The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has reversed a decision from the Office of Open Records (OOR), which had partially granted and partially denied a request for vendor contract information made on behalf of a Florida-based magazine which analyzes criminal justice issues. According to a Sept. 22 ruling from Judges Mary Hannah Leavitt, Rochelle S. Friedman and Dan Pellegrini, Paul Wright and Prison Legal News were not entitled to a series of records pertinent to Global Tel*Link Corporation (GTL) sought from the Department of Corrections (DOC) pursuant to the Right-To-Know Law (RTKL). … The DOC claimed the financial data was redacted and exempt from disclosure based on sections 708(b)(11) and 708(b)(26) of the RTKL, 65 P.S. Sections 67.708(b)(11) and 67.708(b)(26), because the materials would “reveal a trade secret or confidential, proprietary information and constituted financial information of a bidder requested in an invitation to bid.” After subsequent proceedings containing testimony from employees of both the DOC and GTL, the OOR determined the specified information was not exempt under Sections 708(b)(11) and (b)(26), because, in their view, GTL’s financial information is a contract. …
Alliance educators began their push to unionize in large measure, Mernick says, because they were concerned their employer was not “actualizing its core values,” including the establishment of smaller classes and a personalized learning environment for its students, most of whom are poor and Latino or black. Mernick says that teachers who have signed on to the union effort want more input into decisions regarding curriculum and pedagogy. They’re also questioning how the school assesses their performance and discloses how it spends its funds. Making changes in these areas, Mernick believes, will help Alliance retain the kinds of qualified teachers it prides itself on hiring. … Attempts by charter school administrators to thwart teachers’ efforts to unionize are hardly unique to Alliance. While there are charters that have voluntarily agreed to recognize a teachers union at their school—or have even taken the lead in crafting collective bargaining agreements with employees—many others have refused to do so, fighting unionization at every turn. A 2014 study found that in 2012 about 7 percent of charter schools were unionized. (The same year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 68 percent of public school teachers were represented by unions.) And a survey of organizing efforts involving close to 50 schools across 10 states reveals that administrators engage in a wide variety of tactics to try to prevent that percentage from growing. These actions include harassment and outright intimidation of teachers by the administration; anti-union appeals to school parents and, in some cases, even students; the use of hired guns to try to influence teachers and others to oppose unionization; and the deployment of a variety of management strategies to stall the unionization process, leaving the teachers and schools in limbo. … While the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools maintains state and national data on charters, there is no comprehensive information about how many charters have unionized or attempted to do so. I surveyed nearly 50 schools where efforts to unionize had taken place. At almost all of them, teachers have alleged—at times in formal complaints to labor boards—being subjected by management to a variety of tactics to get them to reject unionization. This information came from press reports, official complaints, and interviews with teachers, staff, and union representatives. …
When Charters Go Union
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, American Prospect, June 19, 2015
Most charter school funders hate unions and unions generally hate charters. But more and more charter teachers want to unionize, and labor is helping them do it. …. For teachers, unions, and charter school advocates, the moment is fraught with challenges. Traditional unions are grappling with how they can both organize charter teachers and still work politically to curb charter expansion. Charter school backers and funders are trying to figure out how to hold an anti-union line, while continuing to market charters as vehicles for social justice. Though 68 percent of K-12 public school teachers are unionized, just 7 percent of charter school teachers are, according to a 2012 study from the Center for Education Reform.
More than 75 parents and educators crowded into the small room where the Mars Area school board meets, spilling into the vestibule, to voice their displeasure with the board’s rejection of a fact-finding report in a labor dispute with support staff. Board members voted 8-1 a second time Tuesday to reject the report. The second vote was required by law because members of the Mars Area Education Support Staff had approved the report. Board member Steve Boggs was the lone dissenting vote both times. Those who spoke were unanimous in their view that the district should offer the support staff — paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians — a fair contract and not outsource their jobs. The district is considering outsourcing custodial services to save $1 million per year. Outsourcing paraprofessionals and secretaries would save another $800,000 a year, but the board currently is looking to outsource only custodians, solicitor Tom Breth said. … Some staff and parents talked about problems with services that were previously outsourced. Parent Lori Allison said she quit being a substitute teacher in the district because the company hired to manage substitutes kept asking her to teach classes for which she was not certified. “They only wanted a body,” she said. Mr. Breth said the main sticking point in negotiations is the district’s insistence that all employees be treated the same for health care costs. Under the current contract, which expired June 30, 2015, the district pays only for individual health coverage for new employees rather than family coverage that existing employees receive. Employees can opt to pay for family coverage themselves if they want it. …
A new organizing victory at a controversial “cyberschool” offers lessons on how the labor movement fits in the brave new world of “virtual classrooms.” Hundreds of teachers at Agora Cyber Charter school voted overwhelmingly to join the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) in May. The social workers and family coaches are also in the process of a union election, following the unionization of staff counselors. One of Pennsylvania’s largest charters, with some 8,500 online students, Agora has for years been wracked by mismanagement and instability. Unionization is giving the teachers, who work remotely through digital networks, a collective voice in a virtual workplace. … Shadiness has tainted Agora’s virtual schooling model for years. Founder Dorothy June Hairston Brown and other Agora executives were indicted in 2012 on more than 60 federal charges, including financial fraud, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. The alleged fraud amounted to $6.5 million at three different taxpayer-supported Pennsylvania charters. Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters are notorious underachievers, long criticized for lacking public oversight, producing abysmal standardized test scores and maintaining lax grading standards and chronically poor student attendance in virtual classes. On the state’s annual School Performance Profile, Agora has scored below 50 points, out of a passing grade of 70, for the past three years. … Labor law is shifting its attitude toward charter schools as well. After many years of operating in the gray area between public and private, charter schools were deemed to be private government contractors—and thereby private employers—in two recent National Labor Relations Board decisions involving union drives at Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School and the Brooklyn-based Hyde Leadership Charter School. While there are many solid arguments for regulating charters as public institutions, when it comes to labor, teachers deserve the right to organize under state labor law, like regular public schools, or under the National Labor Relations Act governing employees of private enterprises. …
The National Labor Relations Board issued a pair of decisions in late August, which ruled that teachers at charter schools are private employees, therefore falling under the NLRB’s jurisdiction. The cases centered on two schools with teachers vying for union representation: PA Virtual Charter School, a statewide cyber charter in Pennsylvania, and Hyde Leadership Charter School, located in Brooklyn. In both cases, the NLRB concluded that the charters were “private corporation[s] whose governing board members are privately appointed and removed,” and were neither “created directly by the state” nor “administered by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate.” The NLRB determined that a charter’s relationship to the state resembled that of a government contractor, as governments provide the funding but do not originate or control the schools.
National Labor Relations Board decides charter schools are private corporations, not public schools
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, August 30, 2016
The National Labor Relations Board decided in two separate cases last week that — as far as federal labor law is concerned — charter schools are not public schools but private corporations. The decisions apply only to the specific disputes from which they arose, involving unionization efforts at charter schools in New York and in Pennsylvania. But they plunge the labor board into a long-running debate over the nature of charter schools: publicly funded, privately run institutions that enroll about 3 million students nationwide. Charter school advocates have long argued that charters are public schools because they are tuition-free, open-enrollment institutions funded primarily with tax dollars. But union leaders and other critics describe charters as private entities that supplant public schools, which are run by elected officials, with nonprofit and for-profit corporations that are run by unelected boards that are unaccountable to voters. In its recent decisions, both issued Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School are — like other government contractors — private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars. … Miscimarra said the board should refrain from becoming involved in any charter school cases: The labor board’s definition of public vs. private is so specific that it must be evaluated case by case, creating unacceptable uncertainty for schools and their employees, he wrote …
Pennsylvania’s Auditor General says his latest charter school audit shows a faulty law that may favor charters over school districts. Eugene DePasquale says of the $1 billion paid to charters over the last 5 years, the PA Department of Education’s (PDE) process for handling 857 appeals is what’s at issue. DePasquale says current law allows charter schools to get paid directly from the education department when a public school district refuses to pay and files an appeal. … DePasquale is calling for a new way to fund charter schools with recommendations to improve accountability, effectiveness and transparency for both charter and public school districts. …
Pa. charter schools’ payment process comes under criticismSource: WKBN, August 25, 2016
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is criticizing the state department of education for its payment process to charter schools. At issue is the charter school payment appeals process. Right now, if a charter school doesn’t receive what it considers proper payment from a school district, it appeals to the department of education. The education department then takes the money from the district, and pays the charter school without the proper appeals process. .. His audit found one charter school was overpaid $3.6 million. That school has since closed.
Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools
Source: Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education and ACTION United, September 2014
From the press release:
Today, the Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education and ACTION United released a report titled “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools” that exposes at least $30 million lost to waste, fraud, and abuse in Pennsylvania since the passage of that state’s charter school law in 1997 and was the subject of a Philadelphia Inquirer exclusive this morning. ACTION United will hold rallies at Governor Tom Corbett’s offices in Philadelphia at 11:00 a.m. today and in Pittsburgh tomorrow.
Charter school fraud has cost Pennsylvania at least $30 million
Source: Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Labor, October 2, 2014
Charter school fraud has continued on Gov. Tom Corbett’s watch, while public school funding has been slashed. Pennsylvania’s charter schools are rife with fraud and mismanagement, as anyone who reads local newspapers knows. But a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy, “Integrity in Education, and Action United” details just how big the problem is. Pennsylvania charter school enrollment and funding is growing rapidly and without adequate oversight, and according to the report, there’s been at least $30 million in fraud by charter school officials since 1997.
– In 2012, the former CEO and founder of the New Media Technology Charter School in Philadelphia was sentenced to prison for stealing $522,000 in taxpayer money to prop up a restaurant, a health food store, and a private school. Media coverage of parent complaints of ﬁscal wrongdoing initially uncovered the fraud.
– Nicholas Tombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, has been indicted for diverting $8 million of school funds for houses, a Florida condominium, and an airplane. In 2005, a former business associate of Tombetta surfaced allegations of fraud, which led to the investigation.
– Dorothy June Brown, founder of Laboratory, Ad Prima, Planet Abacus, and Agora Cyber charter schools, will be retried this year for allegedly defrauding the schools of $6.5 million and conspiring to conceal the fraud from 2007 to 2011. Two administrators plead guilty and testiﬁed against Brown in her ﬁrst trial. In 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Education conducted an audit of Agora after receiving complaints from parents of Agora students….
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that a new division of the Pennsylvania Department of Education will play a key role in improving charter schools’ quality and accountability. PDE’s Division of Charter Schools will offer technical support and guidance to school educators and leaders, with a focus on advancing student achievement, boosting parent and community engagement and ensuring academic and financial responsibility. … The Division of Charter Schools will help heighten accountability by overseeing fiscal and education programming reviews for charters and scrutinizing the reauthorization process for cyber charters, which the Department of Education administers. Its duties will include: developing academic programming policy; establishing measures that will monitor students’ achievement and growth; evaluating charter school compliance with school improvement plans, comprehensive plans and other governance documents; completing audits and reviews ahead of charter renewal; overseeing program and fiscal integrity for cyber and brick and mortar charters; and analyzing data reported to the Department of Education. …
Wolf sets up charter school division within Ed Department
Source: Associated Press, August 24, 2016
Pennsylvania’s governor is setting up a new charter schools office within the state Department of Education to improve support and oversight. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday said the Division of Charter Schools will help set goals for students, boost parental involvement and increase public accountability. Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says the change is part of a series of efforts related to charter schools, aiming to ensure they’re held to the same standards as other public schools. …
Charter schools received $100 million more in special education funding than they spent on providing those services to students with special needs in 2014-15, and on average that year, outspent school districts on chief administrator salaries by $87 on a per-student basis, according to a report released on Thursday. Those were some of the findings highlighted by Pennsylvania School Boards Association officials during a conference call about the report it pulled together based on charter school responses received to requests for information sought through the state’s Right to Know Law and federal tax forms. … Of the 134 of 173 charter schools that did respond, the report indicates they spent over $4.3 million on advertising and promotional activities in 2014-15. Some $3.7 million of that was spent by five cyber charter schools alone. … Among the report’s conclusions are calls for more state oversight of charter school operations and their lease and rental agreements, a charter school funding formula that caps their special education funding to actual per-pupil costs, and a commission to study the overall issue of charter school funding. …
Charter schools say proposed formula for special education funding unfairly punishes them
Source: Jeff Frantz, pennlive.com, April 23, 2014
Charter school operators are saying if a proposal to overhaul special education funding in Pennsylvania is passed, it will be difficult for them to operate. The proposal — and a pair of identical bills making their way through the state House and Senate — is based on the recommendations of the Special Education Funding Formula Commission designed to reimburse schools for the actual costs of teaching children with special needs. Currently, every school district gets funded on the assumption that 16 percent of students have special needs. By basing it on the state average of the student population with special needs, some schools are overfunded while others are underfunded. The more students with serious special needs a district has, the more likely it is to be underfunded….
As school districts across the state deal with a substitute teacher shortage, the Allentown School Board is looking at renewing its contract with the company it uses to outsource its substitutes. At Thursday’s finance committee meeting, the school board advanced a proposal to renew a contract with Substitute Teacher Service, a Delaware County-based company that has been providing services to the school district since 2014. STS has a fill rate of 73 percent, short of the goal of 80 percent, said Christina Mazzella, executive director of human resources. … The school board will vote on the new STS contract at its Aug. 25 meeting. The Bethlehem Area School District also uses STS. The district has an 80 percent fill rate. Earlier this year, Bethlehem renewed its contract with STS, even though some directors weren’t completely satisfied with the company. Administrators said the company was making “steady progress.” …
Wyomissing Borough Council has agreed to outsource rental inspections and property maintenance code enforcement to Kraft Code Services. The inspection fees will increase to $60 from $40 per two-year inspection cycle for a single unit. Properties up to 20 units will pay $60 for the first unit and $40 for additional units. Properties with more than 20 units will pay $35 per unit for the first 100 and $25 per unit thereafter. Inspection revenue is expected to increase to $44,955 from $25,260 per two-year cycle. …