SRC approves $23.3 million in provider contract extensions, including troubled Delaware Valley High

Posted: June 22, 2012

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved one-year contract extensions Thursday night totaling $23.3 million for all the alternative-education providers that ran programs in the district in the academic year just ended, including one that has been caught up in a federal investigation.

That provider, Delaware Valley High School, a for-profit company, will be paid $3.6 million to continue to operate its disciplinary school for 300 students on Kelly Drive and an accelerated program in Southwest Philadelphia for 200 teens and young adults who have dropped out of school or are at risk of doing so.

Commissioner Feather O. Houstoun abstained from the vote because she said she had not received detailed information on the contract extensions.

Benjamin J. Wright, an associate superintendent who oversees alternative education, said the extension would continue the contracts only through next June. He said the district would begin in October the process of seeking contracts for 2013-14.

As The Inquirer has reported, federal authorities are investigating whether political influence helped Delaware Valley obtain recent contracts, according to sources.

Investigators also are looking at the school's involvement with Chaka Fattah Jr. - son of the Democratic congressman - and whether that helped shield the firm from cuts made to other providers last summer amid the district's widening financial woes, sources said.

The school had been paying 10 percent of its district contract to 259 Strategies L.L.C., a minority firm owned by Fattah, 29.

Former Delaware Valley teachers have alleged that the school inflated attendance records, changed students' grades, and promoted students who had not completed assignments.

Delaware Valley no longer subcontracts with Fattah.

District officials said all providers would have to demonstrate that they have at least 10 percent participation by minority and female vendors to receive their contract extensions.

During the academic year just ended, the district paid a total of $24.7 million to three companies to operate disciplinary schools and eight to run accelerated programs to help students earn credits toward high school diplomas.

And, in the SRC's last regular meeting before the end of the fiscal year, the commission voted to add $2.9 million to the district's current $2 million budget for outside law firms.

Michael Davis, the general counsel, said the district needed more outside lawyers to represent the district in connection with several audits and investigations, including the state inquiry into allegations of cheating on the PSSA tests.

He said the district also had to turn to outside lawyers to take up the workload for matters such as special-education cases after half the law department was laid off last summer as a result of the district's financial crisis.


Contact Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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