Pa. Charter School 'Entangled' With Nearby Church, Report Claims
A Pennsylvania charter school has been accused of having “improper entanglements” with a local church, according to a preliminary audit report from the Pennsylvania auditor general's office.
According to the report obtained by the publication The Morning Call, the Pocono Mountain Charter School of Tobyhanna in Monroe County may have illegally sent taxpayer money to neighboring Shawnee Tabernacle Church.
The audit report alleges that Pocono Mountain, which was established and initially headed by Dennis Bloom, diverted taxpayer money to Shawnee Tabernacle, which was also established by Bloom and is where he currently serves as head pastor.
In Pennsylvania, charter schools are funded by tax dollars rather than tuition, other financial sources are voluntary. According to Pennsylvania law, “No charter school shall be established or funded by and no charter shall be granted to any sectarian school, institution or other entity."
Back in October 2010, the Pocono Mountain School Board revoked the charter school’s right to be an independent public school due to findings similar to the recently written preliminary report.
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The unanimous decision to revoke was based on transactions that Bloom had performed while head of the school and the church, like one that involved funds going from the school to build a 35,000-square-foot addition which would connect to Shawnee Tabernacle.
Both the School Board and the Charter School await the written decision of the Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board.
The Charter School requested to circumvent the hearing process associated with the renewal of a charter and asked the CAB if this could be done. However, the CAB declined their request.
According to Pennsylvania law, to revoke a charter school’s right, a school board must give notice of the grounds for nonrenewal and a date for a public hearing, hold an evidentiary hearing, have a 30-day period for public comment, and then formally move to not renew the charter.
“[T]he District has not completed the procedural steps necessary to make a decision not to renew the charter because it did not conduct an evidentiary hearing,” reads the CAB Opinion.
Americans United for Separation of Church State, a nationwide church-state watchdog group, has weighed in on the matter via their blog “Wall of Separation.”
“Taxpayer funds can all too easily be diverted to religious purposes through ‘school choice’ projects,” wrote Simon Brown. “Bloom’s school was apparently just a funnel for his personal interests and that of his church.”
Supporters of Bloom believe the effort to not renew Pocono Mountain’s charter to be based on false accusations and have stressed that the report has not been finalized by the auditor general.
Dennis Bloom of Shawnee Tabernacle Church could not return a request for comment by press time.
Correction: Tuesday, January 17, 2012:
An article on January 12, 2012 incorrectly stated that the Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board had overturned the Pocono Mountain School Board’s revocation vote over not following the order of steps necessary to not renew a school’s charter. The decision had to do with Pocono Mountain Charter School’s attempt to be absent from a CAB hearing. Both the School Board and the Charter School await the written decision of the Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board.