Ahead of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's vote Feb. 8 on new charter schools, the district said it found some weaknesses in all three applications.
But the district's charter school office, which evaluated the plans with other district staffers, had the most serious concerns about a proposal submitted by a charter organization in Washington that wants to open a school in the Allegheny West neighborhood that would offer a college-prep program for students from pre-K through fifth grade.
Among other things, the office said, it had questions about Friendship Education Foundation's plan to charge the proposed Friendship Whittier Charter School a 12 percent management fee. The report also said it appeared that the founders did not understand that Pennsylvania's charter school law would not permit it to offer pre-K "nor use any charter operating funds to serve pre-K students."
The 19-page evaluation of the proposed Friendship Whittier Charter School said that its plans raised questions and concerns about the "school's leadership, governance, and service-provider relationships," staffing, budgeting, and the ties among proposed board members, the management organization, and subcontractors.
The charter office also said Friendship's application included little evidence of support for the school from residents or interested parents in the neighborhood.
The founding group is affiliated with Friendship Public Charter Schools, which operates eight schools in Washington.
James F. Waller, the chief of school operations at Friendship schools in Washington, plans to be on the board of Friendship Whittier Charter in Philadelphia. He said he had not read the evaluation by the district's charter school office but was aware of some of the concerns.
"We will listen to all the comments and address them," he said Friday. "We will work to improve the application because we are committed to Philadelphia, and I am personally committed to Philadelphia," said Waller, who grew up in the city and graduated from Central.
"We know we can provide quality education in Philadelphia as we are doing in Washington," he said.
The SRC is scheduled to vote on Friendship Whittier and two other proposed charters at a special meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the district headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.
All three applications are for elementary school charters that would have a college-prep focus.
District spokesman H. Lee Whack Jr. said DawnLynne Kacer, executive director of the charter school office, will make a presentation to the SRC on the charter proposals but would not make recommendations.
Public hearings were held earlier on the applications. Five applications were submitted before the Nov. 15 deadline, but two were withdrawn.
According to evaluations posted online late last week, the charter office had questions about the staffing plans and use of appropriately certified personnel at the proposed Deep Roots Charter School that wants to open in the Harrowgate section of the Lower Northeast in the fall of 2018.
The office also expressed reservations about Deep Roots' plans to locate at the district's former Sheridan West building on Frankford Avenue. Built in 1908, the structure needs major renovations, including new plumbing and electrical systems and sprinklers, and district staffers questioned whether the building could be rehabbed in time.
Logan Blyler, the proposed school leader, is a partner and fellow at Jounce Partners, a Philadelphia nonprofit that coaches teachers and trains school leaders.
District staffers who examined the KIPP Parkside application had several questions about the school that KIPP Philadelphia wants to open in 2018 in the West Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia. KIPP Philadelphia already has four charters in the city, and the office noted the academic performance of two KIPP elementary charters had declined in recent years.
The district also expressed concern about a 12 percent management fee KIPP Parkside would pay to the KIPP Administrative Services Corp., as well as a 1 percent fee it would pay to the national Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter network.
Charter evaluations often raise questions and point out areas where applicants are asked to supply more information.
Last year, the five-member SRC voted in favor of three of the 12 charter-school applicants but made the approvals contingent upon meeting a series of conditions.