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Scathing report blasts Archie, Evans on King charter deal

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

[Updated 6:00 pm] Former School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie has fired back with a statement in which he "emphatically" rejects Markman’s findings, and state Rep. Dwight Evans has also slammed the report. The District has offered a brief statement.

[Updated 2:26 pm] The mayor’s chief integrity officer has come down hard on state Rep. Dwight Evans and recently resigned School Reform Commission chairman Robert Archie in a long awaited fact-finding report released Thursday afternoon.

The report, prepared by Joan Markman for Mayor Michael Nutter, concludes that Archie "facilitated" Evans’s "intense lobbying effort to change the outcome of the [Renaissance] match process to secure for Foundations the SDP’s contract to manage [Martin Luther King High School.]"

"Although he publicly recused from voting on that contracting decision, Archie facilitated Evans’ s effort, both before and after the SRC vote on March 16, 2011," wrote Markman.

Last spring, as part of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative, King High was slated to be converted to a charter by an outside manager selected through a public process involving parents and community members on King’s School Advisory Council (SAC.) The SAC overwhelmingly selected Atlanta-based Mosaica Turnaround Teams to run their school, a choice endorsed by Ackerman and then approved by a vote of the SRC on March 16.

The next day, however, Mosaica withdrew its bid for the charter, estimated to be worth roughly $60 million over five years. The contract was instead set to go to the other contender, New Jersey-based nonprofit Foundations, Inc., an organization with close ties to Evans.

Markman’s 21-page report details Evans’s disdain for the public process set up by the District and extraordinary back-channel efforts to have the SAC’s choice overturned in favor of Foundations.

After news reports by the Notebook/NewsWorks on those behind-the-scenes maneuvers highlighted the turmoil at King, Foundations also withdrew from the running for the school’s charter, and it remains District-run.

Markman and a fellow investigator interviewed more than 30 people as part of their inquiry, but Evans, his aide Kim Turner, and close ally Sharmain Matlock-Turner did not cooperate, the report says.

The report also painstakingly recounts how Archie repeatedly ignored his own publicly declared conflict of interest in the matter due to his law firm’s representation of both Foundations and Evans, as well as his longstanding personal friendship with Evans.

Despite publicly recusing himself from the SRC’s vote on the King charter, Archie arranged multiple opportunities for Evans to make his case for Foundations while also trafficking in damaging information about Mosaica.

"In at least three closed-door meetings and in other communications, Archie interceded behind the scenes to facilitate the placement of Foundations as the operator of MLK," wrote Markman.

The most significant of those meetings followed the public portion of the SRC’s March 16, 2011 session, at which the SRC voted 3-0 to award the King management contract to Mosaica. The subsequent private meeting, first reported as part of a Notebook/NewsWorks investigation, included Archie and Evans, as well as Mosaica President John Q. Porter and Leroy Nunery, who was then District deputy superintendent.

It was in that closed-door session, wrote Markman, that Evans "made clear his hostility to Mosaica and his intention to withhold community support from Mosaica’s efforts to successfully operate MLK."

Immediately afterwards, Nunery, now the District’s acting superintendent, reportedly described the meeting to Ackerman as being ‘like something out of the movie ‘The Godfather.’"

Markman’s report also details another private meeting, also first reported by the Notebook/NewsWorks, at which Archie allowed Evans to press his case to the full SRC during its executive session prior to the March 16 meeting.

Though she could not say whether that "extraordinary opportunity" represented a violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, Markman was clear that meeting was highly unusual.

"SDP officials told us that although political representatives (including the mayor) had on occassion addressed the SRC in executive session, the topics of those addresses are general educational goals and strategies, not the proposed award of particular contracts," wrote Markman.

As a result, Markman wrote, the meeting represented another "accommodation by Archie to Evans’s interest in securing the MLK contract for Foundations."

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Archie angrily denounced the Markman report, calling its conclusions "a reach" and describing some of its findings as "pure fiction."

"I am shocked and angered by the conclusions in the Markman Report released today by Mayor Nutter’s office. I emphatically reject the findings," reads the statement.

"While I willingly agreed to be interviewed about the events surrounding Martin Luther King High School, I never agreed to have a few weeks of my service on the School Reform Commission be the subject of an inquisition in search of a scapegoat."

Archie’s statement specifically challenged former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s accounting of events, calling them "troubling."

Markman’s report devotes three pages to laying out and then disputing key elements of Archie’s story, including his claim that it was Ackerman and not Evans who talked Mosaica into withdrawing their bid to operate King.

In the report’s conclusion, Markman blasts both Evans and Archie, saying their "actions in this matter have compromised the SDP’s ability to secure parent involvement in their children’s schools, to make decisions according to a fair process, and to garner public confidence in those decisions."

Not included in the report is any explanation of Archie’s motivation for helping Evans or any recommendations for further action.

The Markman report was issued in an email from the mayor’s press office, without any accompanying explanation or statement.

Mayor Nutter’s press secretary told Tom MacDonald of WHYY that Nutter is urging the SRC to begin providing ethics training to its members.

District spokesperson Fernando Gallard issued a terse, two-sentence statement Thursday afternoon, declining further comment:

“As the report noted, Dr. Nunery cooperated fully with the Chief Integrity Officer’s efforts as he would for any investigation. Beyond that, Dr. Nunery is fully focused on running the District – as he has been since being named Acting Superintendent – and will have no further comment.”

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Evans is quoted as follows:

"I am stunned the city’s chief integrity officer would craft a document that characterizes me as a puppet master who has the ability to pull strings and make people dance. That is simply not true. The report issued [Thursday], while written to suggest nefarious maneuvers, simply supports activities that have been well-documented for months. In public and in private meetings I made clear my intent to make Martin Luther King Jr. High School the best in the nation. To the extent that my words or actions may have ruffled feathers, that’s unfortunate. However, my job and my passion is to fight for our city’s children."

Read the chief integrity officer’s full report here.

This is a developing story.