Posted on Tue, Mar. 30, 2010

Problems mount at charter school that doubled as nightclub

By Martha Woodall

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The problems facing Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School go beyond allegations that it doubled as a nightclub on weekend nights.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz today announced that the woman serving as the West Philadelphia charter's business officer also was simultaneously listed as an employee at two other charter schools.

Rhonda Sharif, Butkovitz said, was paid a total of $183,108 in 2008 as an employee of all three schools and worked 463 days that year, according to records of the state school employees pension system.

The year before, Sharif collected $175,375 for working 624 days, the controller said.

Besides handling the finances at Harambee at 640 N. 66th St., Sharif was employed by the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School at 447 N. Broad St. and Khepera Charter at 144 W. Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.

In addition, Butkovitz said his office found that the schools had reimbursed Sharif more than $500,000 for unspecified credit card expenses and undocumented travel costs. His staff also found that her husband's construction company had received $7.5 million in contracts from the three schools.

As of early this afternoon, Sharif had not responded to a request for comment.

After the state charter law was changed in July 2008 to bar charter administrators from being paid by more than one school, Sharif was employed solely by Math, Civics and Sciences. She continued to work as a consultant and provided business services for a time to Harambee and Khepera.

Butkovitz said he would share his findings with the school district and with the U.S. Attorney's office which has been investigating area charter schools since May 2008.

Veronica Joyner, chief executive and founder of Mathematics, Civics Charter School, confirmed today that last week Sharif received a federal subpoena for five years worth of financial records for that charter last week.

The city controller said his office began examining charter schools and the school district's oversight of them in 2009.

The three charter schools he discussed today were among 13 charter schools that the controller's office focused on.

"Because of the recent controversy over the discovery of a nightclub that serves alcohol at Harambee . . . I am here today to release findings specifically of our investigation of this school," Butkovitz said.

He said the complete report, including recommendations for tightening the state's 1997 charter school law, would be made public within two weeks.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at martha.woodall@phillynews.com

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