Hearing to probe Philadelphia's oldest charter school

Posted: April 30, 2013

A Philadelphia School District hearing will begin Monday on the fate of the city's oldest charter school.

Community Academy of Philadelphia opened in 1997, but the School Reform Commission said in January the school's operating charter should not be renewed because of low test scores and financial problems.

The hearing, set to begin at 9 a.m. at the district's administration building, was scheduled after the SRC voted, 4-0, in January to take the first step toward revoking the charter. A second session is expected to be held May 6.

The non-renewal hearing gives Community the chance to challenge the district's findings and present evidence for staying open.

The session is also the latest twist in a long-running dispute over the school's operating charter.

The school 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 charter. Joseph A. Dworetzky voted against. Robert L. Archie Jr., then the SRC chair, abstained because he said his law firm had done work for the school.

The district's law department has maintained that three yes votes of the five-member commission were necessary for approval, although one of the seats was vacant.

Community contended the split vote entitled it to a renewal.

The state Charter Appeal Board said it had no jurisdiction, and the case landed in Commonwealth Court and then Common Pleas Court.

In the meantime, the SRC took up the issue of Community's charter again in January and voted, 4-0, for nonrenewal. Dworetzky is the only commission member from 2011 who remains on the SRC.

Joseph Proietta, Community's founder and chief executive, said Monday's hearing would be a waste of time and legal fees.

He said the courts had yet to rule on the 2011 vote, and Commonwealth Court has said it will stay any action by the SRC until it has reviewed it.

"The situation is extremely weird," Proietta said Friday. "The hearing is unnecessary because . . . we have a dispute about a legal technicality involving the [2011] vote that is going through all the proper channels."

Community Academy, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Kensington with 1,235 students, was raided by federal agents more than three years ago, but the federal government has taken no action against it.

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

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