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Renaissance charter operators respond about facilities costs

By Guest blogger on Feb 28, 2012 02:11 PM

This guest blog post comes from three Renaissance charter operators in response to a recent Notebook story reporting that the District is incurring significant facilities-related expenses at its Renaissance charter schools.

The article claiming that the District is “eating millions in facilities costs” at Renaissance Charters is misleading.

The facts are:

  • Renaissance Charters’ facilities agreements require that the charters pay for the operating costs of the buildings. That means that the maintenance, cleaning, and utilities costs that the District used to pay are now paid for by the charters.

  • Charters do have the choice to purchase those services from the District or buy them elsewhere. Every dollar we can save by finding lower cost services is another dollar we can spend on Philadelphia’s students instead.

  • Capital costs, such as bond payments on District buildings, are funded by the District’s capital budget since the buildings still remain District buildings, Importantly, the revenue for those capital funds also stays with the District – it is not included in the charter reimbursement formula -- so the money doesn’t flow to the charter even if the building is run by a charter. In short, the District’s capital costs are the same before and after a school is turned around by a Renaissance Charter. There is no loss in capital revenue and no increase in capital expense.

  • Renaissance Charters have actually invested millions of privately donated funds into the buildings – saving taxpayers millions and providing students a better learning environment.

Renaissance Charters save taxpayer money in other ways. They only target the lowest performing schools that are typically under-enrolled, require extra security, and enroll many high needs special education students. Renaissance Charters absorb all these costs without additional funding or subsidies.

But most importantly, Renaissance Charters give taxpayers their money’s worth by reversing years of chronic academic failure and violence and reestablishing high-quality neighborhood public schools. Indeed, as the Notebook has reported, in their first year, Renaissance Charters posted double digit increases in test scores and dramatic decreases in violence – while enrolling the same neighborhood kids. That is a win-win for everyone.


Scott Gordon, CEO, Mastery Charter Schools

Alfredo B. Calderon, President and CEO, ASPIRA, Inc. of PA

Lars Beck, Scholar Academies

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Comments (27)

Submitted by Paul Socolar on February 28, 2012 12:00 pm

A note from the editor: The Notebook has requested from both the District and its Renaissance charter operators copies of all existing facilities license agreements and information on how much each operator has paid for use of each District-owned facility in which it operates. To date, none of this information has been provided. That information would help clarify the competing assertions about the cost to the District.

The Notebook stands by its reporting that the District is incurring significant facilities-related costs at its Renaissance charters. As the original story highlights, one portion of these costs is the result of personnel expenses borne by the District as a consequence of its own decision to allow charter operators to purchase services such as building cleaning and snow removal in the private market. The District could not immediately lay off the maintenance employees displaced by any outsourcing. The District also has ongoing borrowing costs for capital expenses incurred for the construction and maintenance of its buildings and renovations/improvements. In the absence of a usage or rental fee from the Renaissance providers, the District carries the full burden of the costs resulting from its capital expenditures on these buildings.

The Notebook welcomes further information and commentary from both the District and its Renaissance operators about the costs associated with converting low-performing public schools to charters, especially as the School Reform Commission prepares to consider expansion of the Renaissance initiative.

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on February 28, 2012 4:51 pm

I noticed the letter is not signed by Universal Co. The Notebook reported Universal pays nothing for Vare / Audenreid. Is this still the case?

Also, Mastery and Aspira has acquired a number of SDP buildilngs without paying a dime. Yes, they may have made renovations, but $1 - $2 million in renovations is still much cheaper than charter operators who have to purchase a building. Mastery and Aspira are getting off "cheap." I would love to see "the books" for Aspira and Mastery to compare with the SDP. The SDP was short sighted in allowing the charter operators to not use SDP personnel - at least for a year - so we, the taxpayers, don't have to assume the costs.

Also, the loss of SDP, union paying jobs has a ripple affect on Philadelphia. Mastery and Aspira are notoriously anti-union. If Philadelphia is going to move from an impoverished city to a living wage city, charter operators have to pay union wages / benefits and recognize collective bargaining rights/ due process.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 28, 2012 5:06 pm

The main purpose of charters is lowering the living standards of school employees by destroying the union rights of public school employees. They will fight unionizing tooth and nail because making a profit for the owners is their main purpose and unionization goes against this. Just look at the biographies of the Philadelphia School Partnership Team which is overseeing the turnaround of public schools into charters if you doubt this is so.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 8:42 pm

Really? Geez, and here I was thinking that the main purpose of my charter was to educate our young students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 8:26 pm

Profit? Huh? Do you even know how a charter school, and any other nonprofit organization for that matter, works?

Did you look into the fact that charters pay their staffs the same or more compared to the District?

Submitted by tom-104 on February 29, 2012 8:17 pm

What is your source for this information? Also, not all charters are non-profit.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 1, 2012 12:55 pm

Remind me which one of the Renaissance charters are for profit?

Wish conversations about improving Philadelphia schools were more about what's best for kids and less about ideological battles, labor rights, and what's best for adults...

Nothing wrong with labor rights, just wish you'd focus your efforts on industries where workers could really use the support, where there is genuine exploitation for the sake of profit, etc. Maligning nonprofit organizations and charter schools isn't where I'd focus my fire if I was really concerned about labor issues, but that's just me...

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on March 1, 2012 1:38 pm

Many of those employed by 1201 union are the parents / grandparents of our students. Don't you care about their well being?

Charter operators - profit and non-profit - care about the bottom line. The hate unions because unions provide any buffer against the bosses. I have seen first hand how charter operators without unions bully their employees.

I have a personal (children) and professional (occupation) investment in the successful of Philadelphia schools. I go above and beyond... but I also respect worker's rights and the contributions of unions. Those in power don't want to share power - that is why charter operators oppose unions.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 1, 2012 1:40 pm

I think arguments for labor rights should be made on their own merit instead of bringing our kids into it.

Not sure what you mean when you say that charter operators care about the bottom line when by definition a nonprofit doesn't have a bottom line other than making sure that it doesn't run a deficit. Are you saying that people, despite the law and everything we know about how nonprofits work, are actually walking away with a profit?

And yes, I think it is possible that the interests of a District employee can be opposed to the educational interests of children. They can also be in line with each other. The point is that they're not the same thing and they should be dealt with on their own terms and on their own merit.

Those who work for charters don't feel exploited any more than District employees feel exploited by the District--in fact, employee morale is much much higher at the Renaissance charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 8:02 pm

Please be serious. These profiteers wouldn't be in the charter business if they had the overhead bills you mentioned. This is all fixed as they used to say. Nutter and his buddies have colluded to strip the real schools of dollars so the corporations can call the shots in Philly. Oh, by the way, he just got reelected. We're dead meat and by the way, The PFT is likely complicit too otherwise they'd be screaming. They're silent so.......Black, Proud and have never seen anything to compare with this in 50 years here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 9:44 am

I can only speak for Aspira. I have worked with both the district and Aspira. The pay and benefits are basically identical. The only difference is that the working hours are slightly longer, which can be tough. The benefits out way that compromise. The environment is a pleasant one to work in. We have systems in place for dealing with the extremely difficult students the district had no way of dealing with (we don't kick them out, we have a discipline academy). I know that change is tough, but Aspira really is doing a good job of educating our children. I am proud to work for them!

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 10:53 am

By placing students in a "discipline academy," you are isolating them and kicking them out of the regular program. If you do this with students with an IEP, you may be violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act since students are to be placed in the "least restrictive environment." Sure, schools would be easier if the "problem" students were removed to a "discipline" academy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 11:20 am

Students who are placed in the Success Program are serviced if they have an IEP. They receive instruction in all the areas that they otherwise would be getting. The most impressive aspect is that you see students who would rarely attend class before or would have disrupted a class sitting and learning. They truly use restorative practices to empower students. It really is something to help students. Maybe you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it yourself.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 2:21 pm

Perhaps you are unaware that PSD outsources a lot of the education of its students to private alternative education placements. The fact is, those "discipline academies" you speak so negatively about actually help these students rehabilitate and eventually return to their regular classroom, in lieu of getting kicked out.

Also, you shouldn't use this forum to give legal advice, as you clearly do not know what you're talking about. There are plenty of IEP students in these placements, with valid and measurable IEPs. Some students need care and attention as opposed to what they would receive in the "regular" placement in the district.

The best part of your comment is the last sentence, which implies that all students should be subjected to a school culture where the "problem" students aren't removed! I sure as heck don't want students with a penchant for violence sharing the halls with my children.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:27 pm

You're sanctioning segregation - congratulations!

Submitted by Brook Lenfest (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:44 am

Maintenance is not a capital expense and if they could'nt match their workforce to the work that needs to be done it is their fault.

As far as legitimate capital expenses say for permanent improvements or FF&E you should have visited the schools while the District was running them. In most cases there were no capital improvements made under the District. Not since the 1920's anyway.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:23 am

Mr. Lenfest - You are part of the 1% and it consistently shows. The difference between earning $9/hour or $13/hour with benefits does not matter to you but to many workers it makes a difference.

Mastery should be paying rent for the building they occupy. To say there were no capital improvements since the 1920s is another one of your lies.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on February 29, 2012 1:00 pm

The District has a huge backlog of deferred maintenance, but the amount it spends annually in the form of capital expenses for renovations/improvements is significant - new boilers, roofs, windows, electrical systems, etc. I've clarified in the initial comment that this is what we meant by capital expenditures on building maintenance.

During the peak of the Vallas capital plan, that spending represented about $300 million districtwide annually for several years running, and many schools like Gratz got investments of $10 million or more during the 5-6 years of peak spending.

The District now spends about $250 million annually on debt service for its buildings. That works out to about $1 million per school. It may sometimes look like no money's been invested in renovations since the 1920s but that's not true.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 29, 2012 10:09 pm

 I am confused by groups that respond to  RFP's for buildings that they proclaim deficient in maintenance, that then cry poor about having to spend private or SIG dollars on upkeep. One would think that if you did not want to bother with spending money on boiler rooms and roofs you would fund your own building without such "problems". The SDP could surely stop giving schools away and use other Federally Funding Turnaround Models.

Also, while I agree it is the SDP's fault if they give away a school and not plan accordingly with how to distribute 1201 employees, I do not agree that charters can wash their hands of the impact on the public school system. If you are really worried about making sure all our taxpayer dollars go to support he kids, than logically you would not enter into agreements that create jobs without work, right? Or is only one side culpable in this situation?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 28, 2012 1:17 pm

If they are using the buildings they should be paying rent. Other charters that I know of pay close to 1 million a year on rent to building owners plus the maintenance expenses. Another option is to let them buy the building at fair market value

Submitted by LP (not verified) on February 28, 2012 2:27 pm

why charter operators that serve in this areas have to pay rent wen the school district retain a %t of the federal and state money bye student?

Submitted by LP (not verified) on February 28, 2012 2:50 pm

why charter operators that serve in this areas have to pay rent wen the school district retain a %t of the federal and state money bye student?

Submitted by CR (not verified) on February 28, 2012 3:21 pm

Really LP? I think you need to go back to school.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 28, 2012 7:21 pm

 So the first fact is not a fact at all. If the CMOs want to blame the District, fine, but I would expect people to know the labor agreements of 1201 when they start giving away/taking over schools. I was there was a subsection of fact two which reads, we have the choice to hire another CEO, CAO, lawyers and everything else a stand alone school district, like any charter network is, needs. Charters were not created to save taxpayer money, they were suppose to be innovation centers. 

Submitted by mec (not verified) on February 29, 2012 10:31 am

The letter/column states that the charters "absorb all the costs" of schools that have high special ed populations. What percentage of students who enrolled in these charters have IEP's? I believe in some of the recently "renaissanced" schools, the percentage of special education students had been near 30%.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 11:16 am

This is double speak. They are getting a deal on the buildings that no private landlord would give them. They are market orientated when it serves their purposes but on this they are socialist Pigs eating at the public trough.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on February 29, 2012 1:32 pm

But let's be clear, first, charters also "save" money by hiring brand new, inexperienced teachers and not keeping teachers for along time - therefore not having experienced teachers. Second, finding cheaper sources for school maintenance, etc. ultimately hurts our community as we wind up with lower paid workers with fewer benefits in our city. And finally, charters DO NOT do "better" with the same amount of money. Some of them get large infusions of investment from private investors and corporations. Why aren't these people paying their fair share in taxes so we can have a truly quality public school system?

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