The School Reform Commission on Thursday took action against two charter schools at a packed, contentious meeting where dozens called for the body to dissolve itself.
The SRC voted, 5-0, to put Eastern University Academy Charter School on notice that its charter will not be renewed because of academic and operational problems. The East Falls school, which objected bitterly to the move, will remain open as it goes through due process.
And the commission took a final vote to close Khepera Charter School in Logan amid news that the school had laid off staff, skipped retirement and health-care payments, and not paid its landlord. The troubled school has also had academic problems.
No representatives of the school showed up to defend it, but it has the right to appeal the SRC's decision to the state.
Eastern parents and staff showed up in force to say the district had its facts wrong.
Omar Barlow, the school's principal and CEO, pointed to strong graduation rates and said Eastern takes children who are years behind and puts them on a path to college.
"If our school was to close, where would they go?" Barlow said.
DawnLynne Kacer, the district's charter schools chief, said the school had significant academic issues. No middle school students reached proficiency in math, for example.
Barlow and others said the school would fight the decision not to renew the charter.
The SRC did not vote on a resolution that it slipped onto the agenda just a few days prior to the meeting: a $36 million contract with Catapult Learning Inc. to establish a school for special education students.
Parents and advocates said they were blindsided by the move, and objected to what they said was the district's effort to create a segregated system. The resolution calls for special-needs students, including some with autism and emotional disturbances, to be educated outside of the general population.
"Segregation is what it is, and that's unacceptable," said Tonya Bah, a district parent.
Ilene Poses, a retired special education teacher, said the district was foolish to act without consulting families.
"Parents have been left out of the dialogue, and their children are most affected," said Poses.
The SRC is scheduled to vote on the resolution at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the delay would give the district time to make clearer its intentions. Hite said he does not want to create a segregated system, but wants more and better options for children whose special education plans call for them to be educated in that type of setting.
"We want to work to get those children in programs in the district, in the city of Philadelphia," Hite said.
The district has not been pleased with the quality of some of the private programs providing services to high-needs students, the superintendent said. And those programs do not have enough space for the city's students; About 100 are on waiting lists.
Cheryl Logan, the district's chief academic officer, said having a program in Philadelphia would give students more opportunities to interact with general education peers. If they are educated in the city, they might attend regular schools for part of the day, or join extracurricular activities at those schools.
"We feel this will give the students a lot more opportunity," Logan said.
The SRC also heard from dozens of people fed up with the current governance structure in the School District.
Many speakers called on the commission to dissolve itself in favor of local control. They urged a quick timeline so that a new school board can be in place before the gubernatorial election in 2018.
"Abolish the SRC by the fall of 2017," the crowd chanted for three solid minutes at one point.