AS HEAD of the School Advisory Council at Steel Elementary, Kendra Brooks should be one of the first people to learn about major potential changes at the school, which two of her children attend.

Apparently, that doesn't apply when a charter operator is poised to take it over.

Brooks, co-founder of a community organization in Nicetown, said she was blindsided Friday when another parent told her that Mastery Charter Schools had been chosen to turn around Steel - three days before it was announced by the School District of Philadelphia. She was even more surprised to hear that Mastery, which runs other Renaissance charters in the area, had spoken to some Steel parents as early as a year ago about its plans.

"I think that was pretty unfair, but I'm still gathering facts around what is the best information for me to share with my families [at the school]," Brooks said.

Brooks isn't the only one calling the Renaissance charter process unfair. A day after the district's announcement about Steel and Munoz-Marin Elementary - which would be given over to ASPIRA of Pennsylvania - the head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers blasted the district for giving parents a "false choice."

"The audacity of the district's proposal to the school communities at Marin and Steel is stunning," PFT president Jerry Jordan said in a statement. "To continually deny these schools much-needed resources as they dangle millions of dollars in front of parents borders on the criminally negligent."

As part of changes this year to the Renaissance process - which has converted 20 schools to charters in four years - parents get to vote May 1 on whether the schools will become Renaissance charters or remain district-managed. It comes with a caveat, however: Renaissance charters receive nearly $4,000 more per student - money the district said would not likely be available if parents vote against the charter operator and in favor of an in-house transformation plan.

Assistant Superintendent Paul Kihn said the district wants to invest in models with a "strong evidence base."

"What we're not going to do is invest in untested ideas or in plans that are just plans," Kihn told the Public School Notebook.

Jordan and PFT members plan to hold an informational rally today outside Steel, on Wayne Avenue near Rowan Street, to talk to parents.

ASPIRA, which operates two Renaissance charters and two independent charters, also has faced questions about its finances after a district audit last year showed that it owed its schools more than $3 million. Teachers also have filed several complaints accusing the organization of union-busting.

Kihn said the district is looking into the audit, but doesn't "have any information in relation to the audit finding that would cause us to believe there's any financial impropriety."

Sheila Ballen, a spokeswoman for Mastery, acknowledged that representatives may have spoken with Steel parents in advance of the news, but she insisted that the organization did not know that the school would be chosen for Renaissance.

"Did we have advance knowledge this is going to be a turnaround? The school district made the call," Ballen said, adding that if Mastery reps spoke to parents "it was only because we talk to a lot of parents. We speak to all parents about turning around their school."

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