SRC vote to close Imani Charter seen as yet another potential loss for central Germantown

 Imani CEO Dr. Francine Fulton sits back and enjoys the performances in her honor outside the Germantown charter school at a May celebration. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Imani CEO Dr. Francine Fulton sits back and enjoys the performances in her honor outside the Germantown charter school at a May celebration. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Central Germantown is now poised to lose another neighborhood school.

In June 2013, budget cuts closed Germantown High School and nearby Robert Fulton Elementary. On Thursday night, the School Reform Commission voted 4-1 not to renew the charter for Imani Education Circle Charter School, one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

The decision, not surprisingly, isn’t sitting well with members of the Imani community, who say they will appeal.

“It’s markedly wrong what they’re doing,” said board member Rev. LeRoi Simmons. “They’re aiming at central Germantown like we don’t need education up here.”

How they got here

Thursday’s SRC vote came 18 months after the same body approved the Philadelphia School District’s recommendation not to give Imani another charter. Its latest charter ran from 2008 until 2013.

A three-day renewal hearing followed that July, largely focusing on the independent school’s academic performance and financial stability during that period.

Imani’s scores on state standardized tests during that same period were mixed.

Imani also operated at a deficit between 2009 and 2012 while seeing its net assets dramatically decrease.

“The school has not had sufficient current assets to cover its current liabilities and may not be in a satisfactory position to meet obligations over the next 12 months,” Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn told the SRC last May.

Citing improvements

Simmons said the school is performing better than any other elementary in Imani’s 19144 zip code.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently released a spreadsheet that lists the academic progress of every public school in the state.

State officials have said that hitting 70 means a school is on the right track.

Out of a possible 100, Imani scored a 59.2.

Roosevelt Elementary had a score of 31.8. Wister Elementary received a 54.3.

The district’s overall average (charter and traditional schools) was 56.8.

Simmons also said the school is now financially stable after auditors adjusted the devaluation of its Greene Street property.

“We don’t owe anybody anything,” he said. “We’re not behind in the thing. That’s something the school district can’t say.”

What about the kids?

Simmons said he also worries about where Imani’s 450 students will go if the school loses its case before the state’s Charter School Appeal Board.

The school accepts students from across the city, but many come from Germantown.

District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said, if closed, Imani students will have the option of attending a higher-performing school.

Still, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey is troubled by the prospect of local families sending their children to schools outside of the neighborhood.

“Public education is important, but when we look at the bigger picture we’re really hampering and hindering our community,” said Kinsey. “We already have enough vacant properties.”

Local reaction

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass shares Kinsey’s concern, but is not outright opposed to closing Imani.

She said she’s open to giving the school the opportunity to improve, but that if it continues to perform poorly academically, it should be shuttered.

“The bottom line is that these are not babysitting services,” said Bass. “If they haven’t performed and haven’t turned around, then the district needs to do what it needs to do.”

The timeline

It will likely be a year before Imani to learn its fate, which means the school should be open next September.

If the appeal board rules against Imani, the school can file an appeal with Commonwealth Court and up to state Supreme Court if necessary.

“We are ready to go to battle for as long as it takes, because we are not going to let these children down,” Imani’s CEO Francine Fulton said in a statement. “One thing is certain: This vote does not mean Imani Education Circle Charter School is closing. In fact, we expect to stay open for many years to come.”

Imani opened in 1999. Out of the 16 charter schools that were up for renewal, Imani was the only one the district recommended for closure.

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