PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - To many, Nick Trombetta is a visionary who has launched the cyber school revolution in Pennsylvania and is a hero to graduates of Pa. Cyber.
"This day and more days like this are coming will embolden us to continue to fight the fight so that families in Pennsylvania will have the choice to choose a school the education they want," Trombetta said.
Trombetta has built an empire with a building boom in Midland, Pennsylvania, a charter arts school and more. Pa. Cyber has spawned a number of successful ventures that develop and market online curriculum and foster cyber schools throughout the country.
It's all to the dismay of neighboring school superintendents who claim they're footing the bill.
At $8,000 to $10,000 per student, Pa. Cyber now commands a budget of $110 million a year and the superintendents believe much of that money is going into these spinoffs.
"The community of superintendents in Beaver County suspects that much of that new business is being funded by the excess money that they are allowed to keep over and above the actual cost of educating a kid in a cyber environment," Ron Sofo from Freedom Area Schools said.
However, Pa. Cyber has political muscle as do its non-profit affiliates Lincoln Interactive and the National Network of Digital Schools. Now, a management group called Avanti is involved. By all accounts, Avanti is a for-profit corporation made up of former Pa. Cyber administrators.
Incorporated in Pennsylvania and headquartered in Ohio, Avanti officials wouldn't speak with KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan.
Its mission is not clear except that it gives generously and often to politicians. Campaign records show that in past two years, its officers doled out $58,000 in political contributions, including $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association.
Trombetta lists Avanti as his business affiliation and gave Gov. Corbett $5,000.
"If people make contribution to me and think they are going to get something in return, they should ask for their money back," Gov. Corbett said.
As Attorney General, Tom Corbett's office responded to a series of KDKA-TV reports questioning Pa. Cyber's spending and summoned school officials before a Grand Jury investigating whether tax dollars were being misused.
No action came out of the Grand Jury and as governor, his administration has been supportive.
Trombetta has not spoken with Sheehan since KDKA-TV aired initial reports four years ago.
He recently announced his retirement from Pa. Cyber, but with or without him, his empire will continue to grow and critics will continue to question whether that's being done to the detriment of other Pennsylvania school districts.
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