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Philly charter officials call for charters for 20 schools but not Laboratory

The Laboratory School of Communications and Languages was once the flagship of a group of charter schools founded by former district administrator Dorothy June Brown.

The Laboratory School of Communications and Languages was once the flagship of a group of charter schools founded by former district administrator Dorothy June Brown.

The academics at the K-8 charter school with campuses in West Philadelphia and Northern Liberties were so strong that Laboratory was awarded national Blue Ribbons from the U.S. Department of Education in 2004 and 2013.

But Laboratory has such serious problems with finances and governance that the Philadelphia School District office that oversees charters is recommending that the school  --  among the city's first charter schools in 1997 -- not be granted a new five-year operating agreement.

Among other things, a report posted on the charter office's website late Monday afternoon said the district had concerns about Laboratory's special education screening, certification of its staff,  and school safety.

The office also found that Laboratory's application process did not comply with state law; that auditors  raised questions about the school's financial practices; and that Laboratory had failed five times to make timely payments to the state teachers' retirement system.

Stacey Cruise, Laboratory's CEO, could not be reached for comment.

In all, following a detailed review that included visits to each school, the charter office has recommended five-year renewals with conditions for 20 of the 26 charter schools that are seeking new operating agreements.

Recommendations have not been finalized for five schools. District spokesman Kevin Geary said reports containing the recommendations are expected to be posted over the next several days.

The School Reform Commission has scheduled a special meeting devoted to charter schools  May 1 at 3 p.m. at the district's administrative offices at 440 N. Broad St.

In addition to considering the renewals, the SRC will also vote on charter expansion requests.

Geary said the charter office would recommend expansions for three K-8 charter schools that would add a total of  797 seats. He identified the schools as Alliance for Progress, in North Philadelphia; Southwest Leadership School in Southwest Philadelphia; and Wissahickon Charter, which has campuses in East Mount Airy and Hunting Park.

The charter office is recommending renewals for the following schools: Belmont Elementary, West Philadelphia; Boys Latin, Cobbs Creek;  First Philadelphia Preparatory, Frankford; Franklin Towne Elementary, Bridesburg; Green Woods, Upper Roxborough; Inquiry, West Philadelphia; Keystone Academy, Tacony; Kipp West Philadelphia Preparatory; Mastery-Pickett, Germantown; Mastery-Cleveland, Tioga; Multicultural Academy, Hunting Park; Preparatory Charter, South Philadelphia;  Sankofa Freedom Academy, Kensington; Tacony Academy; Philadelphia Charter for the Arts and Sciences at H.R. Edmunds, Frankford; Universal-Creighton, Lawncrest;  and West Oak Lane.

Those charter schools whose reports are pending are Eastern University Academy, East Falls; General David B. Birney, Olney; Memphis Academy at A.P. Jones, Port Richmond; Philadelphia Electrical and Technology, Center City; Richard Allen Preparatory, Southwest Philadelphia.

Although Brown has not been involved in running any charter schools for several years, the veteran educator founded Laboratory and two other charter schools in the city, as well as a cyber charter school that provided online instruction to students in their homes.

Brown was charged with defrauding the schools of $6.3 million. Her first trial in federal court ended with a hung jury in 2014.

retrial was canceled in 2015 when a federal judge found that Brown, 79, was incompetent to stand trial because she had dementia.