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District: Audenried plan doesn’t need SRC approval ‘because it’s different’

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

Although the District intends to convert eight public schools to charters managed by outside “turnaround teams,” it will ask the School Reform Commission to publicly approve the suitability of the provider matches for only six of the schools.

District officials confirmed Wednesday that plans to hand over two so-called "Promise Neighborhood Partnership schools," Audenried High and Edwin Vare Middle School, to Universal Companies will not be voted on at the March 16 SRC meeting.

"There’s no need to have a resolution matching the schools because they’re already matched," explained District spokesperson Elizabeth Childs.

Asked why the SRC was not asked to vote to approve that match when it was made, Childs said, "Because they’re different."

At the District’s six so-called "Renaissance Match" schools, School Advisory Councils (SACs) consisting of parents and community members are voting this week to recommend outside managers for their schools. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman will consider the SAC preferences, which are not binding, before making recommendations to the SRC. The SRC is scheduled to vote on the matches on Wednesday.

But at Audenried and Vare, apparently, neither the public nor the SRC will be given a say in plans to turn over the schools to Universal Companies, which stands to be paid nearly $9 million in per pupil charter school payments next year for managing the two schools.

The District created the new model of Renaissance turnaround just for those two schools following Universal’s award of a prestigious $500,000 federal planning grant to turn the surrounding communities into a “Promise Neighborhood” modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The process troubles Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, who has fought against the conversion of District schools to charters.

"The [District’s] attitude is that it doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks,” he said. “The deal is done."

The first SRC vote on the Promise Neighborhood Partnership schools will come in April, when the members vote on authorizing the charters for Audenried and Vare.

"The match and the charter [for Audenried and Vare] will be approved at the same time," Childs said.

The SRC now has only four members following the recent resignation of Ambassador David Girard-diCarlo last month. Chairman Robert Archie has confirmed that he will recuse himself from any eventual votes involving Universal because of his longstanding personal connection to founder Kenny Gamble. He has served on Universal’s board and his law firm, Duane Morris LLP, has represented the organization in business dealings.

Because of SRC rules, that means that the votes of all three remaining commissioners will be required to grant the charters.

The District and Universal are hosting a long-awaited second informational session for the Audenried community tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the school on 3301 Tasker Street.

District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser confirmed Wednesday that District Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery and Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon, as well as Universal President and CEO Rahim Islam, will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.

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