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Clearing the record on Evans’ comments

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

On Tuesday, Rep. Dwight Evans told the Philadelphia Daily News that the Notebook misquoted him in reporting that he had “taken credit” for convincing Mosaica to turn down an opportunity to run Martin Luther King High as a charter. He also denied ever confirming that he had continued to lobby on behalf of King’s current nonprofit manager, Foundations Inc., even after the School Reform Commission voted on March 16 to replace Foundations with Mosaica.

After a meeting that included himself, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, and members of King’s School Advisory Council (SAC), Evans told the Daily News that he “had nothing to do with Mosaica backing out."

In order to allow our readers to judge the Notebook’s accuracy, we are making available the complete transcript of Evans’ interview with reporter Bill Hangley, Jr. The phone interview took place on March 17, just hours after the District announced Mosaica’s withdrawal, and was recorded with Evans’ permission. Hangley also reports for WHYY, where the account also appeared.

In the interview, Evans reiterated that he has worked very hard over many years to build a network of education and social programs in Northwest Philadelphia. He told Hangley that he believed he’d presented that argument to Ackerman, the SRC, and Mosaica effectively enough to convince Mosaica to voluntarily walk away from its opportunity to run King. Per pupil payments for the organization chosen to run the school are an estimated $12 million annually.

Evans shared the contents of a letter he said was sent from Mosaica’s John Q. Porter to Ackerman. In the letter, Porter said that the company is backing out of the King contract because they’d been convinced that Evans’ “extensive community plan” would provide a “more comprehensive” solution to the Northwest’s educational challenges than Mosaica could provide on its own.

Asked how the abrupt shift from Mosaica to Foundations came about, Evans said, “I had a very sound strategy and plan. And I believe I made a very convincing argument.”

Hangley then asked Evans on three separate occasions whether he continued to lobby the SRC and Mosaica after the SRC’s vote.

Asked the first time, Rep. Evans said: “I talked to the chairman, I talked to all of them.” Asked a second time, he said, “I was like a bulldog on a bone.”

Pursuing the issue a third time, Hangley told Evans that he understood Evans had indeed continued to lobby people after the vote, and would welcome a correction of that understanding. Evans responded, “I tried to convince them that this plan, in a positive, not in a negative, that if I’m given the opportunity, if I’m given the opportunity, first I won’t disappoint those thousand kids, okay? I will not do that.”

Mosaica’s Porter confirmed to the Notebook that he spoke to Evans following the SRC’s vote. Porter told Notebook reporter Celeste Lavin that he subsequently decided he did not want to “stymie” Evans’ ongoing efforts. Porter added, “We did not believe that without having total support we could be effective.”

Since the original story was posted by the Notebook and WHYY on the evening of March 17, District officials have said that Ackerman was not personally lobbied by Rep. Evans in the wake of the vote, and knew nothing of Mosaica’s reversal until receiving the email described by Evans.

District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser told the Notebook’s Ben Herold that the District was “shocked” and “disappointed” at Mosaica’s decision. Fraser said that Ackerman reached out to Mosaica’s Porter after learning of his planned withdrawal, but failed to convince him to keep the King contract. UPDATE: Porter confirmed on Monday that Ackerman did contact him to discourage Mosaica from withdrawing.

“[Ackerman] said ‘I think it’s really important for you to remain with King’ [but] he was firm in his decision that he was withdrawing.”

Fraser said that it is not yet certain that Foundations Inc. will run King as a charter next year, since the SRC must approve the charters in April. “I think it’s premature,” she said. “We need to wait.”

An excerpt from the interview:

Bill Hangley: And I understand – tell me again, just tell me if I’m wrong, the process of what happened, yesterday, was that even after the vote, you continued to actively lobby the members of the SRC to try to convince them to change their policy. Am I correct?

Dwight Evans: I tried to convince them that this plan, in a positive, not in a negative, that if I’m given the opportunity, if I’m given the opportunity, first I won’t disappoint those thousand kids, okay? I will not do that. Secondly, we will transform this community, transform this city, transform this state, transform this country. That’s what we will do.

Hangley: Now, did you speak personally to the folks at Mosaica?

Evans: I spoke to everybody. I spoke to them all.

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