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Akron industrialist, charter school founder David Brennan dies

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 A wealthy industrialist who founded a for-profit charter school and became a pioneer in Ohio's school choice movement has died.

David Brennan, an influential Republican donor who gave back millions to his hometown of Akron, died Sunday, his daughter Nancy Brennan said. He was 87.

Brennan started his career as an attorney and later founded a company that bought and sold manufacturing plants that made steel and auto parts.

It was his efforts to train workers how to use robotics and advanced manufacturing systems at those factories that led him to want to revolutionize education, his daughter said.

He started realizing that it was almost too late to train workers once they were on the job and saw too many problems in public schools, Nancy Brennan said.

"It was about reforming education and bringing school choice across the country," she said.

In 1998, Brennan founded White Hat Management, which went on to become one of the largest for-profit operators of charter schools in the nation.

As the schools grew, so did Brennan's influence. Critics said he had too much say over the state's education policy and questioned his motives.

White Hat had nearly 50 schools in five states by 2011, but increased competition, changes in state policy and low test scores at some schools caused the company to struggle.

It sold 12 elementary schools in 2015 and sold off the last of its contracts to run charter schools in August.

Nancy Brennan said the company succeeded in changing how public schools operate, pointing to how the charter schools influenced the spread of all-day kindergarten.

In addition to raising money for both national and state campaigns as a top Republican donor, Brennan also gave millions to organizations around his hometown, including the Summa Akron City Hospital and the University of Akron.

He is survived by his wife Ann and their four children.

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