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Layoffs at Khepera Charter School

The financially troubled Khepera Charter School in North Philadelphia laid off from nine to 11 staffers Friday because of financial woes.

Those let go included two classroom teachers and several teaching assistants, and could account for as much as a quarter of the school's staff, sources connected to the school said.

Khepera officials did not respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment Wednesday.

"Laying off people in the middle of the year is not a good idea," said Barbara Gordon, a staff representative for AFT Pennsylvania, the union that represents Khepera's 16 teachers, including the two laid off. "You break the continuity for the students."

Gordon said Khepera had combined its two fifth- and sixth-grade classes into one class each.

DawnLynne Kacer, executive director of the district's charter office, said charter schools are not required to report layoffs unless they involve school leaders. Khepera, she said, had not told her office about the layoffs last week.

She said past financial instability at Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners and Wakisha charter schools led to the sudden midyear closings of those schools.

Walter D. Palmer, founder and former board president of the school that bore his name, became Khepera's CEO last fall.

"There is a history of teacher and leadership turnover" at Khepera, Kacer said. "I'm disappointed. But since I was not informed, I don't know the reason."

She said the annual charter school evaluations that will be released this month will include data on staff turnover for the first time.

Founded in 2004 as an African-centered school, Khepera is at 926 Sedgley Ave. and has 449 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school has been grappling with financial problems for years, including failing to make required payments to the state teachers' retirement system. When that happens, the state withholds the funds from the School District. The district gets the money back when it deducts the amount from a charter school's monthly payment.

Kacer said Khepera had missed $370,000 in pension payments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016.

She said the school did not file its annual audit for the 2014 fiscal year until December and still has not submitted audits for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

Khepera's former chief administrative officer filed a whistle-blower suit in federal court last fall alleging he was wrongfully dismissed for speaking out about financial and management practices at the school. The school denied the allegations in court filings.