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Link found between Lorain Schools CEO, contractor

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LORAIN — Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy contracted with a company that is a partner of a firm where he was a paid consultant as recently as this summer.

Hardy has said he plans to use Schoolzilla, an Oakland, Calif.-based firm, to operate a data dashboard for the district that will allow the administration and the public to track district, school and — eventually — individual student progress.

The program has been mentioned several times by Hardy, most recently at an April 12 town hall event and a March 21 Academic Distress Commission meeting.

“It’s going to be the backbone of how we know how we’re doing,” he said at the March meeting where he also said the organization’s proposal to work with the district could be found on the schools’ website and is based on the number of students in the district.

According to the proposal, Schoolzilla’s services will cost Lorain Schools $37,194 for the first year of service and $31,654 for the second year, totaling $68,848.

“The dashboard is being built in the issue of transparency and is still being built,” Hardy said at the April 12 town hall. “The dashboard outlines a lot of what we’ve been talking about and allows us to do it in a transparent way around our performance and what we’re doing. It’s accountability for us. We don’t want to hide these numbers from you.”

Schoolzilla is listed as one of the “professional colleagues” of Education Research and Development Institute, where Hardy served as a paid consultant as recently as August, saying at that time that he had earned about $4,000 from the firm.

Chicago-based ERDI hires educators to review educational services and products. Youngstown Schools CEO Krish Mohip also has served as a paid consultant for the firm but resigned from that position in August. Youngstown is the only other district in the state aside from Lorain in state takeover and being run by a CEO as part of House Bill 70, which allows for it after years of failing state report cards.

Hardy said in a text message Friday that he is no longer a consultant with ERDI but did not respond to a question about when he stopped working with the firm.

According to the Youngstown Vindicator, Mohip also contracted with a company that is a partner of ERDI.

A Nov. 19 Vindicator story said the Youngstown school district had paid $261,914 to Curriculum Associates, an ERDI partner, a fact Mohip said he wasn’t aware of.

ERDI is now headed by Joseph Wise and David Sundstrom, who are founders of Atlantic Research Partners, which also is based in Chicago and — according to its website — shares an office with ERDI.

Last summer, the Lorain Academic Distress Commission hired Atlantic Research Partners to execute a nationwide search for the district’s CEO. The firm returned five finalists, one of whom was Hardy.

Hardy also had ties to Atlantic, not withstanding of his work with ERDI. In 2016, he attended the National Superintendents Academy, a training program for superintendents and principals, and the latest iteration of a company called The SUPES Academy.

Atlantic Research Partners acquired parts of SUPES in 2015 after it was embroiled in a kickback scandal that sent former owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, along with former Chicago Schools CEO and SUPES consultant Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who used to lead the Cleveland Schools, to prison.

Hardy was one of 37 people who applied to be the Lorain Schools CEO, including former superintendent Jeff Graham, and was one of four finalists with connections to Atlantic.

Public records requests for the applications of the 32 applicants who were not finalists were denied as Atlantic Research Partners President Jim Hager said the firm’s lawyers couldn’t find an instance in the Ohio Revised Code where that was required.

Hager also said the firm promised confidentiality to those applying for the position.

Hardy also has denied public records requests for applications, saying external candidates who applied for turnaround principal positions in the district are “going out on a limb” in applying for these new positions and with the narrative from media coverage offering “mixed reviews” of the district, the candidates were in a “risky” spot.

According to the Vindicator, Wise and Sundstrom are no longer with Atlantic Research Partners, having left at various times last year to focus on ERDI.

Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or knix@chroniclet.com. Find her at facebook.com/KatieHNix or on Twitter @KatieHNix.


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