For the first time in seven years, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission opened hearings Monday to consider proposals for new charter schools.
The wish list for the first of four days of hearings included a community-based school in Germantown for students in grades six through 12, and three K-12 charter schools in neighborhoods across the city, operated by the nonprofit String Theory Schools, that would combine science and the arts.
The day's roster also included a high school in Germantown that would focus on careers, a secondary school for at-risk youth that would shore up their academics and equip them for jobs in the region's high-tech economy, and a K-12 school in Center City with a focus on math, science, and technology
Benjamin N. Persofsky, president of the founding coalition of the proposed Partnership School, said the K-12 school that the MaST charter in the Far Northeast wants to open in Center City could be crucial for keeping young professionals in the city. "The entire city stands to benefit if we retain and attract these families," he said.
But in addition to presentations by seven charter applicants and testimony from supporters, hearing officer Allison Peterson heard from some who were concerned about opening new charter schools.
"I do not envy the tough decision you must make," Temwa Wright of South Philadelphia told Peterson. "But I ask you to take a moment to consider the impact opening new charter schools will have on the district."
Wright, who has three children in district schools, said she was concerned that opening new charter schools would drain even more resources from the district's financially strapped schools.
"If you have four hungry children that you are barely feeding, does it make sense to adopt two more?" she asked.
The 86 charter schools operating in the district enroll more than 67,000 students, but advocates said 40,000 more are on waiting lists.
In the first round of hearings this week, each of the 40 applicants has 15 minutes to make a presentation in support of its proposal.
Peterson said that during follow-up sessions in January, representatives from the district's charter office would question proponents and discuss findings made by the teams that evaluated their proposals.
The SRC is expected to vote on the applications in February.
The district was required to entertain charter applications under a new state law that authorized a $2-per-pack cigarette tax for city schools.
Officials of the cash-strapped district have said proposals will be considered amid the district's budgetary constraints.
Monday's hearing was delayed briefly by 20 demonstrators from Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools and Action United, who chanted "Moratorium now! Stop the charter fraud!"
The activists released a report in October that said that the state's charter schools have defrauded taxpayers of more than $30 million because oversight of the state's 186 charter schools is lax.