Testimony of Lisa Haver to the Board of Education, June 27, 2019

For some bizarre reason a rich white man was given control of 2 public schools in a predominately African-American neighborhood about 20 years ago. Michael Karp is not and was not an educator and had nothing to do with education. He was given those schools because he was rich. The whole idea was for him to use his wealth to help these schools. So why hasn’t he done that to keep those buildings in good repair? Why would he only do that if he—actually, the board he just created and placed himself on—could own the building?

APPS has sent letters and given testimony in the 2 months since this was announced. Belmont charter failed to meet standards in all major categories in the 2017 evaluation and was cited for barriers to enrollment and expelling students for minor offenses. Although a catchment area school, less than 50% of its students come from the catchment area. It is disturbing to see how quickly the CSO and the Facilities office were dispatched to move this transaction along. The renewal Karp refused to sign for 2 years was fast-tracked, negotiated behind closed doors, and approved by the Board last month. The facilities office reported that a closing date has already been set. Maybe the community should have hired Karp to demand that the District fix the toxic buildings and install air conditioning; it might be done by now.

No reason has been given for the sale of this public building other than the Karp-led Belmont board wants it. The Board should vote No on this Item.

It is also disturbing that the Board is about to vote to give MaST charter company another 650 students, which in the non-charter world is another school. There are schools in the MaST II zip code with enrollments less than that. MaST will be poaching students from those public schools, thus driving up stranded costs for the District. I was surprised that no Board member at the last Student Achievement Committee questioned this massive enrollment increase when the CSO said it was recommending it. The questions were about whether MaST had withdrawn its MCSO application and whether it will be applying for a new charter anytime soon. APPS has objected to the Board directing the CSO to engage in private negotiations with charters. Now I am wondering whether we have crossed the line from negotiation to extortion. Was a deal made that if MaST withdrew its MCSO the Board would give them another 650 students—which brings it up to the number it asked the SRC for 3 years ago? Where was the public engagement? Were public meetings held with families in the Lawncrest area where MaST II currently operates? Or in the Tacony area where MaST is now constructing a massive new complex to accommodate its expansion?

Universal Audenried was recommended for non-renewal in 2016. The SRC postponed it until 2018. The Board took another year to deal with it. The Board directed the CSO to negotiate a settlement with Universal, so now the school gets a retroactive renewal even though it failed to meet academic standards across the Board. Its last 3 SPR scores—0, 0 and 0.

When the Board directs the CSO to negotiate with MaST, with Belmont, with Audenried, it would seem that those matters have already been decided. When only the charter schools whose operators agree to sign the new charters are put on the agenda and the remainder are not held accountable? Does it really make a difference what parents and community members say here?