Tahoe Learning Center will reopen on Monday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe Learning Center will reopen on Monday

by Timothy Bowman

The Lake Tahoe Learning Center will reopen Monday after closing May 11 because of alleged funding improprieties.

The LTLC opened on Emeral Bay Road as a site-based charter school Aug. 30. It will remain open until May 31, two weeks shy of the original closing date of June 15.

LTLC is part of Sierra Summit Academy, Inc., which supports 20 charter school sites in the Sierra Nevada region. All SSA schools were closed last week leaving the educational future of 1,791 students in question. More than 100 students were enrolled in LTLC. There are four full-time and one part-time teachers along with site director Dave Rude.

SSA operates out of the Sierra-Plumas Joint Unified School District which controls the funds allocated from the state to SSA. Sierra County froze funds going to SSA, due to funding problems. Sierra-Plumas District Superintendent, Jeff Bauer, received a court order May 11 freeing state funds from Sierra County so the charter schools could finish the school year. The same day the court order was issued, Bauer sent faxes to all 20 SSA charter schools telling them to close for the year.

Officials at the California Department of Education confirmed SSA officials were in an audit meeting Wednesday to clear up funding discrepancies with the charter schools. The details of the meeting were unavailable Wednesday, but an agreement was reached to allocate funding to allow students to finish the school year.

SSA officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Rude said some of LTLC staff thought there might be financial problems with SSA from early in the school year.

“We feel like we were trying to do our job and we had the plug pulled on us,” Rude said. “There was always some suspicion about next year, but we never thought it would close before June 15.”

Rude took the position of site director after the first site director, Carey Brown, stepped down in November. Rude said he received little feedback from SSA officials, Bauer, Brown and SSA Program Director Lou Phillippi, even when LTLC stopped getting funding for basic necessities.

“The honest confusion is I never really knew who my boss was,” Rude said. “I would get messages from all three and they didn’t always jive. We had to bring in our own copy paper, trash bags and toilet paper.”

Rude said he, LTLC teachers and staff have been receiving their paychecks late and in the wrong amounts all school year. They received their last paychecks April 10 and have not received a May paycheck. Parent of an LTLC student, Roma Morris, praised the dedication of the staff in the face of the administrative difficulties.

“It is an incredibly dedicated group of teachers and staff who have been working two months without pay,” Morris said. “(Carey Brown) walked out. There was no budget. Dave Rude took over and tried to pull it together, but there was no funding.”

A letter sent to teachers and parents from Lou Phillippi dated May 10, stated the students would receive credit for the entire school year. LTLC parent Rick Botto said, despite this, he is upset his daughter will miss a month’s education.

“The kids shouldn’t just be sitting at home for a month with nothing to do,” Botto said. “For them to close the doors a month early is a violation of the trust we put into that school. I think the teachers are victims. They were performing their duty to the best of their ability and continued to work after the paychecks quit coming.”

Rude said the future of LTLC is in question for next year, but would like to see it reopen independent of SSA.

“I am confident that we would walk away from SSA and get our own charter school up here,” Rude said. “There is a need for it in this community.”

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