Mastery Charter Schools has agreed to pay the city's Board of Ethics $2,000 to settle a complaint stemming from a campaign this year to convert Wister Elementary into a charter school.
According to the Ethics Board, Mastery paid several individuals to help organize parents and community members in Wister's East Germantown neighborhood to urge the School Reform Commission to allow Mastery to manage Wister as a Renaissance charter school.
Because Mastery spent more than $2,500 on the effort during the first two quarters of 2016, the board said, the nonprofit should have registered with the Ethics Board and filed expense reports.
The board also said Cecelia Schickel, a community organizer who was paid more than $2,500 for the work, should have registered as a lobbyist and filed expense reports.
To settle the complaint, Mastery agreed to pay $2,000, register as a lobbyist, and file expense reports for the first two quarters of the year.
Schickel agreed to register as a lobbyist and pay the $100 registration fee.
Mastery issued a statement noting that the Renaissance process requires prospective operators to show evidence of community outreach, parent meetings, and petitions of support. Mastery said it contracted with a community organizer to meet the requirement.
"We have since learned that if this type of community engagement is conducted by an independent contractor, the contractor and Mastery must register with the city," the organization said. "This is a technical oversight for which we take full responsibility."
Mastery operates 11 charter schools in the city, including Wister, which the SRC approved in June.
Councilwoman Helen Gym, who had voiced concerns about Wister to city officials, said the ethics settlement showed the role lobbying played.
"Last school year, the School Reform Commission approved Mastery's bid to take over the Wister School in an unprecedented eleventh-hour move that went against the recommendation" of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., she said.
"Now we know that Mastery engaged in an expensive lobbying campaign," she said.
Hite had pulled Wister from the list of potential Renaissance charters in January after data showed improved performance. But SRC member Sylvia Simms introduced a resolution later that month inviting Mastery to apply to run Wister.
Simms' sister worked for a company that had contracted with Mastery.
Last month, the state Ethics Commission said a preliminary review found Simms had committed no ethics violations.
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