This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In meetings over the last four weeks, the Philadelphia School District has been making a case for why it chose Edward Steel Elementary in Nicetown and Luis Muñoz-Marín Elementary in Fairhill for charter school conversion.
Parents at both schools were set to vote on Thursday, but Monday night, they learned that the District was going to push the election back a month at Muñoz-Marín (but not at Steel), saying that some have complained that the process was moving too quickly.
Some parents are suspicious the election is being delayed because voters would have rejected the charter. The School District and the proposed charter operator say it’s about not rushing the process.
"I agree … if the parents feel that they need a little more time, give it to them," said ASPIRA’s executive director, Alfredo Calderon. ASPIRA is the proposed operator for Muñoz-Marín.
When pressed about whether he lobbied for the change, Calderon said he did contact District leadership.
"I did," he said. "As the executive director of ASPIRA, I said well, ‘The parents are saying the process was a little rushed — would you consider it?’"
"They are extending the time only for their own convenience," said Muñoz-Marín’s principal, Ximena Carreno. "They know we are winning … so they want to extend the time."
"It’s a trick that they’re playing on us," said Vivian Rodriguez, a retired District teacher who lives in the neighborhood and often volunteers at the school. "It’s a racket, like my mother used to say, and I know that word in Spanish and in English, and it means they’re playing us, you know?"
Philadelphia School District leaders say the change was necessary because Muñoz-Marín didn’t have a functioning school advisory council for much of the last month. Its newly formed SAC has met once since the District announced the possibility of Renaissance charter conversion in early April.
The Steel vote will remain on May 1, the District says, because the Steel SAC has been meeting regularly.
Councilwoman makes announcement
Parents at Muñoz-Marín got the news not from District leadership, but from City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, who represents the neighborhood. She says she’s heard from at least a dozen parents who complained about the compressed timeline.
During the announcement, Quiñones-Sanchez got into a heated exchange with Rodriguez, who complained that the District had botched the voting process.
"I am not the District," Quiñones-Sanchez said into the microphone. "I am here to say that parents want time and parents deserve the time."
In the late 1990s, Quiñones-Sanchez was ASPIRA’s executive director, a point decried by some critics in the crowd.
Quiñones-Sanchez defended her relation to the organization – listing a resume of accomplishments that include founding the city’s first bilingual charter school, ASPIRA’s Hostos. The councilwoman says she no longer sits on ASPIRA’s board or has financial ties to the organization.
"For transparency purposes, I don’t sit on boards, because I have to represent all schools," she told the audience.