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Rolly: Educator cited as model for Utah is raided by FBI
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An expert in cyberspace education who was featured at the pre-legislative conference of the Utah Taxpayers Association was raided by the FBI last week, and is being investigated for allegedly misusing taxpayer money.

Nick Trombetta, who founded the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in 2000 and had an enrollment of more than 11,300 students in 2011-12, was the target of FBI raids at his offices in Pennsylvania and at a consulting firm he operates in Ohio.

The Huffington Post, citing reports from Pennsylvania newspapers, said the FBI is investigating whether Trombetta used taxpayer money he received for his school in Pennsylvania to fund private ventures he operated out of state.

The report noted that his school has an annual budget of more than $100 million, which, critics say, averages $10,000 per student, a much higher amount than it costs to educate the average student online.

Trombetta has been a darling of conservative lawmakers pushing for alternative ways to educate students.

In January, he was a featured speaker at the Utah Taxpayers Association, one of the leading advocates of Internet education, and was introduced by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, founder of the Utah House Conservative Caucus.

At the conference, Hughes related Trombetta's "compelling story," in which he began an online school after a steel mill closed in his Pennsylvania town and there was no tax base to keep schools open. His program has been used as a model in other states and Trombetta has expanded outside of Pennsylvania.

Hughes, a native of Pittsburgh, told me Tuesday he was saddened to learn of Trombetta's troubles, but still inspired by his story and that Trombetta should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Hughes says he still champions alternatives to expensive traditional education and the wise use of technology to achieve that goal.

But bad models should be held accountable, he said. "I don't want some kind of taxpayer safety net that would keep bad models of charter schools alive."

Musical chairs? When Mike Lee defeated Sen. Bob Bennett at the State Republican Convention two years ago, veteran lobbyist Spencer Stokes was hired as Lee's chief of staff in Washington, D.C., and he sold his business to another lobbyist, Steve Hunter.

Hunter now is overseeing the congressional campaign of Mia Love in Utah's new 4th Congressional District. If she defeats Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson in the fall, sources say it is a good bet that Hunter would be named Love's chief of staff in Washington, D.C.

According to sources, Hunter has been in negotiations with the Bennett Group, a lobbying firm cofounded by Bennett, to sell the business he bought from Stokes. So Bennett could buy the firm once owned by the chief of staff to the man who succeeded him.

Controversial candidate spawns legislation: Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, has opened a bill file with the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel that would bar registered sex offenders from running for the state or local school board.

Moss, a retired teacher, says she was prompted to sponsor the legislation after she learned that convicted felon and registered sex offender Richard Jones is one of two candidates on the ballot for a slot on the Granite School Board.

Jones spent five years in prison for sex abuse of a child and completed his 10-year probation in 2005, but he still is on the sex-offender registry.

He has said he welcomes the chance to explain to voters that the conviction occurred more than 20 years ago and because of who he is today, there is no threat to children.

As long as he is on the registry, though, he is restricted by law from going into schools when children are there.

prolly@sltrib.com

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