FOR THE FIRST time in four years, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission Thursday night began the process of closing city charter schools.
The commission voted to put three schools on notice that their five-year operating charters would not be renewed: Truebright Science Academy, Arise Academy and Hope.
The district's charter-school office had recommended the actions against the three schools based on problems with academics and administration and on their failure to meet state requirements such as having 75 percent of their teachers certified. Arise was also flagged for its financial instability.
The schools will remain open for the 2012-13 academic year.
SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos stressed that the evening's votes were merely the first steps in a lengthy process that includes public hearings and possible appeals to the state Charter School Appeal Board in Harrisburg.
Despite commission members' decision that Arise's troubled track record did not merit a five-year renewal, they expressed interest in working with the school's new board president and CEO to develop a plan with specific performance targets that would allow the school to remain open. The school is the nation's first charter for foster-care students who have a high risk of dropping out.
The Inquirer reported that Truebright is one of more than 130 charter schools nationwide run by followers of the Turkish imam M. Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Poconos.
Several federal agencies are looking into allegations of kickbacks by Turkish teachers to the Gulen movement at the charters nationwide, according to knowledgeable sources. One-third of Truebright's teachers and administrators are Turkish, and most of them are working in this country on nonimmigrant visas.
In other news:
* SRC voted to hand three schools over to charter providers as part of a "Renaissance" strategy with the goal of shifting 50,000 seats in low-performing city schools to seats in schools that work well.
The SRC unanimously agreed to give Cleveland Elementary in Tioga to Mastery Charter Schools Inc.; H.R. Edmunds Elementary in Frankford to String Theory Schools; and Jones Middle School in Port Richmond to American Paradigm Schools. The charters will take over in the fall.
* Ramos also announced a controversial new process that delays and changes the game plan for 22 other charters up for renewal this year and the expansion requests of many others.
- Inquirer staff writer
Kristen Graham contributed