Philadelphia School Reform Commission

Mayor Nutter has launched a city investigation into the withdrawal of an Atlanta charter school company from operating Martin Luther King High School, amid allegations of conflict of interest and political wrangling involving School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and State Rep. Dwight Evans.

Nutter said Monday that he had directed Joan Markman, the city's chief integrity officer, to conduct a series of fact-finding interviews and report the results to him as soon as possible.

The development follows a week of disclosures about a closed-door meeting involving Archie, Evans, and one charter operator who later backed out of King, and the subsequent departure of a second charter operator. It also follows requests by some King parents for a state investigation…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

MLK HIGH CHARTER PLAN FALLING APART; April 21, 2011; Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
The New Jersey-based nonprofit that has overseen Martin Luther King High School for the last seven years has withdrawn its bid to run the school as a charter, amid a controversy involving School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and State Rep. Dwight Evans.

Citing a climate of "unrelenting hostility," Foundations Inc. Chief Executive Officer Rhonda H. Lauer in a letter to Archie and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman sent Wednesday night said her organization no longer was interested in participating in the district's "Renaissance" school reform plan…

The decision follows a report by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook this week that Archie met in a closed-door session with Evans and John Q. Porter, of Mosaica Turnaround Partners to discuss the fate of the school even though he had recused himself from voting on the charter earlier that day because of a potential conflict of interest. The law firm at which he is a partner, Duane Morris LLP, has represented Foundations, the Notebook reported.

The charter, which would be for five years, is estimated to be worth approximately $12 million dollars a year, according to the Notebook.

The School Reform Commission in March had voted to give Mosaica, an Atlanta-based for-profit charter school company, the right to negotiate the charter for King.

But Mosaica later withdrew its application after Evans publicly expressed his disappointment to the Commission and continued to support Foundations, with which he has had a long-standing relationship. Some parent leaders at the school, who supported Mosaica, however, have complained…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

SRC CHAIR FACES CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST QUESTIONS; April 19, 2011; Philadelphia Notebook (PA) 
Just over a month ago, the chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission took part in a pivotal closed-door meeting to discuss the fate of a charter school deal potentially worth $60 million, only hours after publicly recusing himself from voting on the matter due to a conflict of interest…

The meeting was held on the evening of March 16 at School District of Philadelphia headquarters, and included Archie, State Rep. Dwight Evans, and John Q. Porter of Mosaica Education, an Atlanta-based, for-profit school operator. [Read summary about Porter on The Broad Report]

Earlier that day, Archie’s fellow commissioners had voted 3-0 to award Mosaica the right to negotiate the charter to run Martin Luther King High in Germantown. Archie didn’t vote, citing his law firm’s ties to another applicant for the charter. Porter described himself that afternoon as “ecstatic” about the vote.

But the day after the three men met, Mosaica walked away from the King deal.

Porter explained the reversal at the time by saying that he did not want to interfere with Evans’ plans for his community. He also said that his company “did not believe that without full support we could be successful.”

Mosaica’s abrupt about-face left Foundations Inc., a New Jersey-based nonprofit with ties to both Archie and Evans, as the only bidder for the King charter. King is being transformed as part of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s signature Renaissance Schools initiative.

Zack Stalberg, chair of the Committee of Seventy, a watchdog group, called Archie’s action “highly improper."

The chair of a volunteer panel at King advising the District on the school’s turnaround plan said the group wants a full investigation into Archie’s behavior.

Archie has publicly acknowledged that the law firm where he is a partner, Duane Morris LLP, represents Foundations. (Archie has also recused himself from decisions involving Universal Companies, a charter provider slated to run Audenried High and Vare Middle School, for similar reasons.)

Evans also has deep connections to Foundations, which has for decades been his preferred partner for education projects of all kinds in and around his West Oak Lane district. For the past eight years, Foundations has been managing King under contract with the District.

In addition, Archie and Evans have a longstanding personal relationship. Evans has referred to Archie in press reports as a friend for more than two decades, and Archie has been a frequent donor to Evans’ political campaigns, as have many Foundations executives.

King’s charter, initially for five years, is estimated to be worth approximately $12 million dollars a year to its manager. The charter could potentially extend indefinitely…

Stalberg says he believes Archie's presence at the meeting will likely trigger the interest of state and federal investigators…

Stalberg believes Archie’s presence in the March 16 meeting will trigger not only questions about the King charter, but about the politically appointed board that oversees the $3.2 billion dollar district and its nearly 200,000 public and charter school students. “I think there’s a good chance that this will fire up the question of who is the SRC, and why is the state running our schools anyway?” Stalberg said. “The incident and the larger question may be totally different things.”

Stalberg, who edited the Philadelphia Daily News for three decades, said the story of Archie and Evans’ closed-door meeting is unlike anything he’s heard in recent years…

No comments: