Good Evening. My name is Lisa Haver. I am a retired teacher and member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
The financial improprieties and fraudulent activities of Aspira Inc have been well documented in several stories in the Philadelphia Daily News. The following is from a December 2014 NewsWorks article by Bill Hangley “Aspira charter operator on thin ice, district says”:
Philadelphia School District officials say time is running out for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to resolve a host of fiscal concerns that could jeopardize its future as one of the city’s largest charter providers.
“We’ve had numerous requests for them to provide information and address those concerns,” said Lauren Thum of the district’s charter school office. “And while we received verbal indication that they are working on them, they have not submitted anything officially in writing back to us in response.”
Thum said the district’s concerns are significant enough that they could affect ASPIRA’s request to renew its charter for one of its five Philadelphia schools, Stetson Elementary – a process that will begin in early 2015.
Thum said that the situation had reached the point where officials are unable to say for sure whether ASPIRA is spending all of its charter school dollars in the schools themselves, or whether some is being siphoned off for other purposes.
“We can’t say for sure whether or not that’s happening,” Thum said.
That was over 18 months ago. But last week, when the SRC postponed its decision for the second time, we were told that attorney Ken Trujillo of the firm Schnader Harrison, whose role in this still is not clear, was going to take care of all of Aspira Inc’s problems in one week. Sometime before the public meeting, the SRC made the decision to withdraw the Aspira Inc non-renewal resolutions which Mr. Trujillo was #23 on the list to speak about, but he was brought up before the other speakers and engaged in a dialogue with the SRC commissioners for almost 30 minutes.* He stated that he had engaged in private discussions with SRC and district staff in the Charter School Office and the Office of General Counsel.
At last week’s meeting, it became clear that the Commissioner Green’s justification for postponing the vote in April until after the City Controller’s report—which only affirmed its own charter office findings—was simply a ruse to give Mr. Trujillo sufficient time to create the illusion that all of Aspira Inc’s problems have disappeared, including unwinding all of its “cross-collateralization”—which is a lawyerly way of saying fraudulently using taxpayer dollars.
The April presentation by Ms. Kacer showed that in three key areas—academic success, organizational viability and compliance, and financial health and sustainability—both Aspira Inc and Universal failed to meet most standards.
If the SRC is going to renew the schools against the recommendations of its own CSO and the City Controller, then it must present to the public all of the facts and data it is using to allow those companies to maintain control of these schools in the face of overwhelming evidence that they have not provided a quality education for its students.
Because the only conclusion to be reached at this point is that the SRC will do anything to make sure that once they give away a public school to a charter company, the community will never get it back. The SRC will put on any dog-and-pony show to protect the interests of the charter company owners and investors over those of the children. Including condoning the corruption of the owners and investors of Aspira Inc.