Northeast: After Scandal Charter School is Moving Forward

Erin Robinson will be moving on to college after her senior year.]

Updated April 26, 2013 The School District of Philadelphia has announced it “will not recommend any expansions of charter schools to the School Reform Commission (SRC) for the 2013-14 school year in light of a $304 budget shortfall, and the necessity for shared sacrifice among all participants in public education.”   

Some charter schools in Philadelphia are up for renewal this year and Philadelphia Academy Charter School in Somerton is one of them. Since charter schools operate independently, they must go through a long process every five years to stay open.

Charter schools like Philadelphia Academy are publicly funded. They are just like public schools but get to pick their own board members and administrative staff. The monthly board meetings are open to the public for anyone to attend.

Philadelphia Academy is expected to be renewed.
Philadelphia Academy Charter School is expected to pass the renewal process for the next five years.

There are two types of charter schools. One is a brick and mortar charter school where students attend classes in a building. The other type is cyber charter schools where students attend online classes. Both are monitored differently. Brick and mortar charter schools in Philadelphia are watched over the School District of Philadelphia while cyber chart schools are monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Although the school district wasn’t able to comment on the charter renewal process, Philadelphia Academy’s chief executive officer, Larry Sperling, explained the “massive” documentation needed to get renewed. A charter school must submit the documents in hard copy as well as electronically.

“Gigantic,” Sperling said. “We’re in the middle of renewal right now. We did all of our work over the summer and into the fall and submitted our renewal application. Now we’re waiting to hear the decision of the school district.”

Sperling said the decision should come sometime this month. Philadelphia Academy and other charter schools must go through the renewal process the year before the new contract.

Larry Sperling has worked hard to get the school to where it is today.
Larry Sperling, PACS chief executive officer, has worked hard to get the school to where it is today.

There are seven sections of the renewal process each charter school must pass: an introduction, academics, finance, governance, customer satisfaction, modification and plans for the future. The charter school must prove it is doing well academically, correct management of money, parent and student satisfaction and if the school wants to change anything.

Sperling said he requested to have more students at Philadelphia Academy. He said he isn’t sure when he’ll find out if the school district will allow the school to go over the 1,125 student cap.

Sometimes charter schools are granted a one-year contract to prove they should be renewed for a full five years. Pennsylvania Department of Education Press Secretary Tim Eller said a charter school can get a full year to prove itself if there is inadequate data in regards to the academics of the school.

The charter school had to be renewed in September 2008 right after a scandal broke in April 2008. The school district gave the charter school a one-year extension because of the scandal.

“They could have easily not renewed us,” Sperling said.

During that year the school had to go through the normal charter renewal process along with 20 other conditions imposed by the school district.

Sperling said the school had to terminate anyone working there who was related to the people being indicted, cut the contract with the finance company serving the school and turn over the whole board.

Erin Robinson will be moving on to college after her senior year.
Erin Robinson will be moving on to college after her senior year.

Senior Erin Robinson said George Washington High School would probably have been the school for her if Philadelphia Academy wasn’t renewed.

“I guess Washington,” Robinson said, “because it’s free and it’s right by my house.”

Sperling said any school able to show the required documentation needed for renewal should be open for business. He said his expectations this time around are much better than in 2008.

“We have every expectation that we will be renewed,” Sperling said.

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