School district must pay shuttered charter's bill

Wendy Beetlestone, lawyer for Solomon Charter School, defended the bill submitted to the school district.
Wendy Beetlestone, lawyer for Solomon Charter School, defended the bill submitted to the school district.
Posted: November 12, 2013

It sounds a little Kafkaesque.

The cash-strapped Philadelphia School District has been stuck with a $305,000 bill from a controversial cyber charter school that shut down last month.

Solomon Charter School on Vine Street agreed to surrender its charter to the state Department of Education on Oct. 30, in part because its program for seventh through 11th graders was housed in a building that shared space with a sex-offender clinic.

But Solomon also was under fire because it had enrolled 200 elementary students this fall - even though it was authorized to serve students only from the sixth through 11th grades.

After the Department of Education told the district in September that Solomon was not permitted to enroll the younger students, the district refused to pay the charter the tuition for the younger students due that month.

But when there's a dispute over payment, state law allows a charter to submit the bill to the Education Department. The department then deducts the amount from the district's share of state funds and sends the money to the charter.

Solomon billed the department for the younger students, and on Oct. 31 it received a $305,876 check for the September tuition.

Wendy Beetlestone, Solomon's attorney, defended the payment.

"We believe we should have received that money and did, in fact, receive a check from the department," Beetlestone said Friday.

District officials, however, were floored.

"We were shocked and surprised," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said Friday.

But Education Department spokesman Timothy Eller said the state had no choice. According to the 1997 state charter law and several recent Commonwealth Court decisions, the department has a "mandatory duty" to pay charter bills - regardless of the reason for the dispute, Eller said.

He said the department will respond to any objection filed by the district and make a formal determination, which could result in returning money to the district.

"We are in the process of challenging that deduction," Gallard said.

The situation was especially galling because district officials believe they had already overpaid Solomon by more than $437,000, Gallard said. He said advance payments the district sent to the charter in July and August had included tuition for the elementary students. As a result, Solomon has received nearly $750,000 in district funds for elementary students it was not authorized to have.

The dispute is far from over.

Solomon has billed the state for $297,000 for all 350 kindergartners through 11th graders for October because the district balked.

Gallard said that after Solomon announced it would close, the district helped find spots in district schools for displaced students. He said district officials believe the charter ceased to operate Oct. 11.

But David Weathington, Solomon's principal and acting chief executive officer, said the charter did its job until it was shuttered Oct. 30.

"We educated these students," he said. "Our staff worked, but they can't get paid. We've had to delay payment to staff and vendors."

Weathington said many of Solomon's students found spots in other charter schools, including about 80 who transferred to Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, which has campuses in Northern Liberties and Wissinoming.


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