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2 June Brown charters are still in limbo; People for People charter amended

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The School Reform Commission approved an amended charter for People for People Charter School on Thursday, allowing it to expand from a K-8 to a K-12 school, as long as it doesn't increase its total enrollment.

But two charters founded by June Brown, who is now on trial in federal court on charges of fraud, did not get SRC approval, although both were on the agenda.

The long-delayed charter renewal for Laboratory Charter School was pulled from the agenda at the last minute, according to Superintendent William Hite, because of new information, just received, that he said "we have to research and analyze."

Parent Richard Weiss told the SRC that the school "deserved" to be renewed and that the community was devastated by the latest delay in approving a new charter.

The second school tied to Brown, Planet Abacus, was also overdue for renewal. But with only two votes in favor, the resolution failed. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky recused himself and Commissioner Feather Houstoun voted against the renewal, saying that she could not find up-to-date information on the school's website, including board members and how to apply for admission next year.

The SRC is short by one member since the resignation of former Chair Pedro Ramos, and three votes are still required to approve any resolution.

The proposed renewals for Laboratory and Planet Abacus contained stringent requirements that all ties with Brown be severed, as well as extensive fiscal controls and ethics policies.

Dworetzky questioned Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn extensively about why People for People was allowed to expand to include high school grades. He expressed concern that students might be pushed out in order to enable the school to add grades without expanding enrollment.

Kihn said that People for People, one of many charters that have not signed renewal agreements, had promised not to exceed its enrollment cap and not to ask the Pennsylvania Department of Education directly for payment for its students. Charters have been doing this, and PDE has been paying them for students in excess of enrollment limits.

Of the city's 86 charters, 32 are operating without signed charters, most due to disagreement over the District's imposition of enrollment caps. Kihn sent letters in October saying that unless the schools agree by mid-December, the District would take action that could include non-renewal or even revocation of the charters. 

Before last night, nine of that group had reached agreement and four others -- Imani, Arise Academy, Truebright, and Community Academy -- are in some phase of non-renewal hearings.

Among the remaining 19 that have not reached agreements, six are overenrolled, according to an accounting provided by District spokesman Fernando Gallard. Kihn said People for People was not overenrolled.

The District has been requiring charters to agree to caps so that it can plan financially. But the charter community is rebelling against the limits, and PDE says that the current charter law requires it to side with the charters and pay for disputed students.

Kihn said that he didn't expect to bring any more charter renewals to the SRC soon, because negotiations were "not very far along" with any of them.

The District is still in the process of trying to identify the whereabouts of 4,000 students who were expected to enroll in District-run schools this fall but did not. Officials have said that many have enrolled in charters -- which will cost the financially strapped District more money -- but officials don't yet know an exact number. 

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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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