaign spokesman Joshua Eck called the DPS legal filing “simply a partisan attack with no basis in fact.”

“Mike DeWine has taken aggressive action against ECOT, even working to hold its founder personally responsible for their actions,” he said.

DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said her motivation is not political: “I don’t do things just for political reasons.”

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