Posted on Thu, Apr. 17, 2008

SRC fails to renew 2 charters

Philadelphia Daily News 215-854-5949

The School Reform Commission yesterday voted not to renew the operating agreements of two public charter schools and postponed renewing the agreement of a third charter to give school investigators more time to probe a host of allegations including mismanagement and nepotism.

The news was much better for 13 other charters, which received conditional five-year renewal agreements from the district's governing body.

Those schools, however, must submit documentation by specified dates to satisfy the terms of their renewals.

The most frequently requested documentation was for evidence that 75 percent of their professional staff is certified and that 100 percent of their teachers in core academic subjects are "highly qualified" as defined by the law.

All 13 also were asked to submit a conflict-of-interest policy in compliance with state law. This is the first year in which such a policy was requested, school officials said.

Officials from Germantown Settlement and Renaissance charter schools - which were rejected for renewals - defended their schools during the more than four-hour meeting.

"I have been working diligently to bring about a more positive school culture and to raise the standards for the children that I serve," said Alana Walls, Renaissance's chief academic officer since January.

Walls said that she and her school's board of trustees is prepared to work with the district to address areas that need improvement.

Emanuel V. Freeman, president of the Board of Trustees for Germantown Settlement, said that his school had more than the required percentage of certified teachers, had made academic progress last year according to the state and was outperforming 70 schools operated by the district.

"If we're going to be judged, let us be judged fairly," he said.

The reform commission saw things differently. Germantown Settlement, a school of 426 students in grades five through eight, was cited for 11 violations of the state's charter-school law, including failure to demonstrate strong academic performance or successive years of academic growth, failure to submit a complete 2007 annual report, failure to have the required number of certified and highly qualified teachers, high teacher and principal turnover, and financial documentation that raises questions about fiscal solvency.

Renaissance Charter School, with 209 students in grades six through eight, was cited for 10 violations, many identical to Germantown Settlement's.

Both schools will be able to make their cases for staying open at a formal hearing that has yet to be scheduled. If the reform commission again votes not to renew their contracts, the schools can file appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court.

The reform commission voted to postpone granting a five-year renewal to Philadelphia Academy Charter School until an investigation by the district's inspector general is completed.

The Northeast Philadelphia school, composed of 1,124 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, is being investigated for financial mismanagement and nepotism, according to Inspector General Jack Downs.

At yesterday's meeting, some parents spoke in favor of the school, while others said that the school should get a charter renewal only if its leadership is ousted.

Rosemary DiLacqua, president of the charter's board of directors, said that her organization would cooperate fully with the inspector general's investigation, and that the charter had begun an internal investigation.

The first move made in response to the investigation was to place the school's chief executive, Kevin O'Shea, back in his previous position of director of operations.

"Our books are open," DiLacqua said. "We are transparent for anyone who wants to come in and review anything."

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