FBI probe leaves students, staff at Delaware Valley High School in limbo

With about a month to go before the first day of school, it remains unclear whether the Philadelphia School District will extend its contract with Delaware Valley High School — and if not, where the 300 students at the private, alternative school’s campus in East Falls will go.

Delaware Valley High School (DVHS), with campuses at 4333 Kelly Dr. and 6404 Elmwood Ave. in Southwest Philadelphia, is one of several independent operators that run alternative programs for students with social and behavioral problems under contract with the school system.

Its owner, David T. Shulick, is also involved in an ongoing FBI investigation, reported to be into connections between the school and Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr., son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

In February, federal agents removed files from Fattah Jr.’s and Shulick’s offices, and from the school district; last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer cited anonymous sources in reporting federal agents were examining whether Shulick’s hiring of the younger Fattah for consulting work helped DVHS avoid school district budget cuts.

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FBI agents also talked to key DVHS staffers, one employee who asked not to be identified told NewsWorks.

Shulick, who declined to comment for this story when reached at his law office on Monday, previously told the Inquirer the allegations were “absurd” and says he is not a target of the FBI probe. In a March e-mail to reporters, Shulick said Fattah Jr. was being unfairly targeted because of his last name.

Fattah Jr. could not be reached. A spokesman for Rep. Fattah said neither the congressman nor his office was involved in the FBI activity.

Contract in limbo 

The school recently issued furlough notices to all 50 of its teachers and staff, not only at the city sites but at two other DVHS campuses in Berks and Bucks counties.

The suburban schools have secured contracts with their districts, the DVHS source said, but workers at the city campuses are in limbo. It’s unclear how many, if any, workers are being paid and remain DVHS employees, and how many have accepted other jobs rather than wait.

“We are 30 days out from school opening, there are procedural things that need to take place,” the DVHS employee said. Parents who inquire at the school about what will happen in September are told to contact the district.

Some furloughed workers have contacted the lawyer representing a group of former DVHS employees, who sued over money they say they are owed for the 2010-2011 school year, the source said.

DVHS attorney Paul Baskowsky told the Philadelphia Tribune that the employee notices didn’t necessarily mean the schools were shutting down, only that workers were being put on furlough while DVHS awaits a contract extension with the school district.

Andre Bean, the chief operating officer of DVHS who leads the East Falls facility, was at the Kelly Drive site on recent days but declined to talk about the school’s situation or the company’s status. Another worker, fixing a door Friday under the gaze of the school’s security cameras, also declined to talk about the situation.

Negotiations continue 

School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district is still in negotiations with all of its private contractors for one-year contract extensions approved by the School Reform Commission.

“[Students] will have access to educational services, but we don’t know exactly which locations,” Gallard said. Other providers would be able to absorb the roughly 500 Philadelphia district students sent to DVHS sites if they don’t come to terms on a contract extension, he said.

The DVHS branch landed in East Falls in 2009, over the objections of many neighbors and local civic organizations.  Some in East Falls didn’t want a disciplinary school in the middle of a key commercial district that is the focus of area revitalization efforts.  DVHS leases the property, with its neat red-and-white painted buildings, near the intersection of Ridge and Midvale avenues, from developer Mark Sherman, but its stay there is contingent on having a contract with the district. 

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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