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Several charter leaders blast Great Schools Compact

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

Testifying before the City Council Education Committee on Tuesday, several charter school operators blasted the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact. The compact is an effort to help District and charter schools work together more productively and create more high-quality educational seats.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, called for an end to the Renaissance Schools initiative, a program that has converted low-performing District schools into charters.

Jordan said the real agenda of the Renaissance initiative is "politics," not creating better schools for students. The District’s rationale and method for choosing the schools are "flawed," he said, maintaining that the four schools chosen for conversion next year have been making progress.

"Certain companies or groups want to create their own school systems within Philadelphia at public expense," Jordan said.

He said that Cleveland Elementary had met performance targets every year except one since 2005, and in June lost grade-support teachers, a secretary, a school nurse, the assistant principal, extracurricular activities, and small-group instruction.

Cleveland is being sought by Mastery Charter, the District’s largest charter operator; it feeds into Mastery-Gratz High School.

The hearing was also the first public indication that there is serious resistance among some charter operators to what the compact is doing.

Veronica Joyner, head of the Math, Civics and Sciences charter, called the compact a "clique." It is made up of District officials and several heads of charter umbrella organizations. She said the Renaissance charters are the “same school with a different name” and "fooling parents into thinking they are better."

Walter Palmer, head of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, said that through the Renaissance program, "corporations" are seeking to take over poor schools and must be stopped. He urged the expansion of independent charter schools.

And Christine Wiggins, head of Imhotep Institute Charter High School, in prepared testimony (she did not testify in person), called the District an "obstacle" to improving education and stated that "no compact, however well-meaning, seems to address this obstacle or hold the District truly accountable for doing what the compact intends — expanding enrollment for high-performing schools and forming new charter schools."

Joyner also said that the many charters, including her own, may not be able to sustain a 15 percent cut in their funding next year. The cuts the District suffered this year, under the current funding policy, will hit the charters next year.

"This would have a devastating impact on my school," she said.

She urged a reassessment of this, although any change in the formula is a matter for the state legislature, not City Council.

Earlier, School Reform Commission Chair Pedro Ramos cited "bad fiscal policy" as a major reason why the District is now facing a huge shortfall beginning next school year. He said the District didn’t adequately plan for the evaporation of federal stimulus dollars and reductions in state aid. When the District had money, rather than planning for leaner times, it added programs it couldn’t sustain, he said.

District leaders say the shortfall will be at least $144 million — and that is if City Council approves a property tax re-evaluation pushed by Mayor Michael Nutter that would raise $94 million for the schools. Ramos did not specifically address that tax change at this hearing.

He did say that the District would be back before Council in a few weeks with its fiscal 2012-13 budget and "an operational plan for transforming the District to deliver safer, higher quality educational services within our financial means."

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen will present a "lump-sum" budget for next year to the SRC meeting Thursday night.

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