Ex-principal of Franklin Towne charter files whistle-blower suit

FranklinTowneCharter
Franklin Towne Charter High School.

A federal whistle-blower suit claims an elementary principal at the Franklin Towne Charter School in Bridesburg was hired under false pretenses and then terminated after he raised serious concerns about its operations.

Todd A. Dupell alleges that he was wrongfully dismissed as principal last August after he complained to the board chair that the charter was billing the Philadelphia School District for full-day kindergarten even though the program was not full day; the charter was awash in nepotism; and the school was paying the wife of a former board member $80,000 for a nonexistent job because otherwise her husband could "make noise."

Dupell also alleged that the charter was violating state law because it was not providing required services to students who were learning English.

He is suing Franklin Towne Charter School, its board and several officials, including CEO Joseph M. Venditti; chief academic officer Patrick Field, and Cynthia A. Marelia, longtime board chair.

"It's always important that whistle-blowers in public- school settings not be punished and retaliated against," said Patrick J. Whalen, Dupell's lawyer.

James A. Rocco 3rd, Franklin Towne's longtime lawyer, said: "We cannot comment on anything that's in active litigation."

Franklin Towne, which is based at the former Frankford Arsenal, operates a high school with 1,200 students and an elementary school with 900 K-8 students. The high school opened in 2000; the elementary school opened nine years later.

Dupell's suit, filed in federal court in New Jersey last month, contends that Franklin Towne officials and a firm it hired approached him in 2014 and encouraged him to leave his job as principal of Morrisville Elementary School in Bucks County.

According to the complaint, the officials said the job was open because Field had been promoted to a post at the high school. And after being assured that he could have a long future with the charter, Dupell left his position in Morrisville, where he had been granted tenure.

Within days of his arrival, Dupell said, staffers told him Field had been removed as principal in response to an outcry from parents over allegations of improper behavior, including shoplifting and the use of "inappropriate physical force" involving a student, the suit said.

Dupell also learned that Field would be his supervisor.

The complaint outlines a series of events in which Dupell alleges that Venditti and Field conspired to undermine his authority, embarrass him, and interfere with his ability to perform his job in an apparent effort to make him leave. Among other things, Dupell contends that Field forced him to withdraw a verbal offer to a new teacher because "Venditti wanted his friend hired instead."

And Dupell was rebuffed, the suit said, when he tried to hire a needed art teacher and a counselor because the positions had not been budgeted. Nonetheless, Dupell's staff included an employee with "an unknown mystery position."

The complaint said that Venditti told Dupell that Field had told the woman "just to report to school every day, sit in her office and close the door - she had no actual role - no actual job responsibilities."

According to the suit, Dupell also learned that several administrative positions were held by board members' children in violation of the school's operating charter. Dupell was terminated on Aug. 31, the complaint said, when he met with board chair Marelia to express his concerns.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com

215-854-2789 @marwooda

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