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Parents split vote on school control

Most parents at Steel Elementary voted to remain district-managed, while the School Advisory Council favored a charter operator.

PARENTS and guardians at a North Philadelphia school were split Thursday on whether the school should remain under district control or be run by a charter operator, with some calling the process tainted.

In a general vote, parents and guardians at Steel Elementary voted overwhelmingly in favor of district control, 121-55. But in a separate vote, the School Advisory Council, made up of a smaller group of parents, favored control by Mastery Charter Schools, by a margin of 9-8.

The district said it would use the results "to guide its recommendation" to the School Reform Commission, which is tentatively scheduled to make a final decision May 29.

The district said it is also reviewing a grievance filed yesterday by parents regarding the SAC vote. According to Kendra Brooks, one of the parents who reportedly filed the complaint with the district's charter-school office, the grievance claims that about 80 percent of parents were disqualified Thursday from participating in the SAC vote. It also alleges that the rules for participating in the SAC were not fairly applied to everyone.

"We have stated constantly that the charter office is making up the rules as it goes and breaking them whenever it feels like it," Brooks said in a statement. "Parents have not had full transparency on this process and we do not trust the Charter Office, which has done all it can to make this process as difficult and punishing for parents as possible."

Brooks, after learning the results of the vote, said she was "overwhelmingly excited that the community had [rallied] around the school," but declined further comment until the grievance process is completed.

Giavoni Gethers, a Steel parent and SAC member, claimed that a district official held up the SAC vote until two pro-Mastery members arrived.

"I just really feel like they wanted it in their favor from the beginning, it was really a formality," Gethers said. "It's unfortunate. . . . I hope they do what's right for the kids, but it's a numbers game, I guess."

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, urged Superintendent William Hite and the SRC to heed the message from the majority of Steel parents.

"Now that the parents have spoken, it is incumbent on Superintendent Hite and the School Reform Commission to honor their desire for Steel to remain a traditional public school," Jordan said in a statement

Meanwhile, Mastery celebrated the results of the controversial SAC vote.

"We are thankful and humbled that the school's leaders, who visited Mastery schools and had the opportunity to carefully consider all options, decided that Mastery is the best choice for the Steel community," the organization said in a statement.

While the popular vote was clear, the turnout was low, with only 176 people voting out of approximately 800 who were eligible, the district said.

The League of Women Voters of Philadelphia, which served as an independent monitor for the general vote, tallied and certified the results.

Steel, on Wayne Avenue near Rowan Street in Nicetown, is one of two schools that could be turned over to a charter operator in September as part of the Renaissance Charter Initiative, pairing low-performing district schools with charter operators in hopes of a turnaround. Parents at Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary in North Philadelphia will vote June 5 on whether to remain district-run or cede control to Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania.