Posted on Wed, Apr. 16, 2008

Schools panel to rule on charters

By MENSAH M. DEAN
Philadelphia Daily News
deanm@phillynews.com 215-854-5949

Philadelphia's charter school community is bracing for today's meeting of the School Reform Commission, which is expected to decide whether to renew five-year operating agreements with 16 schools.

Last week the commission received recommendations from its staff to close two schools and to grant 14 schools renewals - conditioned upon correcting outstanding issues.

A larger than usual number of people - 19 - have signed up to speak about charter schools during the 1 p.m. meeting at the school district's North Broad Street administration building, according to a district spokeswoman.

A number of charter school operators, including the two facing the ax, have complained that the renewal process has been arduous and unfair.

Some have complained that the district is holding charter schools to a higher standard than it holds its own schools - 70 of which have failed to make adequate yearly progress during the last five years.

"My members feel that somebody who does not have their best interest at heart is doing this. The purpose is not to help. That's the feeling that they get," said Tim Daniels, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools, which represents 58 of the city's 61 charters.

"It's like McDonald's supervising Burger King," he added, quoting what a charter school operator told him.

School district officials last week said they have stiffened charter renewal standards to make sure the schools live up to their educational missions.

The two schools that were recommended for closure, according to sources are: Germantown Settlement Charter School and Renaissance Charter School.

"We have always said we are not opposed to accountability, we just want things to be fair, consistent and transparent," Daniels said.

In another development, school district Inspector General Jack Downs said he is investigating complaints by parents of nepotism and higher-than-usual salaries being paid at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School, in the Northeast, one of the 16 charters up for renewal.

Downs said he began his probe about two weeks ago and is not sure when it will be completed.

"We're taking a look at it to see if it's valid," he said.

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