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Charter school leaders antsy over delay on expansion vote

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While the School Reform Commission is planning to vote on 11 charter school renewals Wednesday, it has announced that it won't get to the requests of 22 charters to change their grade configuration or expand. The next SRC meeting is August 15, which is late for planning for a school year that starts in September.

Charter schools are frustrated. CEO of KIPP Philadelphia Marc Mannella sent out an email Monday that said "if there is no vote on June 16, KIPP Philadelphia's high school and elementary school will not open in the 2010-2011 school year."

Benjamin Rayer, chief of the District's Charter, Partnership and New Schools Office, said that SRC members want to get renewals finished before considering any expansions. Some members want to know how much money the District will get from the state and whether the charter school reimbursement rate is reduced before committing to expansions, he said.

Rayer said that 28 charter schools had applied for expansion, and 22 of them were deemed qualified.

The state has not yet approved a 2010-11 budget, and the final amount of state basic education aid is a matter of contention.

"We're trying to do it as fast as we can," Rayer said.

Mannella urged supporters of KIPP to call SRC members and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and to flood the meeting on Wednesday. "We are not going to sit idly by as the desires, hopes, and dreams of our families and communities are ignored," he wrote in an email to supporters. He said that 300 students are on high school and elementary school waiting lists. KIPP now runs two middle schools in the city. "There is no second chance for these 300 children to attend a KIPP school -- this is their final shot," he wrote.

Other charter operators have been reluctant to speak out, but say that August 15 is too late to buy materials, renovate space, and adequately plan for the next school year.

The SRC is scheduled to hold a meeting in mid-July to deal with short-term borrowing and could conceivably add charter expansion to the agenda then -- which could be after a state budget is adopted, should the Legislature meet the June 30 deadline. But that has not happened in any of the seven years Ed Rendell has been governor and the odds of it happening this year are debatable.

It is also conceivable that the SRC could decide not to renew some of the charters, which would open up some seats for expansions.

The 11 include some of the city's biggest charter success stories and some that have struggled.

Schools up for renewal are:

  • Delaware Valley Charter HS
  • Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures CS
  • Independence CS
  • Mastery CHS (Lenfest Campus)
  • Mastery CS - Thomas Campus
  • Northwood Academy CS
  • People for People CS
  • Richard Allen Preparatory CS
  • Russell Byers CS
  • Wakisha CS
  • Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners CS

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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