Sources: Advisory council votes down Foundations at King

While the official vote results have not been released, the head of a group representing alumni of Martin Luther King High says their school’s advisory council has recommended Mosaica Education over Foundations, Inc. to run King as a charter next year.

Alumni group supports the process

“The vote went to Mosaica,” said Darran Whitfield, founder and president of the Martin Luther King Alumni Association, in a phone interview. Whitfield says he heard the news directly from members of King’s School Advisory Council (SAC), who have been instructed by school district officials not to comment publicly on the vote.

A  spokesperson for Foundations confirmed Whitfield’s account. “I heard [the vote] was 8-1, in terms of numbers,” in favor of Mosaica, said Executive Director of Communications John Henderson.  Other sources close to the King SAC reported the same results.

Monday, Whitfield’s group held a press conference at King to voice their support for Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance process, designed to bring new management to chronically underperforming schools. The alumni group is not represented on King’s School Advisory Council (SAC), but has been a frequent presence at King’s Renaissance-related events, and helped organize a series of meetings between students and the charters.

Whitfield said his group intends to work closely with King’s new management, no matter which of the two competing management organizations ultimately wins the contract. “We’ll be working with them, and we’ll be monitoring their progress,” Whitfield said.

Foundations still hopes for Ackerman’s choice

Henderson said he and his colleagues didn’t hang their heads after learning of the King SAC’s vote. “I know we weren’t having a pity party. We didn’t feel defeated,” he said. Foundations, a nonprofit based in New Jersey, has had a contract to manage King in partnership with the district since 2003.

Henderson said he’s still waiting for official confirmation of the vote from the district. And because the SAC votes are non-binding, there is still a chance that Ackerman will recommend Foundations over Mosaica. “We’re still hoping – we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Henderson.

Foundations is also in the running to take over three other Renaissance schools, including two high schools, Olney East and Olney West, and Birney Elementary.

SRC votes Wednesday on the new King

Multiple attempts to get King SAC members to confirm the vote results were unsuccessful.  “I think it was a very difficult decision for everyone, and that’s all I’m going to say,” said one, on condition of anonymity, citing a confidentiality agreement which all SAC members were required to sign. Among other things, the agreement holds that an SAC member can be held liable for any financial damages incurred by the district as a result of revealing confidential information.

SAC members at King and five other so-called “Renaissance Match” schools were instructed by district officials not to discuss their votes before the School Reform Commission meets this Wednesday. That’s when Superintendent Arlene Ackerman plans to reveal her final choice of charter managers for all six Renaissance Match schools.

The SRC will vote that day on whether to approve Ackerman’s selections, followed by a final authorizing vote in April.

A thrilling prospect

A spokesperson for Mosaica said the company has not heard anything official from the District, but would be “thrilled” if the vote results reported by the alumni group are accurate. “We think we can have a huge and very positive impact,” said Senior Vice President Tom Keane.

Mosaica, a for-profit company based in Atlanta, runs dozens of schools in the United States, Asia and the Middle East. King, a neighborhood high school of over 1,000 students, would represent new territory for Mosaica: The company has never run an American high school on its own, though from 2001 – 2004 it helped run the Hardy Williams Academy Charter School.

The Hardy Williams school allowed that contract to expire because it had developed its own administrative capacity and no longer needed the company’s comprehensive package of administrative supports, according to Michael Frattone, legal counsel for the school. The school then contracted with Edison Schools Inc. to provide a more limited set of administrative support. 

Mosaica is competing for contracts at all six Renaissance Match schools: King, Birney, Olney East and West, Gratz High, and Clymer Elementary.

Whitfield said the alumni group takes no official position as to whether Mosaica or Foundations would serve King better. Opinions differ among alums on that score, he said, but he trusts Ackerman to make the right call in the end. The group called its press conference in part to express support for Ackerman and her handling of teacher Hope Moffett, who faces dismissal for helping students at Audenried High protest the Renaissance process. “The fact is, [the students] were unsupervised” and exposed to danger while protesting, he said, rejecting allegations that Ackerman’s response has been unnecessarily heavy-handed.

What the alumni group also agrees on, Whitfield said, is that its task for the year to come is to keep a close eye on King’s new administration, helping it where necessary and holding it to its promises. “They’ve got to remember, just because you’re first string this year doesn’t mean that next year, you won’t be riding the bench,” he said.

This story is the product of a news gathering partnership between NewsWorks and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

Additional reporting provided by Yara Simón.

The above article is a corrected version. The original misstated the company history of Mosaica in Philadelphia. The original photo caption misstated the position of Eugene Williams.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal