This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Belmont Charter School in West Philadelphia is at the center of a debate over public assets and whether they should ever pass into private hands.
Or maybe it’s just an old school with a leaky roof and a web of red tape.
Those competing views will be on display this week when the Philadelphia school board takes an unprecedented vote. The board will decide whether it should sell Belmont Elementary School to the charter organization that has run it since 2002.
If the board votes yes, Belmont would become the first Philadelphia neighborhood or catchment school owned by a private organization. By next year, some Philadelphia kids could be assigned to attend a school that the public no longer owns. The arrangement would further cement the school district’s relationship with the handful of charter operators that run some of its neighborhood schools.
Critics worry a sale like this could leave the district stranded if the charter school ever folds. Some also oppose, on philosophical grounds, the idea of a charter network owning a building that city children are assigned to attend.
Officials from the Belmont Charter Network say they’re simply trying to make necessary fixes — the kind their cash-strapped landlord can’t make. Belmont administrators claim they’ve put protections in place to make sure the building remains a public school if the charter management company ever leaves.