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Nearly 200 turn out for Philly school-management vote

Parents voted on whether Steel Elementary will remain district-run or managed by Mastery. The results will be announced today.

Thursday's vote was on the minds of parents and teachers all week. Earlier this week, teacher Dara Henry (middle) proved that with this sign outside the school. (Solomon Leach/Staff)
Thursday's vote was on the minds of parents and teachers all week. Earlier this week, teacher Dara Henry (middle) proved that with this sign outside the school. (Solomon Leach/Staff)Read more

NEARLY 200 parents turned out yesterday at a Nicetown elementary school for a vote that should determine whether it will remain a traditional public school or be run by a charter operator.

Parents and guardians at Steel Elementary cast secret ballots in the school's foyer from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., as the School Advisory Council cast a separate vote. The League of Women Voters of Philadelphia served as an independent monitor and tallied the results, which are expected to be announced today by the school district.

The School Reform Commission has said they will respect the parents' decision, although it does have the final vote on the matter.

If Steel parents voted in favor of charter conversion, the K-8 school, on Wayne Avenue near Rowan Street, would be managed by Mastery Charter Schools as a Renaissance charter school, which pairs low-performing district schools with charter operators in hopes of a turnaround. Parents at Munoz-Marin Elementary in North Philadelphia will vote June 5 on whether to remain district-managed or be run by Aspira of Pennsylvania.

Parents and guardians at Steel were required to show proof of identification to vote, ranging from a driver's license to a utility bill. Officials said they encountered a few minor hiccups, including some people whose addresses were listed incorrectly, but did not turn eligible voters away. Some parents whose children attend pre-K and Head Start programs were upset to learn they could not vote.

"We've had someone from the community come in and wanted to vote, which is great that the community cares - we just have to make sure it's only parents and legal guardians," said Heidi Gold, a board member with the League of Women Voters.

Following the vote, some parents questioned the integrity of the process, namely why the results were not being immediately released and why a district official was in the room while the votes were being tallied.

"I trust the League of Women Voters. I don't trust the process," said Kendra Brooks, a Steel parent and president of the SAC. "Every day the process is being changed."

Many parents said they saw the decision as a philosophical choice - whether to maintain Steel as the last traditional public school in the neighborhood or go with Mastery Charter Schools, which manages a middle school and high school in the neighborhood.

"I just believe in a good public education," Giavoni Gethers said. "I believe the kids should be learning and we should do it by any means necessary."