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SRC renews 5 charters

The School Reform Commission voted to approve charter renewals for five schools last night, but four of them were forced to improve their enrollment procedures.

THE SCHOOL REFORM Commission voted to approve charter renewals for five schools last night, but four of them were forced to improve their enrollment procedures.

The SRC voted to renew Antonia Pantoja Community Charter School and Eugenio Maria de Hostas, both in North Philadelphia; Christopher Columbus Charter School in South Philadelphia; Maritime Academy Charter School in Bridesburg, and Universal Institute Charter School in Southwest Center City.

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky moved to include amendments in all the renewals, except Universal's, to compel each school to improve their enrollment procedures. The schools were found to have "significant barriers to entry," such as making applications available only for pickup at the school.

DeHostos, for example, made its application available for only three days in February at the school, according to district report. The school wouldn't even provide a copy of the application to district officials, saying "the application doesn't leave the building," the report said.

The SRC voted 4-1 to reject the renewal of Imani Education Circle Charter School in Germantown - a move that the district recommended, citing concerns with its academics and finances. Commissioner Sylvia Simms voted to keep the school open.

The Rev. LeRoi Simmons, a member of the school's board, expressed "strong" disagreement with the vote.

"We're going to save all this stuff [evidence] for the hearings if you so choose to dismantle another school in central Germantown," Simmons said. "Central Germantown has obviously been targeted as a place where we don't need education." Germantown High School and Fulton elementary are closing this year.

Earlier, about 25 protesters from the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools rallied on the steps of the district headquarters, urging the SRC to deny renewals to most charter schools and to stop charter-school expansion.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced late last month that the district would not fund charter-school expansion next year because of its $304 million budget deficit.

Hanif Palmer, 36, a Bok High School alum, called the renewals "a disgrace."

"We need all the money we can get for fragile public schools losing or at risk of losing nurses, guidance counselors, sports," said Palmer, whose son is a freshman at the school. "We don't need that money for charters with little oversight and no way for parents to know that money is being spent the right way."

Also before the SRC meeting, Discovery Charter School students and staff rallied in the same vicinity to celebrate the school's settlement with the district.

Discovery officials agreed to pay the state $404,000 over 12 months, the school's chief executive Jackie Kelly said in a statement. The district contended the school should repay the district those funds, which was charged to Philadelphia for the cost of 73 charter seats Discovery added this year without permission, or the district would recommend that the SRC not renew its charter.

An additional 10 charter schools will face a vote for renewal at the next SRC meeting May 30.