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West Philly HS council strikes back

The parent and community group charged with deciding who should radically revamp West Philadelphia High shot back Wednesday, blasting officials for their handling of the school's transformation.

Gathered in front of the Philadelphia School District's Center City offices, the West School Advisory Council decried district officials as inconsistent and said that decisions about the school were being unduly influenced by outsiders.

"We feel offended and dragged through the mud," the 15-member council said in a statement. "The unnecessary delay of this process has harmed our school community. Our turnaround cannot wait any longer."

Members demanded that the School Reform Commission, meeting Wednesday, "ratify the resolution submitted by Dr. Ackerman on May 26 that would match West Philadelphia High School with Johns Hopkins as a turnaround provider."

It was at the commission's May 26 meeting that the commission declined not to vote on a resolution awarding nonprofit Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now! a contract to run West in September.

Later, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced she had decided to delay the transformation of West. Earlier, the schools chief had said that West's turnaround could not wait another year.

The delay was necessary, officials said, because of an alleged conflict of interest on the part of some council members.

The conflict centers on four parents who recieved small stipends to work for a nonprofit that has ties to Hopkins.

The Philadelphia Education Fund, which has a long history of working with Hopkins, had paid the parents to get other West parents involved in the school. One parent still works part-time for the Education Fund, doing the same kind of work.

Ackerman said she knew of that parent's employment, but said the parent should have abstained from voting for a provider.

Ackerman said she did not know the other three parents had been paid by the Education Fund.

The parents have said they made their involvement known to the district.

A legal analysis performed by the Education Law Center concluded there was no conflict of interest, but the district is still investigating.

The council was formed by Ackerman herself. She has said she is not angry with the parents on the council, but believes the body must be reconstituted.

Council members said the district is stalling for time and that the community has clearly spoken for Hopkins.

"The School Advisory Council followed the district's process," the council said. "The district should stand by their own process."

District officials did not immediately comment.