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Charter founder getting consulting fees

Philadelphia Academy Charter School founder Brien N. Gardiner's web of business relationships includes a $108,000-a-year consulting agreement with an education company that does business with the city's school district.

Brien N. Gardiner is on paid leave as a consultant.
Brien N. Gardiner is on paid leave as a consultant.Read more

Philadelphia Academy Charter School founder Brien N. Gardiner's web of business relationships includes a $108,000-a-year consulting agreement with an education company that does business with the city's school district.

Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania L.L.C. is paying Gardiner's consulting company - Charter School Development Associates - $9,000 a month, for a total of $108,000 this year, Camelot officials said.

The Texas-based company has a multimillion-dollar contract with the district to operate three schools, two disciplinary and one for at-risk students. The company received $10.4 million from the district for its programs the last school year.

Gardiner's Camelot fee is in addition to the hundreds of thousands that he has collected from companies tied to Philadelphia Academy Charter in the Northeast, where he remains on paid leave as a consultant.

Gardiner's status at the charter he founded in 1999 will come up tonight when the school's attorneys present results from an internal investigation of allegations of conflicts of interest, mismanagement, and nepotism.

The school district's inspector general has been looking into the same issues at the school, which has 1,200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, for the last month.

Gardiner's relationship with Camelot began in 2004, when he was instrumental in helping the company navigate the Philadelphia School District and obtain its first contract, said Todd Bock, Camelot's senior vice president for education services.

"He does consulting," Bock said. "He knows a lot of people."

Albert S. Dandridge 3d, Gardiner's attorney, yesterday said neither he nor Gardiner would comment on Gardiner's ties to Camelot.

Camelot arrived when Paul Vallas, then the district's chief executive officer, was expanding alternative and disciplinary programs with the School Reform Commission's approval.

"The arrangement was, 'If you can help us negotiate the school district and get us in front of the right people to pitch our program, we will enter this contract with you to provide services to Camelot,' " Bock said.

Bock said Gardiner helped Camelot maintain and expand its programs in the city.

Gardiner's arrangement with Camelot is similar to contracts Camelot has in other cities in which it does business, Bock said.

At tonight's meeting of the charter school board, lawyers from Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll are scheduled to present preliminary findings from their monthlong probe. The board is expected to vote on several recommendations that will shape the future of Philadelphia Academy Charter.

The school's former CEO, Kevin M. O'Shea, who was demoted to chief operating officer, was suspended with pay. O'Shea, who earned $206,137 as CEO in 2006-07, resigned last Wednesday.

It is not known whether Gardiner's deal with Camelot was covered in the board's inquiry. Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., the lawyer who is overseeing the investigation, declined to comment yesterday.

But as The Inquirer reported last month, Philadelphia Academy Charter School paid Gardiner's Charter School Development Associates $216,130 during the 2006-07 academic year "for services."

The other charter school that Gardiner founded - Northwood Academy - paid the company $86,044, records show.

Gardiner worked for free to help Camelot get its first contract, Bock said.

Once the contract was secured in 2004, Bock said, the agreement called for Gardiner to be paid $3,000 per month for each program. He said that Gardiner started out receiving $6,000 because the district contracted with Camelot to operate Boone, a disciplinary school, and Excel Academy, a school for at-risk over-age students.

Bock said the monthly consulting fee grew to $9,000 after the School Reform Commission voted in August 2005 for Camelot to manage Shallcross School, another disciplinary school.

"Our relationship with Brien Gardiner has been fine," Bock said yesterday. "He's helped us in a lot of respects."

Among other things, Gardiner helped Camelot find buildings for its programs. "In this city, that is not an easy thing to do," Bock said.

Gardiner's fees from Camelot were in addition to salaries he drew from Philadelphia Academy Charter School and Northwood Academy and businesses he established.

As The Inquirer reported last month, Gardiner, who retired July 1, 2006, began collecting a $76,745-a-year state pension. During the 2006-07 academic year, he also received $64,759 for 90 days' work as CEO of Philadelphia Academy and $2,307 from Northwood Academy, state pension records show.

The prior academic year, Gardiner received $224,500 from Philadelphia Academy and Northwood. He also collected $70,000 as president of Philadelphia Academy Services, a nonprofit he founded to provide special-education services to the district. The nonprofit has a $2.1 million contract with the school district.

In all, the Gardiner and O'Shea families took home $541,200 in salaries from the charters and related companies in 2005-06. The next year, they collected at least $494,120.