In an email that went out today, the Philadelphia School District’s Charter Office requested that new charter applicants sign a waiver giving the School Reform Commission (SRC) until June 1, 2015 to vote on their application.
That’s four months longer than allowed by Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law. According to that law, the authorizing body — in this case the SRC — must vote on applications within 75 days of the first hearing. That deadline is in mid-February. The public is allowed to submit written comment until February 1 by emailing email@example.com.
In the email, the district asks for more time “due to the unprecedented number of applications it received.” This is Philadelphia’s first round of charter applications in seven years, bringing in a total of 40 proposals from 29 charter providers for new schools. The District must now field new applications annually, thanks to an amendment added to last year’s $2-per-pack cigarette-tax bill by state Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia).
Even with the extended deadline, there will still be time to get schools off the ground according to school district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “Sixteen of the 29 applicants are asking to start in 2016” for the 2016-2017 school year. A June 1 decision would still give those applicants about a year to renovate buildings, hire staff and generally prepare before starting instruction.
But for the other half of applicants, who proposed to open their doors in fall 2015, Gallard said they “will have to consider” that tight turnaround time in their decision to waive the February deadline — or not.
Charter providers, many of whom expressed frustration at short time they were given to submit their applications, may benefit little from signing the waiver.
They had from early September to November 15 to submit their applications — documents hundreds of pages long which include information on curriculum, staffing and facilities.
This week the district wrapped up its second round of hearings with each individual applicant. The next step in the evaluation process is for the hearing officer — a lawyer hired by the SRC – to submit a written report on each applicant. The SRC considers that report and the provider’s application in making its final decision.
Applicants must return two copies of a signed waiver or notify the charter office by noon on February 5, 2015. According to the email, for applicants that decide not to sign the waiver the “SRC will proceed to vote on your application within the seventy-five day timeframe.”
Gallard said no preference would be given to applicants who choose to sign waiver.
The district released its evaluation of each charter applicant yesterday, which are available here.