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WASB told it could save money when sending students to for-profit schools online

Franklin Virtual Academy official says institution's cost is a fraction of other cyber schools

July 13, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — By offering a cyber charter school operated by four public-school districts, the Waynesboro Area School Board could reduce its annual costs for sending students to for-profit schools online, a Franklin Virtual Academy official told the board this week.

Todd Tritle administers Franklin Virtual Academy through the Greencastle-Antrim School District. The Chambersburg Area, Waynesboro Area and Fannett-Metal school districts are preparing to join the academy through a consortium formed this year in Franklin County, Pa.

"Online learning is growing rapidly at 30 percent annually. ... It's an option 21st century parents and learners expect," Tritle said at a Waynesboro Area School Board meeting Tuesday.

Franklin Virtual Academy offers a core, K-12 curriculum and elective classes through BlendedSchools.net. Students log into the secure system through a BlackBoard interface and are assigned certified instructors.

They can take up to three classes at a time without special permission, Tritle said. They can take other classes in traditional classrooms at their home schools, he said.

Franklin Virtual Academy students earn diplomas through their home schools, such as Greencastle-Antrim High School. That district has offered the program for eight years.

Pennsylvania's 500 public-school districts are required to pay tuition for students whose families choose to send them to cyber charter schools. Tritle said the cost for one semester at a for-profit cyber school can start at $8,000 versus up to an estimated $2,775 for Franklin Virtual Academy.

Choosing to offer netbook computers to students would tack on extra costs, Tritle said.

Franklin Virtual Academy students can participate in their home schools' sports and clubs. Tritle said school officials are working to set up weekly walk-in tutoring sessions.

The Tuscarora School District, which is the fifth district wholly contained in Franklin County, decided to continue offering its own cyber school, Tritle said.

"We have some furloughed teachers. Can they participate as instructors?" Waynesboro board member Chris Lind asked.

They can, and Manito Inc. is acting as the manager of instructors, Tritle said.

Board member Firmadge Crutchfield asked for more data, specifically what he called "indirect costs" to maintain school facilities for students who are now working on computers. Franklin Virtual Academy students count toward a school's "average daily membership," which affects state funding.

Board member Sherry Cline said in her previous experience with cyber schooling, she needed to drive to Harrisburg, Pa., for events.

"It was definitely very independent," Cline said.

This program could have more support from a student's home school district, she said.

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