Yesterday evening, a group of union supporters attended an Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania board meeting to question the organization's financial irregularities and opposition to teachers forming a union at Olney High School, one of five city charter schools it runs.
Olney teachers complained that Aspira scheduled back-to-school night for the same time as the board meeting — meaning that they could not attend.
"I was really frustrated when I found out about the date of the board meeting," teacher Hanako Franz wrote in an email. Franz teaches ninth-grade world history at Olney and is active in unionization efforts. "I can't help but think it was an intentional move to keep the staff at Olney from attending."
Community activists showed up instead.
"I think they were shocked to see us there, for one thing," says Betty Beaufort, a Point Breeze parent and education activist who attended the meeting with other members of the union-backed community group Fight for Philly. "Why would you have a meeting tonight when you know that you were having a parent and student conference?"
Activists held signs reading "Charter accountability: Where is the $3.3 million?" and "I stand with ASPIRA teachers & staff." Beaufort says that board members refused to allow questions. Aspira has declined to comment.
Last month, City Paper obtained an audit revealing that the nonprofit ran a deficit of $722,949 as of last June and owed four publicly financed charter schools it controls $3.3 million — in addition to millions in lease payments and administrative fees filtered to Aspira.
CP also uncovered problems with school staff using debit cards without providing receipts, and raised questions as to whether Aspira's millions in mortgage debt put publicly funded assets at risk. The School District of Philadelphia said it was reviewing both matters.
The District has offered little oversight, saying it lacks necessary legal powers and sufficient staffing. The state has likewise provided little regulation of a rapidly growing charter school sector that has faced growing criticism as Philadelphia schools slip further into crisis. The District estimates that each student who attends a charter costs city schools an extra $7,000 per year.
"I'm really concerned about the financial irregularities," says Franz. "I love my school and my students, and irregularities like this are the type of thing that has led to other charters being closed."
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