Ronnie Polaneczky: A fed probe and a suddenly shy Veronica Joyner (Philadelphia Daily News, April 6, 2010)
VERONICA JOYNER has never been shy with the media.
For two-plus decades, as founder of Parents United for Better Schools, she'd talk with any reporter who'd listen about how wrong it was for the school district to shut parents out of important discussions. Things like school-admission policies, testing protocols, racial disparities and condom distribution.
And since 1999, when she opened Mathematic, Civics and Sciences Charter School, she's had an open-door policy with both the press and high-level visitors to its gleaming, orderly home at 447 N. Broad St.
And why wouldn't she? MCS consistently posts good grades in standardized academic-achievement tests. Parents rate the school high in independent parent-satisfaction surveys. And former district CEO Paul Vallas was so impressed with the place, he thought MCS should "serve as a role model for other charter schools in the district."
To my mind, Joyner has earned her fans the hard way - through years of hard work and a willingness to speak her mind when others were too cowed to open their mouths.
So it was weird last Thursday to sit in a conference room at Joyner's school and not be able to get an answer to a very simple question. I wanted to know: How many members of her family are or have ever been paid by either her school or her advocacy group?
"I am not allowed to say a word," Joyner said apologetically, referring all questions to her attorney, Lisa Mathewson. "I wish I could. You know me. I have always been open with the press. But I can't talk right now."
A day later, she called back to say she had changed her mind. She would answer questions, but I'd have to present them in an e-mail to Mathewson, after which they'd get back to me.
This is so not the way Joyner operates. But I guess that's what a federal probe of one of your key employees will do to you.
The FBI, as many know by now, is investigating Rhonda Sharif, the business manager at MCS. She appears to have been paid by two other charter schools at the same time.
The school is among 13 charters being investigated by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who will release his final report in two weeks. But among his findings so far, the Inquirer reported yesterday, is that Joyner, as head of MCS, rents the school's property from Parents United, which she also heads.
That makes her both landlord and tenant, an odd arrangement according to Ben Rayer, who oversees charter schools for the Philadelphia School District.
"The positions should not overlap," he said.
I'll leave that for Butkovitz to puzzle out. While he's at it, maybe he can get to the bottom of the $536,093 in costs for travel and conferences that, according to the Inquirer, Joyner acknowledged that the MCS board approved - even though the school wasn't able to document them.
Mathewson, Joyner's lawyer, refused to discuss it with me…