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Advocacy group to Gov. Wolf: Get rid of SRC member

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools alleges in a letter that Farah Jimenez “has taken actions which raise additional problems with her continuing as a Commissioner.”

Farah Jimenez
Farah JimenezRead moreDN

A LOCAL GROUP of education advocates has sent Gov. Wolf a letter asking for the removal of Farah Jimenez from the School Reform Commission because of her husband's association with charter schools.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools says it is also concerned about Jimenez's oversight of the school district's Charter School Office, which she details on her LinkedIn page.

The group alleges in an Oct. 8 letter obtained by the Daily News that Jimenez, who was appointed to the SRC in February 2014 by former Gov. Tom Corbett, "has taken actions which raise additional problems with her continuing as a Commissioner."

SRC Chairwoman Marjorie Neff calls the alliance's contentions "misplaced allegations."

Jimenez's husband, David Hyman, is a partner with the law firm Kleinbard LLC, which represents schools operated by Mastery and KIPP in addition to other charters. Jimenez abstained about 26 times between March 2014 and Aug. 20, according to a review of SRC meeting minutes by the Daily News.

The letter to Wolf, signed by Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik, contends that Jimenez publicly stated at an SRC meeting that she took part in discussions with other SRC members regarding a Mastery issue that was brought up for a vote in May. Commissioners voted - with Jimenez abstaining - to renew the charter for Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School on the condition that its board of trustees enter into a management agreement with Mastery Charter High School.

Jimenez, additionally, voted on a $300,000 Mastery Schools contract in August to provide teacher training in the district. After the advocates sent Jimenez and Neff a Sept. 2 letter noting Jimenez's yes vote, they heard from Jimenez's lawyer.

William Sasso, chairman of the law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, responded to the group, saying that "your assertions are so far removed from the truth that they constitute an intentional and malicious attempt to malign my client," according to the letter.

The vote was ratified later in the Sept. 17 SRC meeting without specifics. The resolution "is being rescinded because a Commissioner wishes to change her vote with the unanimous consent of the SRC, to an abstention. This is a ratification because the school-based coaching services have begun," according to the Sept. 21 resolution.

Rob Caruso, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, applauded the change to abstention in Jimenez's vote. However, he pointed to her alleged disclosure that she was involved in discussions regarding Frederick Douglass and spoke in general terms.

"The use of authority by a public official is more than a vote. If the public official is sitting in on discussions, weighing in on a matter, that's an attempt to influence," Caruso said. "The public official should abstain. They can't discuss, can't adjudicate, can't take part in discussions."

Jimenez's LinkedIn profile describes her responsibility with the Charter Schools Office, stating "within a heated political environment, guided staff through first charter school application process in seven years requiring the review and adjudication of more than 40 applications."

The alliance called her involvement with the office a problem and contend it has not been disclosed by the district or the SRC. It's a problem "because Ms. Jimenez has a role in crafting policies that affect all charter schools and so will affect those companies as well," according to the letter.

Neff disagreed, saying the alliance "fail[s] to take into account the full scope of Commissioner Jimenez's duties, which she has admirably carried out," according to a statement released through district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

"She has publicly stated, on more than one occasion, any conflicts of interests and has properly abstained when they arose. Members of governing boards have the right to recuse themselves and abstain from votes when necessary," she added.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina