The New Jersey-based nonprofit that has overseen Martin Luther King High School for the last seven years has withdrawn its bid to run the school as a charter, amid a controversy involving School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and State Rep. Dwight Evans.
Citing a climate of "unrelenting hostility," Foundations Inc. Chief Executive Officer Rhonda H. Lauer in a letter to Archie and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman sent Wednesday night said her organization no longer was interested in participating in the district's "Renaissance" school reform plan.
"While we have applauded the district for undertaking the Renaissance process, we are deeply disappointed with the way it has unfolded," Lauer wrote in the letter, obtained by The Inquirer. "Rules seemed to evolve and shift in such a way that legitimate voices were excluded from the conversation and decision making."
The decision follows a report by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook this week that Archie met in a closed-door session with Evans and John Q. Porter, of Mosaica Turnaround Partners to discuss the fate of the school even though he had recused himself from voting on the charter earlier that day because of a potential conflict of interest. The law firm at which he is a partner, Duane Morris LLP, has represented Foundations, the Notebook reported.
The charter, which would be for five years, is estimated to be worth approximately $12 million dollars a year, according to the Notebook.
The School Reform Commission in March had voted to give Mosaica, an Atlanta-based for-profit charter school company, the right to negotiate the charter for King.
But Mosaica later withdrew its application after Evans publicly expressed his disappointment to the Commission and continued to support Foundations, with which he has had a long-standing relationship. Some parent leaders at the school, who supported Mosaica, however, have complained.
"I wish Foundations all the best," said Conchevia Washington, chairwoman of the school advisory committee that voted eight to one for Mosaica over Foundations. "I hope this was a learning lesson for them that politics and education do not necessarily mix well and that you have to be careful which side of the fence you stand on."
Washington, a parent, said she was expressing her own views because she had not had a chance to relay the news of Foundations' departure to the committee.
With both Mosaica and Foundations out of the process, it's unclear what will happen with King, which is in the Northwest section of the city. It could remain under district control. Foundations will no longer be involved.
When reached for comment, Lauer said she believes King has advanced under Foundations' partnership. The school got off the state's "persistently dangerous" list, saw modest improvement in test scores and served well an extraordinarily high population of special education students, she said. About 27 percent of the school's students were special education students, she said.
Lauer said she wasn't at the meeting with Evans, Archie and Porter and is not sure what was said.
"Dwight is absolutely passionate about this," she said. "We've been a partner of Dwight's for many years. Do I believe that he stood up for us? Absolutely."
She said Foundations involvement with Archie's law firm occurred seven years ago and was limited in scope.
In her letter to Archie and Ackerman, Lauer said "a small and vocal minority" would make it "immensely difficult" for Foundations to continue its relationship with the school. She wrote that a larger group of parents, students, teachers and community members continue to support Foundations.
Foundations was "fully prepared to act upon a positive vote of the SRC next week," she wrote.