A plan to move three alternative-education programs to Germantown is now on hold.
For more than two months, officials with Camelot Schools have worked toward bringing students from Excel Academy North, Excel Academy South and Camelot Academy to the now-shut Germantown High School building.
Camelot wants to lease the four-story property from the Philadelphia School District, a longtime partner, for the next three years.
Camelot spokesman Kirk Dorn told NewsWorks that the district notified the for-profit company on Friday that the building was not ready for students.
“They can’t assure us that the Germantown High School building is completely safe, and they don’t have the capacity to inspect” it right now, Dorn said.
He said it may be at least two months before the district can visit the hulking property and give the green light.
The news halts a process that both Camelot and local lawmakers anticipated would be completed in time for the start of the school year, slated to begin Sept. 9.
Reaction to unexpected news
Both parties are disappointed about the delay.
“We determined that the facility was ideal for the programs. We feel we had won community support for our program,” Dorn said, noting that the need for an inspection was not previously discussed.
Camelot had received “conditional support” from Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and state Rep. Stephen Kinsey after several community stakeholders agreed to back its plan for GHS.
“After the process of engaging the community in this decision to allow Camelot to lease Germantown High School, we’re dismayed, we’re disappointed, that the district deems the building unsafe, but the safety of our students is of utmost importance,” said Joseph Corrigan, Bass’ spokesman.
A community benefits agreement was still needed for Camelot to receive full support; the legal document’s provisions were being finalized.
A letter was nonetheless sent to district Superintendent William Hite and School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos last week, signaling to Camelot that discussions about lease terms at GHS would begin.
A lease between Camelot and the district requires SRC approval.
A school-district spokesperson said a resolution to that end will not be voted on during the body’s Aug. 22 meeting, the last one scheduled before students return to class.
“At this time, The School District has not made a final recommendation regarding this issue,” said district spokeswoman Deirdre Darragh in an email.
For now, Dorn said Camelot will wait to see if the company can move students to the GHS property sometime soon. The company is not currently looking at alternative sites, he said.
“The ball is in the school district’s court at this point,” Dorn said.
Where will Camelot students go now?
In the meantime, current students will be divided between two sites with which Camelot had broken ties in advance of this school year.
A total of 435 students will return to the former home of Camelot Academy in North Philadelphia, a district-owned building.
The Jefferson Street property previously housed Camelot’s “transitional” students, who were removed from traditional middle schools and high schools for disciplinary infractions.
The site will now host 300 students from that program as well as 135 more from Camelot’s Excel programs, which serve “near dropouts” who need a substantial number of credits to complete high school.
Four-hundred more Excel students will return to the Friends Hospital campus in Northeast Philadelphia.
Camelot’s decision to move all of its stand-alone programs into one building was fiscally motivated.
Citing a decline in the per-pupil payout it was receiving from the district, Camelot said it could no longer afford to operate three programs at three different buildings.
“We’ll probably come out about the same under this model as we would moving to Germantown,” Dorn said.
After 99 years, GHS closed in June as part of the district’s facilities master plan, which was an effort aimed, in part, at addressing its ongoing budget crisis.
Declining enrollment, poor acdemic performance and the age of the GHS building were among the reasons the district recommended that the historic institution close.