N. Philly K-8 charter says school year is over early for its 450 students

Last week, the Philadelphia School District’s charter office called for revoking the charter of Khepera Charter School because of concerns about its management and finances.

Now, the North Philadelphia K-8 school has declared that the academic year is over for its 450 students.

Khepera families were told over the weekend that the school would be closed Monday. And staffers were informed late Monday afternoon that students would not be returning. Wednesday was scheduled as the final day.

“It has been decided that students will not return for the remainder of the school year,” Lisa M. Bellamy, Khepera’s chief academic officer, said in an email to staff. “However, the staff is expected to return in order to close out the school year.”

Bellamy said in the email that employees were expected to work Tuesday and Wednesday. She said Khepera was seeking volunteers to assist at the eighth-grade graduation Thursday.

Khepera officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Khepera went to court Friday in a bid to obtain more money, saying it would not be able to complete the academic year without it.

The school asked Common Pleas Court to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the district and the state from withholding $370,578 that the charter had expected to receive June 5. The court scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday.

Lee Whack, a spokesman for the School District, declined to comment on the court filing. But Whack said the district was contacting Khepera families to tell them how to enroll their children in district schools and how to reach the office if they had questions.

Khepera recently laid off about 10 staffers and others quit, but the remaining teachers and staff were at the school Monday.

The Alliance for Charter School Employees, a union that represents 16 employees at Khepera, said those employees had been told that Khepera “may have trouble making payroll Friday.”

Dan Dueholm, a staff representative with the alliance, disputed a statement in Khepera’s court filing that staff had staged a walkout after learning that the charter school had no money. “They are there for these kids,” he said.

Khepera Charter School in North Philadelphia has closed for the year.

The money dispute stems largely from required payments that Khepera had not made to the state teachers’ pension system, as well as allegations that the charter school had not paid the pension system amounts it had deducted from employees’ paychecks for pensions and had underreported some salaries.

The district withheld Khepera’s entire charter payment for June, saying the charter owed more than that to the district for pension payments.

When a charter school fails to make pension payments, the money is deducted from funds the district receives from the state. The district then recovers the money by withholding the amount from charter payments.

According to the court filings, the pension system contends that Khepera owes $519,105 and alleges that the charter had not submitted the deductions from employees’ paychecks or the charter’s contributions since February 2016.

Khepera contends that the total does not reflect $724,409 that the district had deducted from seven charter payments between February 2016 and May 2017.

The court filing said that if records show Khepera owes pension debt, that money could be deducted from its monthly charter payments in July or August.

In her email to employees, Bellamy said that although it was likely they wouldn’t be paid Friday, “the expectation is that we will be paid for the time we have worked this month. We are working through the courts to retrieve the funds that were held for our June payment. We are currently unsure of how long this process will take but hopeful that it will be resolved in our favor.”

The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to accept the district charter office’s recommendation to begin the process of revoking Khepera’s operating charter.

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