Palmer charter school ready to open, fight for its future

Walter D. Palmer: "I'm still prepared to negotiate."
Walter D. Palmer: "I'm still prepared to negotiate."
Posted: September 02, 2014

As an embattled city charter school prepares to welcome 1,350 students on Tuesday, founder Walter D. Palmer remains hopeful the school that bears his name will remain open past June.

Palmer, a veteran educator, lawyer, and community activist, said his school had devised an academic turnaround plan and proposed an agreement with the Philadelphia School District to resolve an enrollment dispute.

He hopes to stave off a charter-revocation hearing and funding cuts that threaten the school's survival.

Palmer said he had met twice with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and sent the district a proposal to settle several disputes.

"I'm still prepared to negotiate and find a solution to this matter," Palmer said last week.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said Friday: "I cannot speak to the representations being made by Mr. Palmer. The fact is that the school district is moving forward with the revocation process."

He said the hearing was scheduled for Oct. 15.

Palmer's K-12 charter opened in 2000 and has campuses in Northern Liberties and Frankford.

Palmer has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to discuss his school's plans for the academic year, report on his negotiations with the district, and introduce the new chief executive officer.

Palmer, who presides over the charter board, said the school had contracted with Stacey Cruise, a veteran charter leader, to be CEO and lead an academic turnaround.

It's all part of Palmer's effort to save the school.

On April 24, the School Reform Commission voted to begin the process of revoking the school's five-year charter on multiple grounds, including financial problems and poor academic performance.

The hearing that will give Palmer's charter the opportunity to challenge the district's allegations was scheduled for the summer but was postponed until October because the school's attorney was dealing with health issues.

In the interim, Palmer said that in addition to meeting with Hite and other district officials, he had submitted documents addressing the 24 allegations the district has said warrant revocation of the charter.

He has also been seeking support from local and state political leaders, including Gov. Corbett.

Palmer said Hite had suggested the charter contract with an education-management firm to help improve academics.

The district said that the charter's reading and math scores were below district averages, and that the charter did not meet state academic targets from 2007 to 2012.

Palmer said the charter had addressed the district's concerns about its finances by hiring an independent chief financial officer and had offered to resolve a long-standing enrollment dispute.

The school has 1,350 students, but the district maintains it illegally enrolled more than the 675 maximum authorized in its 2005 charter.

State law bars school districts from capping charter enrollment - unless the charter agrees.

In May, the state Supreme Court overruled a Commonwealth Court decision and said the charter was not entitled to receive payment for the additional students because it had agreed to the maximum when it signed its charter. The high court sent the issue back to Commonwealth Court for further action.

Based on the high court's ruling, the state Department of Education denied the charter's request for $300,000 in monthly payments for the additional students.

Palmer's attorney has disputed the department's interpretation of the Supreme Court decision and said the school is entitled to the money.

Last week, Palmer said his school had no plans to grow beyond 1,350 students. After 2014-15, he offered to reduce enrollment by 50 students a year for each of the next five years.

"We're thinking that somewhere there is a meeting in the middle," Palmer said.

He hopes the district decides to cancel the revocation hearing.

"We're hoping it doesn't happen," Palmer said. "But we're prepared if it does."


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