The Philadelphia School District has told a charter school in Bridesburg its practice of charging students a $45 administration fee after they have been selected for admission may violate state law.
Thomas Darden, a deputy chief who oversees charter schools, told Franklin Towne Charter High School last week such a fee and preadmission testing of students were not permitted by the state charter law and amounted to "illegal barriers to admission."
In an April 26 letter to Franklin Towne chief operating officer Joseph M. Venditti, Darden said the district's charter school office was asking the school to "discontinue these practices immediately" and to outline its plans for informing families.
Darden said in a recent interview with The Inquirer that the district was responding to a complaint it received from a parent who forwarded a letter the family had received after the student was accepted to Franklin Towne for the 2012-13 school year. According to the letter, new students would not be admitted and given a roster until they had completed all admission requirements, including freshman testing, providing medical documents, and paying the $45 fee.
There are 80 charter schools in the city that receive $8,773 from the district for every student in regular classes and $19,423 for those in special education. Franklin Towne, which has 925 students, received more than $12 million from the district, state, and local governments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to its nonprofit tax filing.
Darden said the charter office did not know of any other charter schools that charged an administration fee.
"Our position is that charter schools in Pennsylvania are public schools and cannot impose barriers to admission, including a fee of $45," Darden said.
James A. Rocco 3d, Franklin Towne's lawyer, said Tuesday the issue may stem from a misunderstanding. He said Franklin Towne officials had been trying to speak to Darden and others in the charter office to clear up confusion.
Rocco said new students were tested solely to place them in classes. He said the fee covered the cost of planners, lanyards, and IDs, as well as security at the Frankford Arsenal Business Center, where the charter is.
"It is not a barrier to enrollment or attendance at our school," Rocco said. "We want to work with the School District to make sure it is more clear."
According to Rocco, the school spends more than $45 for each new student.
Unlike other charters, he said, Franklin Towne faces unusual charges because its campus at 5301 Tacony St. is part of the Arsenal Condominium Association and is assessed for its share of "common expenses," including the cost of security personnel who staff booths at the two access points to the 86-acre arsenal.
The ID badges enable students to enter the site using card readers.
Rocco said he was not sure but thought that Franklin Towne Elementary, which is at 4259 Richmond St., also had an administration fee, although the school is not at the arsenal.
Mark Hankin, president of the Arsenal Condominium Association, said it charges $25 to create and program each magnetic security card. The rate applies to cards made for all the units in the condominium association, including the Maritime Academy Charter School.
Ann G. Waiters, Maritime's CEO, said her school of fifth-through-12th graders provided their security cards at no cost to the students but charged them $10 to replace a lost card.