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Phila. Academy parents told it should open in fall

Anxious parents at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School have received reassurance from the School Reform Commission that the popular Northeast school is expected to be open in the fall.

Anxious parents at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School have received reassurance from the School Reform Commission that the popular Northeast school is expected to be open in the fall.

In a letter to students, parents and staff, Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn said that although the commission has not yet voted to renew the school's operating charter for another five years, she expects the school will reopen on time in September.

The letter was sent home with students yesterday, said Larry Sperling, the charter's new chief executive officer.

"The letter indicates that we will be renewed, and we can start getting back to some sort of normalcy, although the school year is winding down," Sperling said.

In mid-April, the School Reform Commission deferred acting on Philadelphia Academy's renewal application to give the Philadelphia School District's inspector general time to complete an investigation of allegations of financial mismanagement, nepotism, and conflicts of interest. The investigation is continuing.

The school is also the subject of a federal criminal probe, and lawyers from the firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll are conducting an internal investigation for the charter's board.

The School Reform Commission's decision to delay a vote came a day after The Inquirer detailed the allegations and disclosed that the school's top administrators were being paid more than most area school superintendents.

In her letter, Dungee Glenn said the commission had received regular updates on investigators' progress, as well as on the changes the charter school's board had made to ensure that the charter remains open.

She said the commission was aware that the delay and uncertainty over the school's fate had caused "a great deal of concern for parents, students and faculty."

Dungee Glenn said the commission "has taken every reasonable step to expedite consideration of PACS's application. However, we are not yet in a position to approve the application."

She noted that the district was developing conditions for the charter's renewal that will be submitted to the charter board for its approval.

"The SRC is confident that these conditions will enable the charter to be renewed in time for the coming school year," Dungee Glenn wrote.

The chairwoman has said she expects that the commission will act on the renewal later this month.

In a bid to make sure the charter would be renewed, Philadelphia Academy's board approved sweeping changes last month. Five of the six members of Philadelphia Academy's board agreed to resign by July 31.

The board voted to cancel the consulting contract with Brien N. Gardiner, the school's founder, and to fire Kevin M. O'Shea, its former chief executive officer, who had agreed to resign.

The board last month also approved new bylaws and a conflict-of-interest policy and said it would cease doing business with any companies associated with Gardiner and O'Shea.

As part of the bylaws change, parents and local institutions will be involved in selecting members of a new seven-member board that will oversee the charter's operations.

Philadelphia Academy, which has 1,200 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, opened in 1999. The elementary school is at 11000 Roosevelt Blvd. and the high school is nearby at 1700 Tomlinson Rd.

The district began looking into the school's financial practices as part of its charter renewal process. That inquiry intensified in the last few months after several parents alleged mismanagement and the school failed to supply requested documents.