Butkovitz sees progress in review of charter schools

Posted: July 12, 2014

Four years after issuing a scathing report on charter schools that found conflicts of interest and questionable business practices, City Controller Alan Butkovitz said Thursday that several of the schools had made strides.

He singled out the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in West Philadelphia, which he lambasted earlier because a nonprofit that owned the school's building was operating a nightclub inside on weekends and its chief financial officer was collecting salaries from several charters.

A review that Butkovitz's office began in January found that the nightclub no longer existed and that the school had cut ties to its former chief financial officer.

"These changes show that our prior investigative report had a major impact on this charter school," Butkovitz said.

In 2010, Harambee was one of 13 charter schools the controller's office examined out of the 67 then in the city. For the latest review, the office limited the study to Harambee and four others that had been found to have the most serious problems.

The other charters that Butkovitz said had addressed most conflicts of interest and other concerns were Mathematics, Civic and Sciences on North Broad Street; People for People, North Philadelphia; New Foundations, Holmesburg; and Multi-Cultural Academy, North Philadelphia.

However, the report noted that the controller's staff could not confirm that People for People and Mathematics and Civics had resolved all conflicts with related nonprofits that owned their buildings. The office could not verify all board members and said board meeting minutes were not recorded properly.

Butkovitz said his office was still examining two other charter organizations that were not part of the original study.

The controller also took a second look at the Philadelphia School District's oversight of its 86 charter schools. This time, the controller found that the district's charter office was properly maintaining required charter documents, including annual audits, board resolutions, and bylaws.

But apart from five-year renewals, the report said, the district's four-member charter office was still providing "minimal oversight of charter school operations."

The office also lacks a director.

District spokeswoman Raven Hill said the district "is committed to more effective oversight of charter schools."

She said a new initiative approved by the School Reform Commission will enable the district to provide more comprehensive oversight.

Hill said the district recognized that more staff were needed and expects to fill the vacant executive director's post this summer.

A total of 67,315 city students attend charters. The district spent $700 million on charter payments in the fiscal year that just ended.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com

215-854-2789

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