Report: Charter schools improve business practices

Posted: July 11, 2014

SOME OF Philadelphia's charter schools have taken heed of recommendations put forth in a stinging 2010 controller's report and, according to a follow-up report, have been able to improve their governance practices.

Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in West Philadelphia, for example, had a few irregular practices that have been resolved since the 2010 report.

The school was once home to Club Damani, a dance venue that served alcoholic beverages, and had a chief financial officer, Rhonda Sharif, who collected salaries from various schools, all of whom contributed to her pension. It also had a contract with a construction company whose owner was related to Sharif, but Harambee didn't report it to the Internal Revenue Service.

"Harambee took the opportunity to act on our recommendations and subsequently made the necessary improvements," City Controller Alan Butkovitz said in a statement.

Sharif and Club Damani are history, but some questionable practices remain: Harambee Institute Inc., a related nonprofit co-located at the school campus, hasn't filed an IRS 990 tax form since 2008, prompting the IRS to revoke its nonprofit status. In a follow-up response to the Controller's Office, officials promised that the 990s from 2008 to 2010 would be filed in the first week of this month.

The follow-up report also noted that the district's charter school office had improved its performance, complying with all document requests by Butkovitz's team. It was a much different story a few years ago when charter-school staff couldn't locate requested papers.

Butkovitz called on legislation to amend the Charter School Law that would empower his office and the Department of Education to step up oversight of the city's charter schools. The district, which is responsible for their oversight, "doesn't have the money or the manpower" to oversee the charters regularly, he said. The district audits a charter school when it's up for renewal. (For two years, the district's auditing services unit has had two auditors to examine 86 charter schools.)

Butkovitz's report looked at five charter schools. In addition to Harambee, the report examined Mathematics, Civic and Sciences Charter, on Broad Street near Buttonwood in North Philadelphia; People for People Charter, on Broad Street near Brown in Francisville; New Foundations Charter, on Torresdale Avenue near Vandike Street in Holmesburg; and Multi-Cultural Academy Charter on Broad Street, near Butler in Hunting Park.

It's unclear whether the district reviewed the report.

But when asked about it yesterday, district spokeswoman Raven Hill said in an email that: "The district is committed to more effective oversight of charter schools."

She added that the district recognizes the need for more staff.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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