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SRC delays Renaissance conversions, renews charters for five schools

By Connie Langland on Jun 20, 2013 12:34 AM

Strong-armed into agreeing to enrollment caps, five charter schools won five-year operating renewals in votes Wednesday night by the School Reform Commission, but five others still have not come to terms with District officials determined to contain costs in the midst of its fiscal crisis.

Funding uncertainties also spurred a decision by Superintendent William Hite to delay the conversion of three low-performing elementary schools — Alcorn, Kenderton and Pastorius — into Renaissance charters under the District’s school turnaround initiative. The SRC had been scheduled to approve assignment of Alcorn to Universal Companies, Kenderton to Scholar Academies and Pastorius to Mastery Charter Schools.

Hite said that the turnovers were tabled “because of the unpredictability of the budget situation” but that the plan would proceed apace “once we have a clearer picture of our revenue and our funding.”

That picture could sharpen soon as the city and state both move toward passing their own budgets by the end of this month.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn also stressed budgetary concerns in the District’s negotiations over charter renewals.

“Due to the extreme financial crisis … we’ve asked everyone to share in the sacrifice, including our colleagues in the charter community,” Kihn said. If all 16 schools seeking charter renewals this spring had won those seats, the costs to the District would have been $25 million in the first year and $220 million over five years, he said.

The schools winning approval to continue operations are Architecture & Design; Hardy Williams Academy; Mathematics, Civics and Sciences; Pan American; and Young Scholars. All signed contracts agreeing to enrollment caps, as did five schools who won renewals last month. Without such mutual agreements, charter schools have expanded unilaterally and contend that state law and legal decisions are on their side. 

Efforts to contain enrollments notwithstanding, the Hardy Williams Academy, operated by Mastery, will add grades and about 250 seats in coming years. The school this past year included grades K-9 and had an enrollment of 816 students, according to data presented at the meeting.

The SRC previously had voted to allow the school to expand through high school, with a 1,170-student enrollment cap, according to Kihn.

Among the schools still in talks over charter renewals is Freire, which is seeking to triple its enrollment, and Discovery, which recently agreed to repay the District more than $400,000 in a dispute over enrolling students above its agreed-upon cap. The SRC had threatened to revoke its charter entirely if the money wasn’t paid back. Discovery on Tuesday held a ribbon-cutting for its brand-new building with a capacity for 1,200 students.

At meeting’s end, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos announced it was being “recessed” rather than adjourned, with plans to meet again at 9 a.m. June 27 to reconsider the bare-bones budget and any developments at the city or state level to boost funding. The District is trying to close a $304 million gap and has laid off more than 3,800 employees.

More than 50 members of the public spoke, many to reiterate their dismay at the layoffs, cuts in school-based programs, and school closures. Several, including parent Adam Vistonto, urged expanding K-5 Bridesburg Elementary to a K-8 school. Otherwise, he said, the school is “at risk of losing its integrity and excellence” because there is “no acceptable option” for Bridesburg graduates at the middle-school level.

Several speakers, including teacher Brynn Keller, questioned why the novel, project-based Workshop School, with plans to expand to 500 students, was moving into the auto-tech building at West High School, rather than into one of the schools now in the process of being shuttered. “We wish the Workshop School the best of luck, but question why our students must pay the price,” Keller said. “There was no community input.”

Hite responded that there’s room for both programs and that the location is a “temporary” solution.

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Comments (36)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 5:08 am
How can the SRC compare achievement at a charter school to a public school without comparing the percentage of Special Ed students and ELL population? Why are charters allowed to expel students for infractions such as repeated truancy? Shouldn't that be a red flag for the SRC that they are manipulating their student population?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 5:41 am
The "barrier to entry" is supposedly also important. Khin's answers, as usual, were questionable. CHAD has had one of the most onerous application processes of any charter high school. Now, all of a sudden, that will change? Any past accomplishments were based on the barriers. Then, Khin describes the necessity of accepting a grant from the Dell Foundation which reads as if the only schools which will remain are charters. I assume this is the Boston Consulting Group plan. Have the details - with the names of the 60 schools to close - ever been made completely public? Was Khin/Hite hired to implement the plan?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on June 20, 2013 1:46 pm
You're missing the point, my friend. The SRC is not interested in fair comparisons of any sort. They are not interested in ALL the kids. You need to commit that to memory. After that, you'll be better off. Start with the premise that the SRC is a bunch of puppets. At times, you can even see the strings.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 5:24 am
Vernard Johnson - as usual along with "Mama Gail" - spoke at the SRC meeting. Johnson, who is tied to Blackwell, drove West High School into the ground. He is a total opportunist for Vernard Johnson. He is tied to Universal via Alcorn and now is aligning himself with KIPP to take over Wilson Elementary School which was closed by the SRC. Tonight, Johnson called for getting rid of the cap on charter schools. I don' t know who are the bigger fools - the SRC , Hite/Khin or Johnson???
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on June 20, 2013 11:25 am
They're ALL opportunists, my friend. This is a free for all where everyone is grabbing for whatever they can get. Vernard is ridiculous and everybody who knows him, knows that. He's not a serious person. He and Gamble are joined at the hip with Nutter nipping at their heals. It's all corruption and it won't stop until we stop it and it may well get ugly. Our other choice is surrender which Jordan is likely supporting. But at least, "he's shocked, just shocked."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 5:55 am
If there is no money, why is the Philadelphia School Partnership - oh, I mean the School District - opening a new MAGNET school ("Workshop School)?" Why are they displacing, last minute, West Philadelphia's auto program which is a CTE program? While they are laying off 3800 staff, the SRC/Hite/Khin/Philadelphia School Partnership has the funds to open a new school? Will the staff be from those laid off or will the four men (who are NOT SDP employees) continue to run the program they started with $1 million in grant / corporate funding two years ago? Certainly more questions than answers but that is Hite's / Philadelphia School Partnerships' modus operandi - we are to not ask and they will not tell... Shame!!!
Submitted by Anon. (not verified) on June 20, 2013 9:20 am
The Workshop School is a CTE program, not a magnet school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 10:48 am
The two years of the Workshop program had admission requirements - essays, interviews, etc. They took top students from neighborhood high schools. CTE schools have admission requirements - therefore, it is a magnet school. Only neighborhood schools have to accept all students in their catchment. West Philly High School can not turn away a student. The Workshop can select whoever they want and turn away - or dump as they did in 2011-2012 - any student they deem does not "fit."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 1:43 pm
If the Workshop School was a CTE program then all that would be taught there is Auto mechanics. They have bigger plans but need the West Philadelphia name to accomplish their ends. Sad to say that it might benefit Mr Hauger and a few but not the many from West Philadelphia
Submitted by Anon. (not verified) on June 21, 2013 10:48 am
CTE does not mean a program solely devoted to auto mechanics. It has a much broader definition. The School District of Philadelphia offers CTE Programs in over 40+ occupational areas, allowing students to acquire both technical (hands-on) and academic skills. http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/c/cte Please don't make things personal by criticizing the school leader. He is a proven, excellent educational leader and his devotion to his neighborhood, West Philadelphia, should not be called into question.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 20, 2013 9:07 am
The question which everyone needs an answer to is, Why is the SRC turning public schools over to any private entities such as Mastery, Universal, Young Scholars, String Theory and KIPP? Why is the SRC marching to the drummer of the privatization of the American schoolhouse? The SRC has very intelligent people on it -- I will say this to the SRC members again: We all need to think deeply about what it means to a democratic society when its public schools are taken over by private corporations which serve their self interests over the interests of the common good. The governor, the mayor and the SRC members all have a constitutional legal duty to provide for a thorough and efficient "Public" education system. It is time for all of us to be honest about what is really going on here and stop putting the self interest of those who want to profit off of our schools above the common good.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 20, 2013 9:50 am
Until we get that "apples to apples" measure, it is hard to prove that "democracy" is the better way. What's up with the PVAAS, Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System? I thought that was a better way to measure an individual child's progress?
Submitted by tom-104 on June 20, 2013 10:40 am
"it is hard to prove that "democracy" is the better way" The modern form of democracy was born in Philadelplhia. Who ever thought we would hear someone from Philadelphia say this? So all the people who have been fighting for democracy, in for the last hundred years and today, are deluded??
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 20, 2013 10:49 am
Effective democracy relies on a system of "checks and balances", as our founding fathers accurately anticipated. Just as true communism does not exist, where does true democracy exist today? I'm a pragmatist, and I believe that sometimes you need to use the weapons that are being used against you. If it is test scores, then use test scores. I believe in the "greater good" of sharing an effort, but this ethic does not come from "democracy" at all, which is no more than the governing of the majority. What if when we get this "apples to apples", it is shown that the SDP is not the better system? Of course you would still be correct, because the SDP is not a true democracy. Then we turn to the competition of the "market system" which some might say brings us closer to a true democracy. So again, you would still be correct, if this system is shown to give a better education to the children, if this is closer to a true democracy after all.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 21, 2013 9:54 pm
Effective schools also rely on an effective system of checks an balances among parents and the community, children, and school staff. Consistently high parental involvement serves as an important check on the employees of schools. When parents expect more, the principal and teachers will respond accordingly because they won't be able to get away with not doing their jobs. Schools with parents who have more capital---social, political, financial---also receive better treatment from the District. For example, the Penn Alexander community had their own meeting with Dr. Hite regarding enrollment issues at the school. I believe that some parents were also able to meet with Dr. Hite privately as well. Parenting and nurturing impacts how children act and differ considerably based on class and cultural background. Some parents encourage their children to fight back when someone messes with them because in some neighborhoods, this is a survival skill. This tendency to fight and handle conflicts physically contributes to safety issues in the schools. In some of the schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students, the dysfunction is a result of the breakdown in the checks and balances necessary for a well-functioning school. A principal who isn't very good exacerbates these problems with checks and balances. I saw this first hand at my current school. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 23, 2013 4:40 pm
Yes, Hite and Lynch were quick to describe their plans concerning neighboring Lea with Penn Alexander parents and have yet to meet with Lea parents to describe those same plans.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 10:56 am
Given that these draconian budget cuts will trickle down to the charters next year, it seems highly irresponsible for operators to break ground on new buildings that depend on increased enrollment to pay for them. I guess they think they're somehow immune to the disasters befalling the rest of the city's schools. If I had a student in one of these schools, I would reconsider if it truly had my child's best interests at heart.
Submitted by tom-104 on June 20, 2013 11:37 am
This is exactly the thinking that occurred during Ackerman's administration. She spent millions on Promise Academies, Renaissance Schools, and charters which the District did not have and now is a major part of the 12% of the School Budget that must go to debt service.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 1:20 pm
There is no money for schools but we are going to open a "Workshop"school? This school from the navy yard will displace West Philadelphia students and a needed CTE will be cut off from them. West Philadelphia students, in particular, Special education students will lose out. Special Education students have more to gain from a hands on auto shop. Is the "Workshop" school planning on hiring Special Education teachers or just winging it saying send them to us for a period a day. "Hite responded that there’s room for both programs and that the location is a “temporary” solution.", temporary for who??????? Obviously it's not temporary for West Philadelphia because once the "workshop" school is in place does he expect them to move ???
Submitted by Mark (not verified) on June 20, 2013 2:27 pm
"Hardy Williams Academy"?! LOLOLOLOL! I didn't know such a thing existed. Can you imagine saying that's where you went to school? How embarrassing.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 6:09 pm
Rich is exactly right- we need to question the takeover of a pubilc education system to private companies. Forget all the intracies for a minute, the concept is unnaceptable.. To those who say funding SDP is throwng good money after bad, we need to change that mindset to say let's use that money responsibly and constructively.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 6:36 pm
Ms Cheng - how about a nice simple post explaining your viewpoint? The verbosity obscures your point (whatever it is).
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 20, 2013 8:44 pm
O.k. I'll try: We are defending the SDP vs privatization on the premise of "democracy". We use "democracy" to mean "equality" and "equal opportunity", or "fairness" Democracy in this sense ("equality", etc.) depends on a "balance of power". Do we know which provides the better "balance of power", the bureaucratic structure of the SDP, or independent privately managed schools? We don't have an accurate measure of student growth for individual schools (PSSAs are not enough) so we don't know for sure. If it turns out that the "evil" privatizers are actually doing a better job, then they are upholding "democracy" more than the current bureaucracy. In short, what I'm trying to say is that arguing ideals to support broken structures just doesn't make sense.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on June 20, 2013 8:14 pm
Chuck Stone rides again !! Google him.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 9:51 pm
Thank you for the explanation thus allowing me to answer. My take is that you're not taking any stand whatsover except a muddled middle ground of "we'll never know" until... Furthermore that's a false choice, you can' defund and neglect the SDP for years then call it "a broken structure." That brokeness was created, there is no inherent harm in traditional public ecucation. Charters weren't started because public schools were failing (even though they need a lot of work) , that was only the rationale. Come to think oof it th rationale has been changed numerous times.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 21, 2013 1:21 am
So the Rendell years were "starving" years, and the Federal Stimulous funds were withheld from the SDP? My stand is about accuracy/truth. You base your argument on a politically incendiary ideal that if examined close enough is a good argument against the SDP. You use a handful of examples of misuse; whereas there are countless "minor" infractions in the SDP that don't make the news and that add up to a major imbalance of power that you are willing to overlook. Finally you attempt to harness the resentment and fear of a minority, the 1%. Pretty "low brow" tactics in my book. The ideal of shared effort and the "greater good" is not from the ideal of democracy. The ideal of democracy is about removing government oppression. Yes we don't have the right measure now, but we are getting there. What about the PVAAS? Is this not supposed to be a better assessment of a child's progress? Till then, how are we making assumptions? (Yes we are making assumptions, because all of us depend on this "starved" SDP for an income and measure of worth -it's not about ideals at all.) There is concrete evidence that charters are doing what the SDP should have been doing all along, with the same "starved" funds. Final point: are there any former charter proponents arguing that their school does/did not support democracy?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2013 10:54 am
I am having a difficult time equating test scores with democracy. There are many who criticize the SRC for its lack of transparency, including me--usually at SRC meetings. But I can attend their meetings and see what they are voting on. I can sign up to speak and say whatever I want about how they have failed the children of the city. Unlike City Council yesterday, they admit everyone who is on the speakers list, no matter how many people are in the auditorium. No question the SRC violates their own by-laws promising the public transparency when they meet behind closed doors with PSP and the Great Schools Compact Committee (which are pretty much the same entity at this point). So tell us how we can attend public meetings at charters and how we can find out who their private donors are and how we can speak to the board members in public. Then we can talk seriously about a balance of power. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 21, 2013 1:50 pm
Ms. Haver, it is true that charters have been cited for noncompliance with PA's "Right to Know" law. In addition, if I go to this website ,http://www.openpagov.org/education_revenue_and_expenses.asp , I am unable to pull up any data for the charters. So yes, they are not completely transparent. Areed, both the SDP and charters have transparency issues. My point is that until we have a fair measure of what makes a good school, we can't assume that charters are worse or better, simply because they are privately operated. Test scores are not fair nor a good measure of a school. I believe we agree on that also. I was hoping there would be some response to what the PVAAS has to offer. I certainly am not equating test scores to a democracy; although they are certainly an attempt at "equal standards". Also I disagree with the assertion that the use of private school operators would be the abandonment of democracy. This being stated as if the SDP currently supports democracy; and no suggestion as to how to remedy the fact that it does not. The current SDP structure tips the balance to a few appointed decision makers. Caregivers and families, even teachers have little real say, despite the token gestures, of being allowed to voice their opinions. Teachers are afraid to even do that. I do not see how an elected school board would change this much, especially if the conspiracy theorists are correct. Sorry but I liked the idea (suggested inherently by BCG) of breaking up the leadership of the SDP, into something other than the current hierarchical structure. Why couldn't groups of principals become the decision makers for their groups of schools? Though it might have presented other issues, the power structure would have created a better balance of power. Wouldn't groups of schools having a complaint to lodge against the superintendent have a better chance at getting their issue resolved, than a single principal acting alone? Likewise groups of teachers from more than one school? Having more than one decision maker, keeps more "eyes open". Then consider the balance of power with competing charter operators, e.g. Mastery, KIPP, Foundations, etc. who theoretically share a "for profit" motive. Let's also say they have entered into the arena of the selective admit schools in order to get the "easiest to teach" and "most lucrative" students. In having to entice this enrollment, they must now reach the caregivers who are more involved, giving these caregivers more power than the current SDP does. Is this a bad thing? For the record, I'm not a believer that the "free market" is the solution. In this case though, it is an improvement on having the SDP alone. Yes, agreed the SDP now faces having its "middle ground" involved families taken from its schools. Let's say, like Hope Charter, they are tasked with educating an even higher concentration of high needs students and Special Ed than before. So finally, it must be faced that these children need more than can be provided by just an educational institution. Why can't there be the pooling of Social Services money/services and education money in their case? Why can't we ask for greater funding for these children specifically? We go to the subject of community schools, and partnering with social services agencies, including those that are nonprofit as one way to achieve this. High ideals are fine, but when they are used to support a "status quo" structure which refutes those to begin with, to all appearances, that is simply self serving.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 22, 2013 2:26 pm
Ms. Cheng, I agree with you on arguing ideals. This is why I try to include sources and research in my posts. Although I agree with posters like tom-104, Joe K., and Rich Migliore, it is also clear that their points don't always convince you and others. It seems to me that you are looking for more evidence which supports their claims. I am not totally convinced that value-added measures are effective. I think that it's possible to inflate scores by teaching to the test. Also, schools can increase their VAM averages by trying to exclude students whose scores grow at a below-average rate. In other words, value-added systems may provide more incentive for schools to "counsel out" or expel high-needs students. Value-added models alone cannot ensure apples-to-apples comparisons. There is no way to parse out the impact of teaching from other factors, such as parental enrichment, tutoring, student motivation, and other factors. Also, as you have written previously Ms. Cheng, standardized test scores are a limited means of measuring student success. If I recall correctly, you mentioned the ability of your children to play an instrument and interact with people from diverse backgrounds as successes which test scores cannot measure. Here are some criticisms of value-added models: Leading mathematician debunks ‘value-added’ http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/leading-mathematic... The following is a page with some great resources about value-added measures from the LA Times: Value-added resources and research http://projects.latimes.com/value-added/resources/ Among the resources provided is the report "Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers" at http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/. I believe that the size of a school district may impact how well it functions. Every school district has a bureaucracy. Businesses, particularly large ones, have bureaucracy. But the size of a district like the SDP may itself be an impediment to change and improvement. In other words, due to the district's size, it's easier to hide and protect dysfunction and nepotism. Also, overall, there is less community involvement in the SDP than there is for some suburban districts. Some of the suburban districts are basically the heart or foundation of the community whereas the SDP plays a different role in Philadelphia due to the city's size, complexity, and diversity. EGS
Submitted by Urban teacher (not verified) on June 20, 2013 9:34 pm
Does anyone know how much is the annual principle and interests costs for a 60,000,000.00 loan? Who is paying for Audenreid High School's annual $60,000,000 (principle & interests) bond costs, Universal or the SDP?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2013 10:11 pm
Well, at a recent SRC meeting it was disclosed that Universal is still fighting the SRC on paying the full rent for Audenreid. The did not have to pay rent in the first years that they took over the new building due to a "verbal agreement" with Arlene Ackerman. So this might be a clue.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2013 4:32 am
We need to know how much Universal, Mastery, Young Scholars, etc. pay for ALL the schools they operate in - but especially Universal. If they aren't paying the full cost - plus the interest rate on the new buildings - then we, the taxpayers, are being ripped off!
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on June 21, 2013 7:06 am
We are still being ripped off by Universal. At the SRC meeting when Renaissance charters were discussed, the charter school office said they were "still negotiating" over the Universal Audenreid building. That is why Dworetzky said they should not get Alcorn until that matter was resolved. The rest of the SRC members overruled him--the fix was in.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2013 7:51 am
The SRC are the whipping boys of William Hite. They think they are making decisions and they have already been made. The SRC is today to take West Phila Auto and give it to the Sustainability workshop. Mr Hite says its temporary. It is a done deal. They already have students not from West Philadelphia and are asking for teachers on the school district web site. Why ask for teachers if the SRC hasen't voted yet. This was a done deal as soon as Mr Hauger ,not a school district employee, said he had 1.5 million and he needed a school. Sad to say in Philadelphia money talks and the students from the Automotive Academy will be crushed in to the main bldg of West Philadelphia like 9th graders having to start all over again even though they are in 11th and 12th grade. The poor 9th graders who have chosen Auto for a career will see their hopes dashed since the "workshop" school already has 60 incoming 9th graders.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2013 8:58 am
The "Workshop" is special admit. Hauger brags about their college going rate. Big deal when you only take high performing seniors who are already going to college. As you said, Hauger is about Hauger just as Hite is about Hite. The "Workshop" is not a model to replicate since it is special admission. Hauger, in his words, only wants students who "fit."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2013 2:44 pm
Areed, both the SDP and charters have transparency issues. My point is that until we have a fair measure of what makes a good school, we can't assume that charters are worse or better, simply because they are privately operated >Ms Cheng Good grief: "if , "when," we can't," "we don't know," "what is Democracy"? Not exactly the makings of an advocate or activist.

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