Parents at Phila. school reject takeover by charter

Teachers and others protest outside the headquarters of ASPIRA of Pa., a charter school firm that bid to take over Muñoz Marín Elementary.
Teachers and others protest outside the headquarters of ASPIRA of Pa., a charter school firm that bid to take over Muñoz Marín Elementary. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 07, 2014

After a bitterly fought battle, parents at Luis Muñoz Marín Elementary have voted to keep their school a part of the Philadelphia public school system, rejecting a charter organization's takeover proposal.

According to results announced Thursday night by Philadelphia School District officials, 223 parents wanted Muñoz Marín to remain a traditional public school and 70 voted for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to take control.

In a separate vote, 11 members of the school's advisory council wanted to remain with the district. None voted for ASPIRA.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has the final say on the fate of the struggling North Third Street school, which has 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. A decision is expected soon.

The Muñoz Marín vote means that parents at the two district schools tapped this year for possible charter takeover have voted against those changes.

Steel, an elementary school with 540 students in Nicetown, faced possible conversion by Mastery Charter Schools, but its parents overwhelmingly said they did not want that affiliation. Hite approved the parents' choice.

This year's "Renaissance" process - the district's name for turning around tough schools - was especially messy.

Parties on both sides accused the other of dirty tactics and playing politics.

The Muñoz Marín vote was postponed once, after City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said some parents asked her for a delay. District officials agreed, saying an extra month would give families more time to understand their options.

But the extra time only deepened the divisions. This week, an ASPIRA official filed a complaint with the district, saying the school's advisory council was attempting to block its outreach work.

It wasn't clear how that complaint might affect Thursday's vote. A district spokeswoman said she had no information about it.

ASPIRA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Sánchez, a former ASPIRA executive director, said Thursday night that she found the process frustrating. Too little attention was being focused on the school's academic needs and how to make it better, she said.

"I don't think the majority of the parents participated, and I still don't think the process is a good one," the councilwoman said. "It was so contentious, even from the beginning."

ASPIRA supporters thought the teachers' union was too heavily involved. Those against the charter conversion were wary of ASPIRA, which is embroiled in controversy at Olney High, one of its charters, where teachers are attempting to organize a union and have filed several unfair-labor-practices complaints.

Muñoz Marín teacher Bridget Hoffmann noted that because of the timing of the vote, "at this point, the district has wiped the school out."

Many teachers wanted to remain at the school, but because they did not know whether they would have jobs, they applied and accepted positions elsewhere in the district.

Still, the results felt like a victory, said Vivian Rodriguez, a Muñoz Marín volunteer and retired teacher.

"We are so happy," she said over the loud sounds of celebration Thursday night. "It's been two hard months. We will build this school up again and get stronger."


kgraham@phillynews.com215-854-5146 @newskag www.inquirer.com/schoolfiles

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