SRC votes to begin shutdown of Imani charter

District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. listens to testimony at the School Reform Commission meeting.
District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. listens to testimony at the School Reform Commission meeting. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 17, 2013

Citing academic, fiscal, and management problems, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission began the process Wednesday night of shutting Imani Education Circle Charter School in Germantown.

The charter school underperforms on state exams, district officials said, and does not have enough highly qualified teachers, lacks adequate procedures to evaluate staff, and has serious cash-flow problems.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn reviewed a long list of "significant concerns" the district has about Imani.

"We believe there is sufficient evidence to recommend nonrenewal," Kihn said.

The SRC approved the measure at a busy and sometimes contentious meeting. The vote was 4-1, with Sylvia Simms dissenting.

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky said he viewed his vote not as a final statement on whether Imani should be closed, but as a move to "commence a process in which nonrenewal will be considered in detail."

A hearing will follow, probably this summer. Imani will likely remain open next year, as the lengthy revocation process continues.

The school's board of directors denounced the recommendation to shut it, saying it planned reforms.

"We are disheartened by the Office of Charter Schools' hasty recommendation of nonrenewal before we have an opportunity to fully implement and see the results of these reforms," the board said in a statement. Imani's board also said the district's recommendation contained inaccuracies.

The Rev. Leroi Simmons, an Imani board member, told the SRC that many of the district's allegations were "ridiculous, neglectful, and just not true."

Imani, a K-8 school open since 1999, educates 450 students.

A second school whose charter was threatened to be pulled resolved a dispute with the School District just before the meeting. The SRC did not vote on Discovery Charter School's renewal but is expected to approve it at a future meeting.

Discovery has added 73 students beyond its charter cap of 620, and at issue was more than $400,000 it received from the state to educate those pupils. It has agreed to repay the district that sum over a year.

Discovery students, parents, and supporters had planned a rally protesting the expected nonrenewal before the SRC met. Instead, they held a jubilant rally, with clapping, cheering, and speeches thanking district officials for their cooperation.

"The real winners today are the members of the present and future student body of Discovery Charter, for their continuing, high-quality education at our beloved school has now been assured," chief executive Jackie Kelley said.

Five other charters - Antonia Pantoja, Christopher Columbus, Eugenia DeHostos, Maritime Academy, and Universal Institute - were renewed for five-year terms.

The SRC is due to act on 10 more charters, but those were not ready for votes and will be acted upon at a future meeting.

The SRC also approved moves to hand over two struggling district schools to charters. Pastorius School in East Germantown will be run by Mastery Charter Schools, and Kenderton School in Tioga will be given to Scholar Academies.

Dworetzky voted against the Kenderton match. He said he admired Scholar Academies, but felt that the school is too small to support a so-called Renaissance charter school.

He supports the Renaissance process, Dworetzky said, but "we have to do it in a way that's smart. We have to do it in a way that's affordable."

The total Renaissance charter process will cost the district $3.9 million, officials said - on average, about $2,900 extra per student.

A third district school - Alcorn, in Grays Ferry - is scheduled to be given to a charter organization, but that match was not on the SRC's agenda. Allegations of improprieties over the process of selecting a charter organization - Universal Cos. is widely expected to be chosen - have been lodged and are being investigated.

Commissioners also heard impassioned pleas from students, parents, and citizens concerned about a massive budget shortfall that could trigger schools opening in September without counselors, support staff, extracurricular activities, and with myriad other programs.

The district faces a shortfall of more than $300 million without massive - and very uncertain - cash infusions from the city and state.

Rebecca Poyourow, an active parent with children at Cook-Wissahickon School, has been advocating for more money for the district and will continue to do so. But she is skeptical of the district.

"We're being asked to mobilize, but we still don't believe that our priorities have any weight here," said Poyourow. Parents want noontime aides, counselors, books, and music, art, and sports.

Others pleaded with the district to preserve music programs. The budget would cut itinerant music teachers who teach children to play instruments.


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

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