Updated: SRC votes against renewing Germantown charter school, selects Pastorius Elementary operator

[UPDATED May 16, 11:25 a.m.] The city’s School Reform Commission voted Wednesday night to renew five charter schools and kickoff the non-renewal process for one more.

During a marathon meeting inside Philadelphia School District headquarters, the SRC gave Christopher Columbus, Antonia Pantoja, Eugenia de Hostos, Maritime and Universal Institute the green light to operate for another five years.

While district reviews of each school revealed some deficiencies, all of them tested above either state or district targets in reading and math.

Each charter school also agreed to an enrollment cap for the entirety their new charter terms. District officials have not recommended that any charter school expand next year given the severity of the district’s budget woes.

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Following Wednesday’s meeting, all five will also have to provide the SRC with a district-certified strategy that addresses barriers to entry. District reviews found that each school’s admissions process had “major deficiencies.”

Each charter renewal resolution was amended to include the stipulation, which will be checked before the SRC finalizes the new terms.

Imani not saved

The SRC also approved the district’s recommendation not to renew the charter of Imani Education Circle, a K-8 school in Germantown. Poor academic performance and financial woes were part of the rationale behind the recommendation.

The school, whose admission process was not cited as problematic, did not meet the state’s testing targets for reading and math and “lagged behind” its counterparts in the city over the past four years.

Financially, Imani has operated at a deficit during that period and has seen 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,” said Paul Kihn, the district’s deputy superintendent.

As of June 30, 2012, the school had fewer than 15 days’ cash on hand, he added.

The SRC’s decision starts the process of shutting down the school on Greene Street in a portion of Germantown that has already seen its public high school and adjacent elementary school selected for closure. Under the district’s facilities master plan, Germantown High School and Fulton Elementary will close at the end of the school year.

Anger in Germantown

That fact wasn’t lost on Rev. LeRoi Simmons, who sits on Imani’s Board of Trustees. He blasted the SRC for what he sees as a complete lack of regard for educating students in his community.

“The thing that is happening to our children up there is criminal,” said Simmons. “You cannot keep doing this. It’d be different if they had an alternative, but where are they supposed to go?”

Simmons, the only one to speak Wednesday about the district’s charter school recommendations, added that Imani was unfairly evaluated and urged the SRC to see the school in action.

“At any time, on any day, unannounced, show up at Imani School. Look at those 450 children in Imani School and tell me you don’t think they’re being educated. Tell me they are not doing better than the schools in the area,” said Simmons before huffing back to his seat.

If Imani’s charter is not renewed, and its students returned to neighborhood schools, Kihn said there’d be a balance between students enrolling at better-performing schools and worse-performing schools.

Discovery Charter enrollment

The SRC was expected to vote on the district’s recommendation not to renew Discovery Charter in West Philadelphia. That resolution was withdrawn less than two hours before the SRC’s meeting after, according to Discovery officials, the school reached a settlement agreement with the district and SRC regarding a reportedly unauthorized expansion in school enrollment.

A district spokesperson said the district is “actively working to resolve the overenrollment issue with Discovery Charter School.”

As reported by NewsWorks, Discovery Charter enrolled 73 more students than its contract with the district permitted. The move ultimately left the district $403,391 light.

According to a statement from Discovery CEO Jackie Kelly, the school will refund the state in full over the course of a 12-month period, which will “pave the way for the renewal of Discovery’s charter.”

The news turned a pre-meeting rally into a smile-filled celebration outside district headquarters involving about a 100 students and staff members.

“We no longer have an issue of being renewed,” said Kelly to applause.

A total of 16 charter schools have applied for renewal this year, but only six were voted on Wednesday. District officials said the five schools it recommended to renew were prepared to sign a new charter prior to the meeting.

Operators selected

The SRC also approved charter school operators for two of three planned Renaissance Schools.

Mastery Charter Schools will run Pastorius Elementary in Germantown. Scholar Academies will run Kenderton Elementary in North Philadelphia.

Alcorn Elementary in Grays Ferry is also slated to become a turnaround school come September, but it remains unclear which charter school operator will take on that task. A recommended match was not put to a vote Wednesday night.

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