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SRC renews five charters, adds 1,600 seats

By Benjamin Herold on Jun 22, 2012 09:29 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks


Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission renewed all five charters up for consideration Friday, but not before a sometimes brusque debate among the commissioners about the growing cost to the District of expanding charter enrollment.

Friday’s renewals and modifications added more than 1,600 charter seats to the District at a projected cost of $40 million over five years. District officials were not immediately able to provide an overview of the total number of charter seats added during this year’s renewal and modification process or how much those new seats are projected to cost.

High-profile charters including Mastery-Pickett, KIPP West Philadelphia, and Boys' Latin were among those renewed on Friday.

“I’m just happy it happened,” said David Hardy, CEO of Boys' Latin in West Philadelphia, which was granted 320 new seats and the right to add 6th, 7th, and 8th grades to its high school program. 

“We’ve been waiting a long time for it, and we think we’re ready for it.”

Also at the meeting, officials from Hope Charter, one of three earlier recommended for closure by the SRC, announced that they would not appeal and that the school would close at the end of the 2013 school year. Hope was established for at-risk students.

After some contentious dialogue among the commissioners, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter in Frankford also had its charter renewed – and was approved for Friday’s single largest expansion, 1,150 new seats.

Despite calling First Philadelphia “clearly a terrific school,” Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky voted against its renewal and expansion, arguing that the size of the recommended seat increase was too expensive and akin to approving an entirely new school.

“Instead of adding 1,000 seats at enormous cost to the District, I’d love to see you next year coming back for a Renaissance School,” Dworetzky told First Philadelphia’s founders, who also run Tacony Academy Charter and who were recently awarded management of Jones Middle School through the Renaissance process.

Commissioners Lorene Cary and Wendell Pritchett voted in favor of First Philadelphia’s renewal and expansion, but voiced similar concerns about cost.

Clearly frustrated, Chairman Pedro Ramos pointedly voted, “Yes, without reservation.”

Earlier in the meeting, District Deputy for Strategic Programs Thomas Darden said it costs the District roughly $7,000 per student, per year to add a seat to a traditional charter school. Dworetzky called that a “best-case” estimate.

Dworetzky, the chair of the SRC’s “Choice, Rightsizing and Turnaround” committee, then argued that converting low-performing schools to Renaissance charters is a wiser strategy. Darden said that approach costs the District roughly $800 to $1,000 additional per student, per year, and Dworetzky noted that wholesale charter conversions don’t “slowly bleed” students out of District schools, leaving stranded costs behind.

“If we don’t consider cost, we’re not doing our job,” he said.

Ramos responded that part of the cost of adding charter seats is the District’s fault for not better managing declining enrollment over the past 10 years.

After the meeting, City Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr said that figuring out a way to accurately calculate the cost-benefit ratio of adding charter seats is of critical importance. Shorr said she does “not have total faith” in the accuracy of the $7,000 per student, per year figure being used by the District for adding traditional charter seats, but expressed support for Dworetzky’s argument.

“I think we need to grow the capacity of folks who can do Renaissance [turnarounds], because [that] does have less of an immediate financial impact on the District,” said Shorr. 

“You’re really just moving the adults out.”

Money wasn’t the only factor brought up by the SRC before Friday’s vote.

Two of the schools approved for renewal without expansion, KIPP West Philadelphia and Tacony Academy, both had low School Performance Index (SPI) scores of 8 out of a possible 10.

KIPP CEO Marc Manella called his school’s scores the result of an “off year.” Though he had requested an additional 400 seats at KIPP West, the District’s charter office recommended renewal without expansion because of the school’s “mixed results.”

The commissioners also grilled several of the charter operators on the percentage of special education students served at their schools and about “barriers to entry” for enrollment, including confusing application packets and requests that families disclose their child’s disabilities before applying.

But ultimately, Dworetzky's “no” on First Philadelphia was the day’s lone dissenting vote, and the commissioners took pains to praise the charter operators in attendance for their schools’ strong performance.

Noting the dramatic before-and-after test score results at Mastery-Pickett, a former District middle school converted to a “neighborhood charter” in 2007, Dworetzky had a simple message for Mastery CEO Scott Gordon:

“Keep it up.”

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Comments (22)

Submitted by T.Mc. (not verified) on June 22, 2012 10:31 pm

Who's dumb enough to believe any of Mastery's scores and don't even begin to sugar coat Kenny Gamble's foolishness. It's the bizarro world comes to Philly.

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on June 23, 2012 7:29 am

Manella thought was quoted as saying it was an "off year"....well I'm glad the SRC took this as valid reasoning and renewed KIPP's charter regardless. What a joke...

Submitted by Concerned Philadlephian (not verified) on June 23, 2012 8:41 am

So, when SDP schools have an off year and a rating of "8" out of "10," will they also be give 5 more years? Ramos has one agenda - get rid of the unions and promote non-union charters. His antics in Harrisburg reconfirmed Ramos' agenda. The public schools made him extremely wealthy and powerful - now he is turning his back on public schools and promoting privatization.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 23, 2012 8:19 pm

The expansion of just these 1600 seats into charters will cost $40 million over 5 years. So, Mr. Darden, SRC, Mr. Knudson, Ms. Nixon, etc. - where is the money coming from for the expansion of charters? We are left with next to nothing in SDP schools yet the SRC is voting to expand charter seats. While teachers in SDP have to pay more out of pocket just for basic classroom supplies, we are told by Ramos that we have to give more and more. 1201 union is willing to give up $25 million yet Ramos and the SRC won't even talk to them. So, while 1201 gives up $25 million, the SRC, in one morning, increases costs by $40 million for a few more charters.

Am I the only one that has a problem with this picture?

Submitted by anon (not verified) on June 23, 2012 9:30 pm

“I think we need to grow the capacity of folks who can do Renaissance [turnarounds], because [that] does have less of an immediate financial impact on the District,” said Shorr.
“You’re really just moving the adults out.”

tell me again jerry jordan why the PFT endorsed nutter?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 24, 2012 8:18 pm

What a joke, KIPP has an SPI of 8 and they get renewed for 5 years. What a joke,
Give it 5 years and we'll see that this entire charter expansion test did not work., Abnd could Marc have not come up with anything better than "we had an off year"

Submitted by Sharon Newman Ehrlich (not verified) on June 25, 2012 12:23 am

How many years has the SDP been "off".

For what reasons???

Submitted by Ken Derstine on June 25, 2012 10:16 am

The reason SDP has been "off" for many years is inequitable funding compared to the rest of the state.

See this June 22nd Daily News Editorial: "True Cost Of Schools?":

Also see this article from the blog School Finance 101. Note where Philadelphia falls in inequitably funded districts on the chart.
"Which states screw the largest share of low income children? Another look at funding fairness"

The funding problems have become much worse since the state takeover of the School District and the setting up of the School Reform Commission ten years ago. Supposedly setup because of a financial crisis, the problems have become much worse largely due to millions being taken from the public schools for various privatization schemes such as the failed Edison Schools. This failed policy was pursued with even more vigor under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman due to her experiments with Promise Academies and Renaissance Schools. Her management, along with the SRC, is responsible for $300 million of the $664 million deficit in the just ending current fiscal year.

The other $300 million is due to the $1 billion statewide that Governor Corbett cut from education this fiscal year (even as he increased spending for prisons by $700 million). The largest cuts in his budget were to low income school districts such as Philadelphia.
Poor schools hit hardest by budget cuts in Pennsylvania

Submitted by Steve Schmidt (not verified) on June 26, 2012 1:57 pm

KIPP got too big too quick... They are also part of Andre Agassi's group.
Why give charters more money??? They operated better then 90% of the schoold. I am fortunate that my son is in MaST. It's a top 5 charter school in the country. Number 1 in 2009.. It's a top 10 school in the city and ranked in Philly Mag... Charter schools have a better relationship with the community...... Keep them comiing..... Maybe the union will wake up.....

Submitted by mihai (not verified) on June 4, 2014 4:37 am
This is good news. The cost is pretty big, but I think it's worth it. There are a lot of children who will now have a seat in class. asigurari
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 6, 2014 8:00 am

This failed policy was pursued with even more vigor under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman due to her experiments with Promise Academies and Renaissance Schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 18, 2017 10:56 pm

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