Is the Philadelphia School District sour on its nine-year relationship with Community Education Partners (CEP), a longtime operator of schools for disruptive and overaged students?
Is it about to give more of that lucrative business to the new kid on the block - Camelot Schools, which now runs three disciplinary public schools?
The showdown has become the focus of a recent flurry of letters between city and state officials, as well as from Ted Kirsch, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Pennsylvania, who is upset about the proposed switch.
The School Reform Commission is expected today to vote on $47 million in contracts, and several private companies are vying to operate city disciplinary schools such as Shallcross and E.S. Miller.
In June 8 letters to Mayor Nutter, Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and SRC Chairman Robert Archie, Kirsch said that 157 CEP workers would lose their jobs, including 143 members of Local 6193 of AFT Pennsylvania, if the longtime contractor is turned away.
"What would compel the District to bring in new, untested 'providers'? . . . [I]t certainly appears to be a backdoor attempt at union busting."
Under the plan, the district will close CEP's 1,200-student Hunting Park school this year, while enrollment at CEP-run E.S. Miller is to drop sharply next year.
In an interview, Kirsch said that the awarding of the contracts "is all a bunch of bureaucratic bull."
He pointed to a 2005 study by Temple University that recommended that "the district should continue their contracts with CEP . . . "
Also, on June 8, Tomas Hanna, the district's chief of school operations, wrote City Councilman James F. Kenney, who first questioned the relationship between Camelot and the Brown Schools, a now-defunct Texas company under whose care at least five children are alleged to have died.
Hanna conceded that top officials of Camelot - including President John Harcourt, Senior Vice President Todd Bock and a third Camelot employee - had worked for Brown Schools. Harcourt was Brown's chief executive officer.
But Hanna said that a district investigation found that the two companies were, in fact, competitors.
A representative of Camelot who asked not to be identified said that the operator has an extraordinary track record in Philadelphia and reiterated that the district had found that the company was not involved in wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, some officials are still protesting.
Just yesterday, Councilwoman Joan Krajewski fired off a letter to Ackerman asking: "How can parents feel safe knowing their child attends a program by people who had children die while in their care?"
The district's letter to Kenney said that it had not hired Camelot to run residential facilities.
But, in addition to the $47 million to run disciplinary schools, the SRC resolutions up for vote today include an award to Camelot for $195,000 for services at the Kirkbride Center, a psychiatric facility in West Philadelphia.
There is also a nearly $2 million contract for educational services at the residential Wordsworth Academy, in Wynnefield Heights.
In addition to the SRC resolutions, Camelot Schools was hired by the city's Department of Human Services to provide services to children at Wordsworth, a DHS spokeswoman told the Daily News.
And, on June 3, state Rep. James Roebuck, chairman of the House Education Committee, wrote Ackerman. He labeled as "troubling" Camelot's ties to Brien N. Gardiner, founder of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School who was under federal investigation when he committed suicide May 13.