Philadelphia School Reform Commission votes not to renew city's oldest charter school

The Community Academy of Philadelphia, opened in 1997, was the first charter school to come to Philadelphia. ( Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)
The Community Academy of Philadelphia, opened in 1997, was the first charter school to come to Philadelphia. ( Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 19, 2013

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission said Thursday night that the district's oldest charter school did not deserve to be renewed because of low test scores and financial problems.

By a vote of 4-0, the commission began the process of pulling the charter of Community Academy of Philadelphia in Kensington, established in 1997. A nonrenewal hearing was set for Feb. 25.

The commission acted after the school lost a last-minute bid in Commonwealth Court a few hours earlier to stay the vote.

In recommending the vote to begin nonrenewal proceedings, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said there were "substantial grounds for the SRC to give this notice."

Kihn said Community Academy had "consistently demonstrated poor academic performance" and showed "no significant growth." He also cited financial problems.

Community Academy has been embroiled in a legal dispute over the status of its operating charter for nearly two years, and has a case pending in Commonwealth Court.

Joseph H. Proietta, Community's chief executive, said the SRC was attempting "to justify an end-run around our appeal before Commonwealth Court and deny us our right to an objective arbitrator."

He disputed the district findings that the SRC used to justify its action.

The SRC's vote does not affect the school's operations this academic year, and school administrators have vowed to fight to stay open.

Community Academy has been in legal limbo since June 2011, when the SRC - for a second time - split on renewing the charter, by a vote of 2-1-1.

Two members of the commission at that time - Denise McGregor Armbrister and Johnny Irizarry - voted to renew the school's five-year operating charter. Joseph A. Dworetzky voted against. Robert L. Archie Jr., then-SRC chair, abstained because he said his law firm had done work for the school.

The district's law department had maintained that three "yes" votes of the five-member commission were necessary for approval, although one of the seats was vacant. The charter contended the split vote entitled it to a renewal.

Community Academy filed an appeal with the state charter appeal board in Harrisburg. But the state board ruled it had no jurisdiction because the charter was still pending before the SRC.

The school turned to Commonwealth Court for help in August, asking it to rule whether the appeals board was correct. That case is awaiting consideration.

In denying Community Academy's request for an emergency order Thursday, Commonwealth Court Judge Keith B. Quigley ruled that if the SRC voted to deny renewal or revoke the school's charter, that action would be stayed, pending an appeal to the charter appeal board.

Dworetzky, who voted "no" both times in 2011, is the only commissioner who remains on the SRC.

On Thursday, Dworetzky asked Michael A. Davis, the district's general counsel, whether Community Academy would have the opportunity to point out the information its officials contend is faulty. Davis said it would.

Community Academy, a K-12 school with 1,210 students, was raided by federal agents more than three years ago, but the federal government has taken no action against it.

Community was the first charter approved in the district after the legislature passed the state charter law in 1997.

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or

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