Despite an operating charter that only permits 675 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, a Northern Liberties charter school will open in September with 925 K-12 students, its founder said Wednesday night.
Walter D. Palmer, founder and board president of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter, brought dozens of parents to a School Reform Commission meeting to ask commissioners to reconsider their decision to cap enrollment and not permit the high school.
Palmer also wants the SRC to pay the school $1.7 million it says it is owed for enrolling the extra students over the past three years.
He said he believed he had verbal approval from the district to open a high school, which he did in 2007.
But the SRC never approved the increase. In 2009, it granted a new operating charter that allowed grades nine through 11 to operate in 2009-10 only.
This spring, the SRC declined Palmer's formal request for expansion.
Nothing has changed, Diane Castelbuono, the district official in charge of charter schools, said Wednesday.
"That was the final decision," Castelbuono said.
But Palmer said the upper school would operate anyway.
Come September, "the high school will open. We will have 925 students. We will not lock 250 children out."
He said the school would pursue legal options if an agreement could not be reached with the SRC by the beginning of the school year.
"I'm not asking for anything special, no favors, no special considerations," Palmer said, adding that the word of former Chief Executive Paul Vallas and former SRC Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn amounted to binding oral contracts.
At the meeting, Commissioner David Girard-diCarlo, an attorney, questioned that thinking.
"I can't speak for a prior superintendent and I can't speak for prior members of the commission," Girard-diCarlo said. "At least in the time that I'm on the commission, I would counsel against any charter school acting on any oral representation of any kind when, by law, we are required to vote."
District officials said they have been advised by the Pennsylvania Department of Education that they are not obligated to pay for students beyond the 675 specified in the charter agreement.
Palmer has met with SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and other politicians to try to get the matter resolved, he said. He said he still hopes he can get approval before school starts.
"Ours is a simple fix," said Palmer.
Meanwhile, after the meeting, Archie said the SRC would make public the criteria upon which Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's 2010-11 performance bonus will be based.
This spring, the SRC gave Ackerman a $65,000 bonus. It initially refused to release the criteria upon which Ackerman was judged.
The district finally released the criteria last month after Inquirer filed a Right to Know request under the state's Open Records law and appealed the district's initial refusal.
Archie said he expects to release the criteria at a public meeting sometime this fall.
"We expect her to meet the full goals in order to be entitled to a bonus," Archie said.