Agora Cyber Charter announces layoffs

Posted: February 17, 2016

Agora, the second-largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania with 8,500 students across the state, has laid off dozens of teachers and staffers.

Officials at the cyber school, headquartered in King of Prussia, said they did not have a total for the number of employees let go Friday, but blamed the layoffs on Gov. Wolf and the state budget impasse.

"The Commonwealth's failure to pass a budget necessitated that Agora make a substantial number of layoffs to survive," Agora said in a statement issued Monday night.

Current and laid-off employees, however, said that their tallies indicated that more than 100 people were laid off, and possibly as many as 150.

Employees also said they were blindsided by the move.

Nearly two months ago, Agora assured staff that it had the resources to weather the budget impasse and that layoffs were not being considered.

"We have no plans to cut or furlough staff due to the lack of funds we are currently receiving," Mary Steffey, chair of the Agora board, wrote Dec. 18 in an email to all 649 staff members. "Please do not fear for your position here at Agora."

One teacher, who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of reprisal, said, "Teachers didn't even know there was a chance of layoffs."

Questions also remained how a cyber with revenues of $122.7 million and a $13.4 million fund balance could find itself in such financial straits that it has been forced to let go as many as 15 percent of its workforce.

"Even if the school is not getting the money in, we had that surplus," Sara Atkins, a mother in Wynnewood who has four special-needs children enrolled at Agora, said Monday. "The classes were already huge."

She and others said pink slips went to nearly every kindergarten teacher, and many of the family coaches. Major cuts were reported in social studies, science, physical education, arts, music, and elective classes in the high school.

In its statement, Agora said its decision to cut staff came after "all other options [had] been exhausted."

"In December the budget framework was on the table in Harrisburg, and it appeared the funds would soon be again flowing to districts and charters alike. At the time we had a line of credit, but temporary funds can only last so long. The holidays came and the budget discussions fell apart, plunging schools like ours into desperation," the statement read.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789@marwooda

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