Education firm linked to Fattah's son lays off all its teachers, administrators

Chaka Fattah Jr.
Chaka Fattah Jr.
Posted: July 24, 2012

Without warning, Delaware Valley High School - a for-profit education firm whose records were recently subpoenaed by a federal grand jury - has laid off all 50 teaching and administrative employees at the four alternative schools it operates in the region.

Staffers said lawyer David T. Shulick, whose company operates the schools, owes them each thousands of dollars for work during the 2011-12 academic year. They had been expecting back pay last week but got furlough notices instead.

In late February, the FBI raided Shulick's Logan Square law office, searching for documents related to Delaware Valley's relationship with Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., 29, whose father is U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat. They also interviewed Shulick.

Delaware Valley had paid 10 percent of its $4.5 million contract with the Philadelphia School District for the 2010-2011 school year to 259 Strategies L.L.C., a minority firm owned by Fattah Jr., who had an office in Shulick's law firm. After firing Fattah Jr. last summer, Shulick rehired him in December but did not renew his subcontract.

Shulick, reached by phone, declined to comment on the layoffs and hung up. Fattah Jr. has not commented on his involvement with the school.

Federal authorities are investigating whether political influence helped Delaware Valley obtain contracts, according to sources, and whether Fattah Jr.'s involvement shielded the school from deeper cuts amid the Philadelphia district's widening financial woes.

The layoff letters sent to teachers were dated July 1 but not received until Tuesday.

The letters said the layoffs were necessary because Delaware Valley did not yet have a signed, one-year contract extension with the Philadelphia district to run a disciplinary school and program for at-risk students for 2012-13.

It is due to receive $3.6 million from the district to operate its disciplinary school on Kelly Drive in the fall for 300 students and an accelerated program in Southwest Philadelphia for 200 teenagers and young adults who have dropped out of school or are at risk of doing so.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district was still working on the contract extensions for alternative-education providers that the School Reform Commission approved in June.

Gallard said the district would take the reported layoffs at Delaware Valley into consideration.

He said the district was up to date on its payments to Delaware Valley. The district sent Shulick's company $345,000 on July 6 and is scheduled to send the final check of the $4.1 million for the 2011-12 academic year at the end of the month.

"We are fully up to date," Gallard said.

Staffers said the sweeping furlough included not just teachers and staff in Philadelphia, but also at campuses in Warminster and Pottstown that serve students from districts in Bucks, Montgomery and Berks Counties.

"It is the entire company," said one stunned staffer, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

A few teachers who said they had reached Shulick by phone said he had threatened to sue anyone who disclosed the furloughs for violating the confidentialty terms in their contracts.

Teachers said they were not only worried about their jobs and being able to pay bills, but also apprehensive about what will happen to their students.

"These students need extra help," one instructor said.

Although the furlough letters contained no signature other than "DVHS," teachers accused Shulick of engineering them. Those getting notices included site administrators and the company's top officials - Mattie Thompson, chief academic officer; and Andre Bean, chief operating officer.

Bean and Thompson were furloughed even though the school sent letters to the districts it serves saying the two would soon gain enhanced authority, according to knowledgable sources.

The letters, the sources said, reported that Shulick was resigning as Delaware Valley's president July 1 and would no longer be involved in the school's operations. Bean would become chief executive, and Thompson would become chief operating officer, the letters said.

But Shulick still controls everything, including the furloughs, the sources said.

"Last summer, he did this only to those who refused to come back," one classroom teacher said. "This time, he seems to have done it to everyone."

Under the terms of their one-year contracts, instructors are paid over 12 months for teaching during the 10-month school year.

Three former teachers who were laid off last summer after working at the Kelly Drive site in 2010-11 have a suit pending against Shulick and his firm that alleges they are owed a total of nearly $20,000 in back pay.

Delaware Valley's school district contract shows teachers receive salaries of $45,000 plus benefits. But current and former teachers said the school pays $36,000 if they waive their benefits, $31,000 if they want them.

The letters said the school had been working with the Philadelphia district "to affirm their payment obligations and our contract" for the 2012-13 school year.

"However, until that situation is resolved, DVHS to immediately put your employment on furlough under the terms of our contract with you until we get such affirmation.

"Your last day of work was June 15, 2012. Your final paycheck was issued on June 30, 2012 . . .

"However, there is hope. Please understand that we are doing everything in our power to resolve the situations and we would like nothing more than to contact our Staff, and so notify them about the future. However, we are not in a position to do that at this juncture, but hope to be shortly."

Angry and upset staffers complained that there was no one they could turn to for help.

The offices of the four campuses have been been shuttered, and campus phone numbers were removed from the letterhead on the furlough letters. The only number shown is for the company's headquarters at Shulick's law offices, but when teachers called, they said law firm employees told them the firm had no ties with the school.


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

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