Education Plus Charter votes to disband, affecting 540 students

Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School operated a learning center in a former Elkins Park Catholic School.

One week after Education Plus Academy Cyber School laid off its entire staff, the board voted late Wednesday afternoon to cease operations Friday and surrender its charter.

"We, the board and the management of Education Plus - we just want to tell you that we tried . . . we tried hard," Richard Binswanger, board chairman, told angry parents and staff at the special meeting. The closing affects 540 K-8 students.

Last week, the cyber closed its six learning centers across the state and laid off staff amid questions about the school's ability to continue to operate. Wednesday's special meeting was called to decide the fate of Education Plus.

Officials said the cyber's financial woes stemmed from the lack of a state budget but reached a crisis last week when the school's bank pulled its line of credit and froze its accounts.

Binswanger said that because of the budget impasse, school districts had not paid the money they owed for their students who were enrolled at Education Plus.

"The only district that paid us was Philadelphia," he said.

Education Plus, which opened in 2012 with a focus on children with special learning needs, offered a blend of online and classroom instruction at its centers.

It ran into trouble with the state for operating more like a brick-and-mortar charter school than a cyber one.

In late August, the cyber closed a few centers, laid off some staff, and removed high school students from the rolls. Officials said they were required to make the changes to comply with state directives and abide by terms of its charter.

Parents who attended the board meeting at Education Plus headquarters in Wayne and participated online lambasted administrators for breaking a promise that the cyber would operate through June.

Now, they said, they are scrambling to find spots for their children in other schools and to retrieve their records from Education Plus.

"I am so upset at how this has been handled from Day One on Aug. 28 of this year until now," said a woman whose daughter had attended the Ed Plus center in West Philadelphia.

Susan Scalzi, whose daughter had gone to the shuttered center in Exton, said her daughter and other children were upset by the abrupt closures and the loss of friends and teachers. "These are the children they hurt," she said. "Parents selected Ed Plus under false promises."

Many parents and former staffers said they were angry that Education Plus CEO Nicholas Torres and other administrators were seeking to open a brick-and-mortar charter in Philadelphia next fall to be called City Academy Charter School.

Several promised to speak out against the proposed charter when the School Reform Commission holds a scheduled hearing on that application at district headquarters at 2:15 p.m. Monday.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda