by Lisa Haver
Proposed location: 6301 No. 2nd Street, 3rd Floor, 19126 (former Cardinal Dougherty building)
Enrollment: opening with 750, expanding to 850
Recruitment: same areas and zip codes as Pantoja: 19134 and 19140 targets
[Except for location and a few other details, the application is identical to the Pantoja applicaiton, including school colors and mascot.]
After examining the applications and attending the hearings, I submitted this written testimony to the SRC:
Testimony of Lisa Haver
Submitted January 30, 2018
Re: Aspira Inc. Applications for Two More Charters
The most surreal moment of the hearings on the two new charter applications from Aspira Inc. came at the end of the first session. An Aspira representative raised an objection that the Charter Schools Office Director alluded to the fact that the SRC had voted last month not to renew two Renaissance charters managed by Aspira Inc. As if the fact that Aspira failed to meet academic, organizational, and financial standards were not a predictor of how they could manage two more. Aspira Inc. admitted to misuse of taxpayer funds when it funneled money from Olney and Stetson to their other schools, including Pantoja and de Hostos, the schools now applying for new charters. Aspira Inc. officials made several references to their “successful” network of charters, but had a problem when Ms. Kacer didn’t go along with their narrative.
From all appearances, Aspira Inc. is attempting to expand enrollment in the two existing schools, not open two more schools. Everything about the schools would be replicated, including school colors and mascot.
Aspira’s low bar for financial integrity should be reason enough for denying the company any more schools in Philadelphia. Despite direct questions from the Hearing Examiner and Ms. Kacer, it was hard to keep track of Aspira Inc.’s many real estate holdings and the financial transactions among them. It was revealed that the Facilities Manager for Aspira Inc, Andres Perez, sits on the board of ACE/Dougherty, which leases the building(s) for the various Aspira properties.
Some SRC commissioners seem to believe that the only consideration in these matters is the application itself. If the Gambino family submitted an application which seemed to meet all requirements, would the history of that organization be ignored?
Which is not to say that there were not several inconsistencies and deficiencies in the applications, as pointed out by the hearing examiner and Ms. Kacer, including:
- Academic program purports to provide program around specific cultures including Puerto Rico, Caribbean Islands and Latin America, but no explanation of exactly how this would serve all prospective students at the school.
- Subject areas other than core subjects found to contain insufficient detail.
- Not clear how Aspira would serve students with special needs, in particular gifted students.
- Core values inconsistently represented throughout application.
- CSO Evaluation Team noted that application contained pieces of different systems and different programs which did not add up to one coherent program.
- Applications overall did not contain requisite level of detail.
- Applications referred to but did not include staffing list.
- No evidence of Special Education coordinator in de Hostos application.
- Key personnel staffing levels inconsistent.
- School intends to rely on Aspra Inc for several services.
Aspira Inc.’s financial improprieties have been well documented, as well as their labor issues, fraudulent facilities contracts, and failure to turn around Renaissance charters. The SRC cannot in good conscience approve an expansion of the Aspira Inc. network in the School District of Philadelphia.