UPDATED Philadelphia Academy Charter School expects renewal, hopes for expansion [video]

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. Brick and mortar charter schools in Philadelphia are watched over the Philadelphia School District while cyber chart schools are monitored by the state Department of Education.

While the school district wasn’t able to comment on the charter renewal process, Philadelphia Academy CEO Larry Sperling explained the “massive” documentation needed to get renewed. A charter school must submit the documents by hardcopy, 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 that decision should come sometime this month.

There are seven sections of the renewal process each charter school must pass: 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 isn’t sure though when he’ll find out if the school district will allow the school to go over the 1,125 student cap. Nineteen other charters have requested expansions, as well. A Tuesday rally called on the School Reform Commission to grant the expansions to help more Philadelphia students access better educations.

Sometimes charter schools are granted a one-year contract to prove they should be renewed for a full five years. 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 scandal broke the previous April, which resulted in a one-year extension.

“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 at the school who was related to the people being indicted, cut the contract with the finance company serving the school along with turning over the whole board.

He said his expectations this time around are much better than in 2008.

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

 Steven Mitchell is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication for Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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