The last School Reform Commission meeting of 2007, held yesterday just six days before Christmas, brought goodies for some, a lump of coal for others, and a musical reminder from high-school students of what they'd like most as a holiday gift: good teachers in every school.
Members of Bright Hope Baptist Church had smiles on their faces as they got what they wanted from the commission - an agreement of sale for a new church-development corporation to buy the vacant Wanamaker School, on Cecil B. Moore Avenue at 11th Street, blocks from the church, for $10.75 million.
Rev. Kevin Johnson, the new pastor of Bright Hope, said the church and the Goldenberg Group planned to build a new school, as well as affordable housing units and some retail businesses that may attract nearby Temple University students.
But the 3-0 vote, with one abstention, didn't go as smoothly as planned.
And at least one unsuccessful bidder for the property is threatening to take the district to court.
"We will see them in court," Patrick Green, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis, a real-estate company, said. He said he was representing Tower Investments, the company owned by developer Bart Blatstein.
Green charged that at least two bidders submitted amended bids after the Dec. 11 deadline, but "my client wasn't invited to submit an amended bid."
Green wasn't the only opponent of the Wanamaker school sale.
Commissioner Martin Bed-narek, taking part in the meeting by speakerphone because he has been ill, said he wouldn't support the sale without amending the resolution to say that the Wanamaker school could not be resold, or "flipped," in his words, within five years.
Bednarek also insisted on another amendment requiring that development on the site begin within two years after the sale is completed.
"I don't want there to be another hole in the ground like the city had with DisneyQuest," Bed-narek said.
The "hole in the ground" reference was apparently directed at Brighter Hope's development partner for the site, the Goldenberg Group.
Paula Peebles, president of her own community-development group, and community activist Sultan Ashley-Shah, president of the local chapter of the National Action Network, also opposed the sale.
They said they had no objections to Bright Hope church getting the building, but they said they were concerned that the Goldenberg Group has a history of starting projects and not finishing them.
Ashley-Shah said Goldenberg was behind the failed DisneyQuest project that left a "hole in the ground" at 8th and Market streets for years. He said Goldenberg was also involved in a failed Uptown Theater project as well.
But Ken Goldenberg said those developments were pulled for reasons over which his company had no control. He said the Disney company pulled out of DisneyQuest.
He said his group was part of other successful projects such as the first Ikea in Philadelphia and the Target store, both in South Philadelphia.
In other action yesterday, the School Reform Commission approved an amendment to its charter-school policy to require tougher monitoring of charter schools in the city. While some parents welcomed the closer scrutiny of the schools - two parents said the director of their children's charter only has a high-school education - other charter-school officials had asked for a delay in the vote.
The Philadelphia Student Union brought dozens of students, including one dressed as "Student Santa," to tell commissioners that students should have a voice in contract talks that begin next month with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The students said the best and most experienced teachers use seniority rights to transfer out of "hard-to-staff" neighborhood schools to go to magnet or Center City schools, leaving neighborhood schools with new, inexperienced teachers.
"We want to negotiate incentives for experienced teachers to stay at hard-to-staff schools," a student statement said. *