Testimony of Lynda Rubin at the Board of Education Budget and Action Meetings, April 25, 2019

Budget Meeting

The Costs of Charter Schools to the District

The Charter School Office (CSO) notes on its own web-page that the PA Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus they are not required to review amendment requests from charter schools. And yet, the CSO always does; but I’m sure this is not without administrative direction. The SRC routinely passed amendment requests to increase both a charter school’s enrollment and grade levels and to allow them to re-locate to not only other buildings, but to other parts of the city. I hope that the Board will take more care in making these decisions.

Charter schools ask for three types of amendments both at and between renewal evaluations – in other words as soon and as often as they can:

  1. Enrollment increases – Have you ever added them all up, just to check on perhaps the unintended, but foreseeable, consequences down the line? Do you check to see how many students a school has been allowed to add in past years and when those requests were made? I really don’t understand why Marianne Bracetti Charter was given yearly enrollment increases through 2020-2021 just last year, and now they’re asking for more.
  2. Expansion of Grades to be served – including taking a K-4 all the way up to K-12 or vice-versa. Expansion of grades served is simply another way to ensure increasing enrollment numbers in the future.
  3. Relocation to not only another, usually larger buildings, but also to a different part of the city with little more rationale other than we can have a bigger, better school. I’ve heard that a charter’s ability to grow has actually been used to support such location changes. Whatever happened to the original application process when new charters had to justify their commitment to a specific neighborhood and the community’s interest in having them there. Do we no longer care? The Board has a responsibility to the community the school serves now and to the community and surrounding public schools in the area to which they want to go. How has it come to be so common that students even in K-1, K-4 and K-8 schools are shipped across town? In whose interests are these moves?

Whatever happened to the fiscal responsibility edict of “We can’t afford it.”? I’m asking you to rethink this process. Uri Munson repeatedly states that charter school costs take up one third – and counting – of the District’s yearly budget costs. Yet rarely are charter amendment requests denied. Where do you think these students and their state fees are going to come from? What will be the ancillary costs to the district, including busing and stranded costs? What will be the effect to neighborhood schools in the old and new locations as well as to the District as a whole?

You are the stewards of the entire school district. That includes the health and welfare of the original public schools and their students as well as those of charters.

Action Meeting

Opposition to Action Item 3

I spoke at the earlier Budget Meeting to implore this Board to put a hold on charter amendment requests to admit more students, expand grade levels to be served and to stop the business plan model of expansion by relocating to other parts of the city than the neighborhoods they signed up for. The Charter Law does not provide for amendments to charters. Therefore, the District is under no obligation to approve any amendments.

I have questions about due diligence of the CSO and Board’s oversight if you approve Lab Charter’s relocation amendment request. Let me cite from the CSO recommendation:

  • First, the recommendation is pending until verification that the “current tenant vacates the premises in time.” If the current tenant is Eastern University Charter which the SRC voted to non-renew 1 ½ years ago and which has still not been scheduled for its hearing by the Charter Appeal Board – thereby allowing this failed school to remain open ad infinitum – you’ve got a problem and the vote shouldn’t be held. Perhaps Lab Charter just wants this relocation approval in its back pocket for future use. If it’s not Eastern University Charter (grades 7-12) and that school remains onsite in addition, then the Board should vote against creating this new Charter Mall Complex which will be comprised of at least 3 different schools, including the new Hebrew Charter, altogether with students from 5- 17 years of age from 32 zip codes.
  • Next, “Moving to a single, larger facility would allow the Charter to serve its maximum authorized enrollment…” Why was Lab Charter previously given approval for enrollment increases if they couldn’t accommodate them in their current buildings?
  • Again from the recommendation: “to potentially improve its long-term financial sustainability…”. You’re recommending the uprooting of over 1000 K-8 students from 3 Lab Charter schools to send them to a non-neighborhood facility to potentially improve its financial stability? Lab Charter has a history of problems, including the federal arrest of their initial CEO for fraud in 2012 and continuing to the SRC’s non-renewal consideration in 2017 over its organization and financial practices. This is a school you want to bet on so soon?
  • Lab charter did not do sufficient outreach to assess the impact on any of the neighborhoods, old or new. They may not care about potential damage to the stability of their former neighborhoods to have 3 abandoned schools sitting in them – or turned over to developers for a bargain basement price, as with Germantown HS and Fulton Elementary School – but you should.

Charter schools bleed money from the District’s budget and obviously don’t feel any compunction to work in conjunction with District public schools.

This Board needs to stop approving all new charter applications and to not vote for any new amendment requests until it has done a risk assessment on charter effects on existing neighborhood public schools and their communities.