Board Must Reject All New Charter Applications

New Charter Applications Hearing:  December 20, 2022 

by Lynda Rubin

Four charter applicants, all of whom are currently operating charter schools that have failed to meet academic and other standards, have applied to the School District of Philadelphia to operate more. The opening hearing is a pro-forma “public” event in which charter representatives are each given 15 minutes to explain the mission of their proposed schools, with the district providing technical support for the on-screen presentations.  Members of the public, on the other hand, are given only two minutes each to state their positions for or against the creation of new charter schools.  The Board of Education seems to have gone out of its way to exclude the public from this hearing. They posted the legally required notice, in very small print, in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but they posted no notice on the district’s website in any banner on the board’s page nor the charter schools page. APPS members and others with previous knowledge of this process hunted through the website, finally locating a small notice in the board’s calendar. Despite the fact that all board meetings have been held in person for over a year, and that all district schools and offices are open, the board is holding all charter hearings via zoom. Why?  In-person meetings have always been considered more informative, since presenters to a live audience are more engaging for all. They also provide an opportunity for people on both sides of the issue to organize and bring a unified message, as members of the Kensington Health Sciences Academy did in 2019. Their actions garnered community support and media attention. When the Board decides arbitrarily not to have fully public hearings, they are using yet another means to impose their speaker suppression policies.  Our December 15 letter to the Board asked for fully public hearings: “Consideration for charter applicants and operators should not take precedence over the rights of the community to be fully present and to express their support or opposition to new charter applications as both individuals and organizations.” The Board has not replied.   

District staff have been accommodating to APPS’ requests for information, but that information should be readily available to all members of the public.  Every year, we must file an official “Right to Know” request for all application attachments, which contain information on funding and other crucial information. Even with district staff expediting the request, the attachments–hundreds of pages of financial statements and other documents–arrive just before the opening hearing. These  should be available on-line for any member of the public to read, not just those who file a formal request. 

None of the Board of Education members attended the hearing. General Counsel Lynn Rauch served as hearing examiner. Rauch recited the posting of legal notice requirements and that information about the hearings was also posted on the district website. She didn’t explain why the board posted only the most minimal of information.

ASPIRA  Bilingual College and Career Preparatory Academy would open August 2023 with 600 students in grades 9 and 10, then expand to 1200 students in grades 9 through 12. Aspira would recruit from the Kensington and Olney communities in zip codes 19134, 19140, 19120.

ASPIRA Dr. Ricardo E. Alegria Preparatory Charter School would open August 2023 with 690 students in grades  K-5, then expand to 1035 students through grades K- 8.  Aspira would recruit from the Kensington and Olney communities in zip codes 19134, 19140, 19120.

The Board must take into account Aspira, Inc.’s dismal history. Just last year, the Board took back control of Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, both Renaissance charters, after Aspira’s failure every year to meet academic standards.  Aspira fought a long and very expensive battle to retain control of the schools, with legal costs–paid by taxpayers–mounting through legal appeals to the state’s Charter Appeal Board. The District has reopened both Olney and Stetson under District control.

Global Leadership Academy International Charter High School would open August 2023 with 150 students in grades 9, then expand to 600 students in grades 9-12. GLA International Charter would recruit city-wide.

Global Leadership Academy (GLA) currently runs two K-8 charter schools, GLA Charter and GLA Charter Southwest at Huey. Global Leadership Academy has previously applied for, and been denied, a charter for a citywide high school. GLA at Huey at 5200 Pine Street was renewed with conditions in August 2022 despite the Charter School Office’s Annual Charter Evaluation (ACE) 2019-20 report which indicated that GLA Charter Southwest at  Huey “Does Not Meet Organizational Standards”. The ACE cited GLA for inaccurate financial documents submitted for 2017, 2018, and 2019. The GLA at Huey ACE report indicated that GLA has had a poor history of maintaining teachers. Both GLA CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries which total almost ¾ of a million dollars. The CEO of a third GLA school would likely be paid a comparable salary. 

Perseverance Leadership Academy Charter School 
The applicants are actually proposing to open two schools with separate facilities, faculties, and administrations in the buildings currently operated by two district schools, Daroff and Bluford elementary schools. The K-8 schools, with combined enrollment of 1296 students at scale, would recruit from 19131,19139, 19151 zip codes.

In 2011, the School Reform Commission awarded control of both schools to Universal Education Companies, which lobbied hard for control of the schools, promising to turn the schools around. After they failed to do so, failing to meet standards every year, the district moved forward with non-renewal for both. In the past year, without any public notice or explanation to either school community, Universal walked away from both schools,  leaving control to the current board, whose members have submitted this application. Several news stories, however, reported that the new board “stonewalled” parents and students as the 2022-23 school year neared, not sure whether either school would open in time.  

As it stands, the district will resume control of Bluford as a district school before the 2023-24 school year. It appears that the district is planning not to reopen Daroff at all.  After losing their appeals to the state’s Charter Appeal Board , the Bluford/Daroff board signed an agreement with the district to cede control of both schools.  

APPS member Lisa Haver urged the Board of Education  to reject all new charter applications.  After 25 years of charter expansion in the city, she testified, it is clear that privatizing public schools does nothing to improve the educational opportunities of the city’s children.  Lynda Rubin testified against approving any of the charter applications as all have failed to meet standards–academic, financial and organizational– in the charters they currently operate. Rubin pointed out that charter company operators are being run more as businesses, with high CEO salaries just one example.

Although hearings begin on January 17, there is no notice anywhere on the district website.  From the legal notice in the Inquirer: 
January 17, 2023, 9 AM: Perseverance Leadership Academy Charter School
January 19, 2023, 9 AM:  ASPIRA Bilingual College and Career Preparatory Academy
January 19, 2023, 2 PM: ASPIRA Dr. Ricardo E. Alegria Preparatory Charter School
January 20, 2023 9:00 AM: Global Leadership Academy International Charter High School

No public testimony will be heard at these hearings. Written testimony will be accepted until January 27. The Board will be voting on the applications at its February 23 action meeting.