Philadelphia’s school board is failing children with its lack of charter school oversight | Opinion

The playground at Universal Daroff Charter School, which closed just before the 2022-23 academic year began
Aubri Juhasz / WHYY

The following commentary was written by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver and published by Billy Penn on September 19, 2022

Students and families at two Philadelphia schools thrown into chaos just before the academic year have yet to hear those who could have prevented it take any responsibility.

Instead of providing explanations for what happened at Bluford and Daroff — the latter was shut down, and the former will close at the end of the year — Universal Companies, awarded charter contracts for the two West Philly elementary schools over a decade ago, has stonewalled those school communities.

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Board Accepts No Responsibility for Charter Debacle

Special Meeting of the Board of Education: August 26, 2022

by Diane Payne

The August 28, 2022 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on the emergency at Daroff and Bluford charter schools previously managed by Universal Education Companies, reported:  “School board officials said the schools’ demise resulted from repeated instances of adults failing children.”  The Board made clear at this meeting that those adults don’t include them.  

Universal Companies Abandons Two Charter Schools
The Board called this special meeting, with the legally required minimal notice buried the day before in the Inquirer and a brief notice on their website, to approve agreements with the individual boards of Bluford and Daroff charter schools.  President Joyce Wilkerson and Board Members Mallory Fix Lopez, Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater and Sarah-Ashley Andrews attended in person; Leticia Egea-Hinton, Julia Danzy, Chau Wing Lam and Cecelia Thompson  remotely. Superintendent Tony Watlington, after answering the initial roll call, stated he is “still in a learning phase”, then remained silent for the duration of the meeting. 

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Board Renews Charters without Public Hearings

The Philadelphia Board of Education is just days away from renewing several charter schools, many of which have not met the basic standards set by the Board. The Board’s policies and practices ensure that the public has fewer opportunities to testify on how renewing the charters affect their neighborhood schools. The Board will also be voting to expand the enrollment of Keystone Academy Charter by over 40%, again with no public review. At its May action meeting, the Board added a Charter Schools Office presentation to the agenda just hours before the meeting convened and after they closed the window to sign up to testify. The Board holds no renewal hearings as other districts in the state do. Yet the Board will be voting to renew most of the twenty-two schools in this year’s cohort. Anyone who spoke at the May meeting–not knowing that the Board would be voting on the renewals next month– may be barred from speaking in June.

by Lisa Haver

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Will Board Cancel Contracts without Explanation?

Ears on the Board of Education: April 21, 2022

by Diane Payne

Over the years, APPS members and others have testified about the barriers to finding basic information on the District website, for content as well as for technical reasons. There is too often a lack of straightforward and honest presentations. The agenda for this action meeting is another such example. Omitted from the agenda posted online and distributed at the meeting, again, were the legislative update given by Board Member Fix Lopez, the Parent and Community Advisory presentation given by Board Member Thompson, and the Student Representative presentation given by Rebecca Allen. None of these were about issues that had just arisen. The agenda also failed to include dollar amounts for Item 8, Item 9 and Item 28. This may lead observers to think these are no-cost items. In fact, Action Item 8 totalled $15 million and Item 9 totaled $16.9 million. Item 28, a 5-year renewal for Mastery Shoemaker, will cost the District a minimum of $50 million. The Board has a duty to inform the public of how they are spending public funds.

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