Philadelphia charter school chief resigns

Posted: August 01, 2012

After a series of public gaffes, the official responsible for running the Philadelphia School District's charter school office has resigned.

Thomas Darden, who was deputy chief of strategic programs, had worked for the district since 2009. He was paid $127,205 annually.

Darden had come under fire recently for bad or missing information at public meetings.

Two weeks ago, Darden told the School Reform Commission that the charter expansions the panel had approved would cost the district $38 million over four years. But Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky said his own calculations revealed the cost would be much higher, and Darden later admitted he had erred.

The already-approved charter school expansion will cost the district $139 million over five years.

At the SRC's last meeting, on Friday, a clearly annoyed Dworetzky upbraided Darden for not sharing information about the planned growth of Belmont Elementary, a school whose charter renewal the SRC was supposed to vote on that day.

The SRC was poised to renew Belmont's charter but deny its expansion request. The school wants to grow by 275 seats over the next five years.

But Belmont representatives told the SRC that because it is a "neighborhood charter" - most of its students come from a geographic catchment area, not via citywide lottery - it would grow by 275 seats regardless of whether the SRC approved the request.

"I'm somewhat surprised that there wasn't a slide up here that said there was a projected enrollment increase. How do we budget? How do we plan?" Dworetzky asked.

The charter resolution was ultimately withdrawn over those concerns and others.

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos, asked whether he thought he was getting accurate information from the charter office, said he thought "the record of today's meeting speaks for itself. Before we contemplate options, we need more clear and consistent information."

It's unclear who will run the charter office, which has just a handful of employees but oversees 80 schools that enroll just more than 50,000 city students.

"We will be identifying an acting head of the charter school office within a day or two," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

Darden has apparently been job-hunting for some time. He was a finalist for the superintendent's position in Providence, R.I., this spring, but was not selected.

Darden, who could not be reached for comment, was supposed to be laid off in November because of budget cuts but never left the district. He was moved from deputy of process improvement to his current job, presumably because the district needed someone to run the charter office.

He came to Philadelphia under then-Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman. He formerly worked in finance and is a product of the Broad Superintendent's Academy.

Darden's departure comes on the heels of several other top-level employees leaving.

A number of former assistant superintendents have recently left to run other school systems. Francisco Duran is the new superintendent in Trenton; Joel Boyd now heads the Santa Fe, N.M., district; Emmanuel Caulk is the leader of the Portland, Maine, district.

Former Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch also left this spring.

Gallard said he could not address what all the personnel shifts would mean for the coming school year.

The district faces a deficit of more than $250 million and is in the midst of overhauling the way schools are managed and run.


Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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