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Besides budget, SRC to consider charter renewals and contract for food provider

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In addition to adopting a budget for the 2014-15 school year, the School Reform Commission will vote Thursday on renewing three charter schools and extending the contract of a food service manager, according to a list of pending resolutions.

The charters that are up for renewal votes at the 4:30 p.m. meeting are Esperanza Academy, New Foundations, and Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter. All specify enrollment limits and come with other conditions.

The charter-renewal vote for Performing Arts was postponed earlier this year when SRC members were concerned that its enrollment did not reflect the District's diversity. The new charter agreement, for a five-year renewal, says the charter must submit an admissions policy by the end of July "to ensure that all students have equitable access" to the school and calls on its board to oversee efforts to increase the number of English language learners and economically disadvantaged students.

It lays out a series of steps including dissemination of materials such as flyers and mailings in multiple languages and open houses with interpretation services. It is also requiring board members to attend training about ethics, conflict of interest and the Sunshine Law.

Performing Arts, which has run a K-8 school in South Philadelphia for 15 years and recently opened a high school that is growing a grade at a time, is capped at 2,525 students.

Esperanza Academy, a 6th-through-12th-grade school, is proposed for a five-year renewal and an enrollment cap of 1,435 students. Among the conditions, the District is seeking to disentangle the leadership of the charter school and its managing organization, known as Esperanza. It is requiring that Danny Cortes, who is vice president and chief of staff of Esperanza and a former chief operating officer for the charter, resign from the school's board. It also says that the two boards should no longer overlap.

The SRC is also seeking an updated student discipline policy from the school, "particularly as it relates to repeated minor violations and zero tolerance policies."

For New Foundations, the SRC will vote on a five-year renewal, setting an enrollment cap of 1,289 for the next school year and 1,500 through 2019, "using its best efforts" to enroll 75 percent of its students from the catchment areas of surrounding schools. New Foundations is on Torresdale Avenue in the Northeast, which is one of the few city areas with school overcrowding.

In addition, the SRC will vote on changing the grade configuration of Maritime Academy Charter so it can add kindergarten through 3rd grade, making it a K-12 school with an enrollment of 820.

The commission also plans to vote on a $93 million contract with Maramont Corp. to provide three years of pre-packaged satellite meals to schools. It is calling this a "bridge contract" with the goal of giving at least 70 percent of students full-service cafeteria access by 2017, something that student groups have been pushing for. It is now 41 percent.

The SRC will also vote on an agreement of sale for the closed Alexander Wilson Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia for $3.6 million. It had originally voted to sell the property to Orens Brothers Real Estate Inc. for $4.6 million, but that buyer terminated the agreement after the SRC declined to grant it a lengthy extension to complete its "due diligence."

The new buyer, Woodland Associates, which was the second-highest bidder, has agreed to complete the due diligence within 30 days. The District is counting on income from property sales to balance its budget.

As part of that goal, the SRC also plans to vote on suspending part of the Pennsylvania School Code that designates proceeds from property sales to capital expenditures or debt service. Because of its dire budget situation, the SRC needs to use the proceeds for current operating expenses, the resolution says.

 

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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.