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SRC gives struggling schools a reprieve

Original Article: Philadelphia Inquirer
by Mensah M. Dean, Staff Writer

Two charter school operators that were expected to lose two schools each, due to various academic and governance shortcomings, instead received temporary lifelines at Thursday night’s School Reform Commission meeting.

Aspira Inc., the North Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to educating Latino children, was given one week to persuade the SRC to allow it to continue managing two of its struggling schools.

Leading Aspira’s effort is former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo, who was hired recently and pledged during the meeting that he would answer all outstanding questions about Olney Charter High School and John B. Stetson Charter School.

Two members of the five-member SRC abstained and one voted against resolutions to not renew the operating agreements for the two schools run by Universal Companies, the South Philadelphia community development nonprofit founded by the record producer Kenny Gamble.

The lack of three nonrenewal votes means Universal – without a contract – will continue operating Vare Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School and Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School.

SRC member Bill Green, who abstained, said he was concerned that charters are judged by different standards than School District schools, and that Universal’s schools performed better than some district-run schools.

“We need to have one common framework,” said Green, who noted that the commission can retake the vote at any time.

Prior to the vote, Audenried Charter assistant principal Bill McCann made a similar point.

“While most of the 82 high schools throughout the city have seen decreased proficiency in literacy, algebra, and biology, this past school year Universal Audenried has seen increases in all three subjects,” he said

Trujillo said he would use the next week to do all that he can to save Aspira’s schools.

“I expect to be able to present to the charter school office a set of conditions that will satisfy this commission that renewal of the two charters is prudent,” he said, adding that as oversight counsel, he will oversee certain financial, governance, and academic reforms at Aspira and the two schools.

During last month’s meeting, officials from the School District’s charter school office testified that the Universal and Aspira schools had failed to meet multiple goals in the areas of academics, finances, and organizational viability.

On Tuesday, City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a study critical of the operations of Aspira and Universal.

The report noted that both education organizations had incomplete financial data, lacked transparency, were not compliant with the Ethics Act, and had questionable leasing agreements with related parties.

Green, during last month’s meeting, persuaded his colleagues to postpone voting on the Universal and Aspira schools until Butkovitz’s report had been released.

The SRC also voted to award up to $42 million for two years to Kelly Services of Troy, Mich., to recruit, hire, train, and manage substitute teachers.

Kelly will replace Source4Teachers of Cherry Hill, which has been criticized for its failure to find enough subs.

“How many more millions have to be wasted?” retired teacher Libby Schwartz said in opposition to the contract during the public testimony portion of the meeting.

In other action, the SRC withdrew resolutions calling for five-year contract renewals for three schools run by Mastery Charter Schools. No explanation was given. Mastery’s network of Philadelphia charters includes 13 schools serving 11,000 students.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. also announced that Cooke Elementary School will not become a Renaissance school in the fall because the company that was selected to manage it, Great Oaks Foundation of New York, withdrew from consideration.

deanm@phillynews.com
215-854-4172 @mensahdean

 

 


Posted: May 26th, 2016