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Philly district seeks to close troubled Khepera Charter School

The Philadelphia School District's charter office calls for revoking Khepera Charter School's charter and closing the K-8 school.

Amid reports of staff layoffs and overdue bills at the Khepera Charter School, the Philadelphia School District's charter office Thursday called for the school's operating charter to be revoked.

The office said it had been monitoring the school's operations and would urge the School Reform Commission to vote Thursday to begin the process of revoking the charter of the school in Logan because of concerns about its finances and management.

"I am deeply concerned by what appears to be a gross misuse of both the public trust and the trust of students, parents and staff,"  SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson said in a statement.  "Our focus is on ensuring the best possible outcome for the students, family, and staff of Khepera who find themselves in this difficult situation."

The charter school enrolls 450 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

"We take revocation very seriously, and it is reserved for those instances where there is evidence of egregious violations of applicable laws and the charter." DawnLynne Kacer, executive director of the charter office, said in a statement.

Kacer said that due "to the significant academic under-performance, the seriousness of the substantiated claims against the charter school, and the evident financial instability of the school," her office decided it needed to take action in the best interest of students, families. staff and the public.

Walter D. Palmer, the charter school's acting CEO,  and other Khepera officials did not respond to requests for comment.

A vote by the SRC to revoke the charter would be the first step toward closing the school. The process includes hearings that would give Khepera an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Since the 2014-15 school year, the charter office said, Khepera's academic performance has been significantly below district schools and other charter schools. In fact, Khepera had the lowest overall score on the district's school progress reports of all charter schools citywide for 2015-16.

At the end of May, the landlord of Khepera's rented space at 926 Sedgley Ave. filed court documents demanding that the charter vacate the building and pay $87,346 in past-due rent.

In court documents, the landlord said Khepera had not responded to a certified letter sent May 17 informing the school that it was in violation of the lease that began July 1, 2014. The landlord ordered the charter to pay the costs in five days or vacate the building.

Common Pleas Court has not yet acted on the landlord's filing.

In addition to laying off approximately 10 staffers in March, Khepera recently ended direct-deposit paychecks for employees and has been issuing them live checks.

The school also has gotten into trouble for lapses in health insurance coverage for staff and repeatedly failing to make contributions  to the  state pension system for teachers.

During the current fiscal year alone, the charter school office said Khepera had failed to make more than $1 million in pension system contributions.

When a charter fails to make pension payments, the amount is deducted from the funds the School District receives from the state. The district then recovers the money by withholding the amount from charter payments.

The school's five-year operating agreement with the SRC is in effect until June 30, 2019, but the charter office said the school was in violation of many of the 22 conditions that were placed on its 2014 renewal.

Last week, a staff memo from Khepera's administration said that the charter school was continuing to work on improving its financial standing and that the school intended to continue  to educate students over the remaining two years of its charter.

Khepera opened in 2004.