MEDIA COURTHOUSE — Attorneys representing parents in the Chester Upland School District are seeking court intervention as the district evaluates recently received proposals that could result in some schools being taken over by charters.
“This is a fast-tracked process and parents must have a voice in determining who will be educating their children,” said Education Law Center Legal Director Maura McInerney in a release. “We need a transparent process that is free from conflicts of interest, ensures a rigorous high-quality education and results in actual cost savings to the district, as the law clearly requires.”
The Education Law Center and Public Interest Law Center, representing four parent intervenors and the Delaware County Advocacy and Recourse Center, filed an updated emergency petition Thursday asking Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor to order the district to produce documents related to the bids and the process by which they will be evaluated.
Chester Upland is under a “Financial Recovery Status” designation as part of Act 141 of 2012. A “conversion” provision of the Act allows the district to convert an existing school to a charter school as part of its recovery plan if doing so would result in financial savings.
The district put out Requests for Proposals last year to eight potential bidders and reported this week that it has received three bids from Chester Community Charter School, which already has a strong presence in CUSD, as well as Friendship Education Foundation in Washington, D.C., and Arkansas, and Global Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.
Messages left with FEF and GLA were not returned Thursday. Max Tribble, a spokesman for CCCS, previously said that bid includes converting two elementary schools in the district: Main Street Elementary School would become the “Main Street Academy for Entrepreneurship at Chester Community Charter School,” and the Chester Upland School for the Arts would be the “Performing and Visual Arts Academy at Chester Community Charter School.”
Tribble said CCCS, which already educates about 4,300 pupils in the district and more than half the elementary students in CUSD, has also proposed facilitating the purchase of the schools to give a cash infusion to the district, and a complete tear-down and rebuilding of both schools as state-of-the art facilities within two years. If approved, both locations could open this fall and would remain neighborhood schools with about a 400-student enrollment in Kindergarten through fifth grade at each location, according to Tribble.
The proposals now go to a “RFP Review Task Force” overseen by Dr. Leroy D. Nunery II, strategic advisor to CUSD Receiver Dr. Juan Baughn. Nunery directed questions about the review process to Baughn, who declined to provide details on the bids Thursday.
Baughn noted the district had posted an update to its website Wednesday that identified the bidders and task force members, information originally sought in the intervenors’ motion. He said the task force will proceed with a timeline laid out under the RFP and should complete vetting the proposals in about a month. If any proposals are recommended for adoption, he said, there will be a public presentation at that time.
The task force includes School Board President Anthony Johnson, school board members Tyra Quail, Ken Washington, William Riley and Fred Green – a former CCCS employee – as well as Toby Farms Intermediate School Principal LaMonte Popley, LaToya Jones, one of the four parent intervenors, and Dr. Jaqueline Irving, vice provost for student development at Eastern University.
Attorneys representing the parents and ARC of Delaware County have decried what they say is a lack of transparency throughout the RFP process and note that the public will have only one opportunity to evaluate the proposals after task force review.
The motion points to comments Dozor previously made in court that “there needs to be lots of public discussion … with the parents at these meetings giving input, weighing things, the pros and cons. You know, that is really important.”
The intervenors are now seeking an order compelling the receiver to release all non-confidential information associated with the received bids, as well as the guidelines, rubrics and criteria the task force is expected to use in evaluating those responses.
The motion argues that bidders were directed to submit any information believed to be confidential separately and that any portion not submitted as confidential is subject to public disclosure. The intervenors’ attorneys also claim they have already made numerous attempts to receive the non-confidential portions of the submissions from attorneys representing the receiver without luck, which constitutes “a breach of his duties to conduct the RFP process in a public manner under the Financial Recovery Law and this court’s orders.”
Attorney Jeff Sultanik, representing the district and receiver, declined to comment.
“This process could shape education in Chester for years to come,” said Public Interest Law Center Staff Attorney Claudia De Palma. “Transparency is the bare minimum, but at every turn the receiver has failed to provide for that. Parents and teachers in Chester will not accept radical transformations to their students’ schools without a real and meaningful opportunity to assess the ability of any bidder to improve the quality of education provided to students. Promises which may not be kept are not sufficient.”
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 31.