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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2007

Charter school firm collected $1.4M in fees

An East Lansing, Mich., charter school company collected more than $1.4 million in taxpayer money last academic year for management fees from its six Toledo-area charter schools, according to audits released last month.

The Leona Group operates 53 charter schools in six states, which includes the six local schools and one in Columbus.

Company spokesman Raymond Gant said the money collected for "management fees" is used for such services as payroll, marketing, and human resource functions.

Mr. Gant said he did not know what profit margin the company achieved at the schools. "We certainly have to run a positive cash flow," he said. "First of all, it's an educational opportunity, but it's a business as well."

In exchange for its services, Leona Group charges a fee of 12 percent of the expenditures per student. In addition, at the end of the year, the company collects 50 percent of any surplus money.

The company's local charter schools, and what each paid the company for the 2005-06 school year, are:

•Wildwood Environmental Academy, $248,818.

•George A. Phillips, $338,955.

•Eagle Academy, $130,388.

•Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy, $203,532.

•Lake Erie Academy, $342,729.

•Toledo Accelerated Academy, $137,254.

Toledo Accelerated Academy ended its last fiscal year with a $20,844 deficit.

Charter schools in Ohio are publicly funded but often privately managed.

The Ohio Auditor's Office accepted independent audits of the six Leona charter schools written by Plante & Moran PLLC, of Auburn Hills, Mich.

In addition, the schools have to pay a sponsorship fee to the Ohio Council of Community Schools. Collectively, the six local Leona charter schools paid the agency $197,350 for the 2005-06 school year.

The schools also are responsible for other operating expenses, such as rent, teacher salaries, and supplies.

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