by Diane Payne
Franklin Towne Charter (FTC) submitted an application for a new middle school to be called Franklin Towne Charter Middle School (FTCMS). This school would serve 450 students in grades six through eight. FTC currently operates two other schools: Franklin Towne Charter Elementary School (FTCES) and Franklin Towne Charter High School (FTCHS). The elementary is a K-8 school serving 908 students; FTCHS is a 9th to 12th high school serving 1,190 students. The two current schools are located in the Bridesburg section, as the middle school would be. FTCMS school would draw students city-wide using a lottery system. The proposed leased location is in the old Frankford Arsenal, Unit 215 at 2275 Bridge Street. The building is in “vanilla shell” stage and will need developed to accommodate a school. According to the application, that property would be leased from Franklin Towne High School.
After reading the application, attending the hearing, and researching the Franklin Towne company, I submitted this testimony to the SRC last month:
Please accept this as my testimony for the written record requesting the SRC vote No on the Franklin Towne Charter Middle School application. I have read the application, researched the existing schools, and attended the second Charter School application hearing on January 22, 2018. I am supporting my request with points that I don’t think can be ignored when weighing the merits of this plan.
It cannot be forgotten or ignored that the granting of any new charter will negatively impact the financial status of existing public schools. There have been legal opinions presented that justify rejecting charter school applications based on the financial needs of the district. You can revisit the testimony of David Lapp Esq., Public Law Center when he presented before the SRC here and here.
On the F.T.C. website, in their application, and in their concluding remarks on January 22nd, they tout the school’s academic success and award-winning status. However, that success comes at the price of segregation. The elementary school is a whooping 83% white and the high school is 75% white. They have virtually no ELL students since that falls below 1%. Their special education population is also less than district averages. Somehow, they have managed to create two segregated schools. These schools fail to serve student populations that compare to district student populations, yet they tout them as superior and now want to add a third school. For this reason alone, this application should not be granted. Our tax dollars should not be funneled into a charter company that has managed to produce two segregated schools and now wants a third.
Unless one has background and expertise in the circular financial dealings of charter schools, their management companies, and related non-profit holdings, it is difficult to decipher the financial picture of F.T.C.M.S. and its sister schools. In 2010, F.T.C. was cited by then City Controller Alan Butkovitz for circular real estate dealings.
Although the SDP Charter Schools Office does a much more thorough job of researching and examining these applications today, the fact remains that the same man is still in the middle of all these transactions for F.T.C. Joseph Venditti is the CEO of both schools and will be the CEO for the proposed middle school. He is also President of Franklin Town Holdings, LLC the for-profit entity which manages FTC. The education management company for Franklin Town was Nobel Learning Communities; Robin Englin was an executive of that company. But those services are now performed by Omnivest, which was founded by Englin. Englin is also the president of Mandell construction, and this is the company that does the construction work for F.T.C. This sure sounds very circular and very cozy. This is public tax money and as a member of the public, it is very difficult to understand where this money is going.
Mr. Venditti, the CEO and one of three founding members of this charter school group, is not an educator. He is an attorney. The superintendent of the entire Philadelphia school district, Dr. Hite, is an educator. Shouldn’t the CEO of these schools have a background in education? Mr. Venditti makes $260,000 dollars per year. His salary rose quickly and rivals the salary of Dr. Hite. Venditti is responsible for TWO schools. This is OUR TAX MONEY.
A second founding member, Patrick Field, (along with Venditti) was embroiled in a whistle-blower suit with a former employee. (Also see: Ex-principal of Franklin Towne charter files whistle-blower suit – Philadelphia Inquirer) It is hard to tell what the outcome of this case was but due to the nature of the allegations, it is incumbent on the district to know whether any settlement resulted and for what kinds of alleged actions before considering handing over more students to this company.
The third founding member, Eugina Koo, is the person of contact for the Richmond Community Development Corporation (RCDC). The RCDC is a 501C3 Non-profit with assests of $10 million and income of $1 million. The RCDC address is the same as Franklin Town Charter Elementary. As a tax-paying member of the community, why can I find so little information about what the RCDC is and its function?
Further, in trying to look for transparency. If you visit the F.T.C. website they list board members’ names only. There are no bios on these members—how do members of the public understand the board members’ education, work history, and connections? A letter of support was received from Councilman Bobby Henon for the proposed F.T.C.M.S. One board member, Christopher Creelman is Henon’s Director of Staff. Shouldn’t all this information be accessible and complete?
The application indicated a need for 18 classrooms, but apparently there will only be 17. There will be a continual shuffle of students in the gym to account for the remaining classroom, according to Mr. Field’s testimony at the hearing. There will be no dedicated art or music instruction but rather a “multimedia” program. That sounds like a poor substitute for real art and music. The measurement of the graduation rate seemed to be only for students who began in 6th grade. So, if half of the class dropped out, does that mean the graduation rate would be based on only the remaining students? If so, is this acceptable?
There will be no library but a “reading center” is mentioned which will also serve as the space for the reading specialist. The class size information was baffling. Some classes will hold 18 and some will hold 35 (which is over the contractual limit in district classrooms). It was not fully explained under what circumstances some children will be in classes of 35. A reference was made to gym having a larger student composition, but that doesn’t explain the large classrooms that will accommodate 35. It seems the Dean of Students, who will hold a Principal’s Certificate, will be the teacher evaluator in concert with administration. As a retired teacher, that sounds like an uncomfortable arrangement.
Mr. Field, in his closing remarks on January 22nd, claimed that adults cry at the lottery when their child isn’t selected for a seat at F.T.C. I suggest that there are many families in this city whose struggles are so significant that they do not even have the resources to cry over a lottery which they don’t have the means to apply but whose children would be left with even less financial resources if this application was approved. This application should be denied. The managers of the current two schools should be held accountable for their segregated student population, transparency of board members, and circular business practices. Members of the public deserve accountability and transparency.