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SRC votes to move forward with District-charter agreement

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

At a special Wednesday meeting of the School Reform Commission, commissioners voted to approve the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact. The compact was announced November 16 to bring together the District and two of the largest charter school umbrella organizations in the state – the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the Philadelphia Charters for Excellence.

SRC Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky was not present at the meeting.

The agreement is a citywide commitment to grow and replicate high-performing charter and district run schools, while eliminating 50,000 of the lowest-performing seats over the next five years.

The collaboration could help the District get grant support from the Gates Foundation, which provided nine $100,000 grants to similar compacts last fall. But Chair Pedro Ramos said that while the money would “accelerate the work, it’s not about the funding” and that “the Gates money is not the reason to do it.”

Now that the agreement has been approved by the SRC, the District will present a three-page proposal to the Gates Foundation. Then, the foundation will inform the District if it is eligible to participate in an RFP process.

A handful of speakers testified about the compact. Among them, Education Law Center attorney David Lapp. Lapp applauded the District for its efforts to make the compact happen, but questioned some of the language in the agreement.

He asked – among other things – what mechanism would be used to hold parochial schools accountable, whether funding would follow students to private schools, and why private entities are even being considered part of a compact that seeks to improve Philadelphia public schools.

The compact document makes a single reference to parochial schools. The "Growth of High Quality Schools" section enumerates possible "high-performing schools—including charter, District, parochial and other types of schools."

David Hardy, principal of Boys Latin Charter School, welcomed the accountability that would come as a result of the agreement, but asked that the District think carefully about how it intends to achieve it.

“While accountability is something we must accept and are willing to accept, trying to bring us into the bureaucracy may be an issue,” Hardy said. “I’m in 100 percent agreement and applaud you for taking this on, but I would caution you to make sure that this isn’t a way to pull the charters into the District…to start making all of us tow the same line [because] it would not be a good deal for the schools that have done a good job."

The issue of community input was also a concern expressed by speakers, but “we expect to come back for public comment and input as the process unfolds before we have an agreement on what the operating agreement will look like,” Ramos said. “This is a staged process.”

Also at the SRC today, the District’s Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch, and external financial advisor Andre Allen presented details about a resolution that involved the District’s issuance of $219.11 million in school district bonds. The commission voted unanimously to approve the contract, then at the request of the chair recessed for about 30 minutes to “give members time to execute documents related to this transaction.”

The commissioners also voted to establish an “Implementation Committee” to close the remaining budget gap. The committee will be responsible for ensuring that budget cuts that the District has already committed to are being made, and that reasonable options are being identified to close the remainder of the fiscal 2012 gap. Members of the committee will include the acting superintendent or designee, the chief financial officer or designee, the city finance director or designee, and two representatives appointed by the SRC chair.

In keeping with its goal to have greater transparency, the SRC also presented a one-page financial template that it intends to use in tracking the budget. Ramos said that the document would be discussed at future finance and audit committee meetings, but the intention is to make the one-page summary available to the public.

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