Thanks to the News Journal for getting this story out! I first wrote about the issues the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association were having with Freire Charter School in Wilmington last December. The school changed locations, which caused the neighbors to become alarmed. Their biggest gripe was the number of parking spots in their neighborhood, which are already in low demand. The matter escalated in March when then Head of School scuffled with some protesters during an Open House the school was having. Porter was eventually charged for the assault, but no trial date has been set at this point in time to my knowledge.
Their neighbors filed an injunction to stop the school from opening in August, and even though the heart of the issue won’t happen for another two years when the school expands and the parking spots leased from the building owner would overflow in capacity based on the new employees, the judge doesn’t want to kick the can down the road over an already established school. The hearing date will be on July 31st.
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education will make their final decision on Freire Charter School of Wilmington, along with three others, on Thursday at the State Board meeting. But did the Charter School Accountability Committee look the other way for Freire? It is well-known in many circles that Governor Jack Markell wanted Freire in Delaware. But why this school?
In my FOIA request to Markell’s office for emails between the Governor and Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel fame, I got a very weak response. However, certain things I read in there wound up giving strong hints of later stories. Take, for example, this email from Herdman to Markell in February 2010 concerning Race To The Top. Herdman was attempting to get Markell to meet with “top” policy leaders. Included in this was one Bill Porter, a consultant for the Gates Foundation. Yes, this is the same Bill Porter who was the former Head of School for Freire when he was ousted last month due to being arrested for assault and menacing charges concerning the March incident when he scuffled with some protesters outside the school. (As well, this email also has Herdman wanting Jack to meet another “top” advisor, someone named Mark Murphy)
This is Delaware, so chances are the DOE can break the law and no one will care. However, one of the Midtown Brandywine residents that is protesting the school opening in their neighborhood, had the following public comment at their public hearing the other night:
Below is my final Online Comment regarding Freire Charter School:
This has been a long and difficult seven-month struggle for me and many of my neighbors, in our efforts to be heard and responded to by CSAC and the State Department of Education. I, and many others opposed to the location of Freire in our small neighborhood, have submitted many online and US mail comments; we have also spoken at several CSAC Public Hearings; so far, to no avail.
It is my hope that CSAC, DOE, and the State Board of Education will pay careful attention to our neighborhood’s plea to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter due to non-compliance with the City of Wilmington’s Zoning Code, as well as with Charter School regulations. (Our issues re: the Zoning Code are being handled by our legal counsel, Richard Abbott, Esq.)
We have been requesting that the Department of Education require Freire to submit a Request for a Major Modification to their Charter (BASED ON CHANGE OF LOCATION) since the end of last year. This Request should be reviewed CSAC, DOE, and the State Board Of Education. On December 28, 2014 a letter was sent to Secretary Mark Murphy by our Neighborhood Association President, Ben Cohen. That letter was never answered. Nor were letters and requests at CSAC Public Hearings by several neighbors.
This past Monday, I again made this request at the CSAC Final Public Hearing. I also submitted paper copies of all the oral testimony, online comments, and exhibits that our neighbors and local elected officials have provided to CSAC since February 2015. In addition to a copy for CSAC, I submitted a hard copy for the State Board of Education. That paper testimony fills a 2-inch loose leaf binder.
Here is a brief summary of why we are asking for this Major Modification Request:
Freire’s original Charter specified that they would be in a “Flagship” Building at 920 French Street, and everything from square footage to programs was written around that premise in their Charter application. Apparently, a Public Hearing was held about that location, which is more than 8 blocks from our neighborhood, but we had never heard about it. Then, Freire was rejected for that location, and chose our neighborhood. We were never given the opportunity to attend a Public Hearing or object to the location before CSAC made a decision.
There is supposed to be Community Representation on the Charter School’s Board. There are no members of this neighborhood on the Board. There are only 5 Freire Board members, none of whom have attended any CSAC or School Board meetings, or responded to neighbors’ letters, until just this past Monday. Freire refers to “community involvement,” but it has been non-existent.
On the Department of Education’s Website you will find the “Delaware DOE Charter School Modification Application” form. That document clearly states and requires that Charters submit a Request for a Major Modification due to Change of Location. This was actually required of the Design Lab Charter, but not of Freire.
Section H-2 of that form requests information about changes in siting; space availability; cost differences; safety; co-locating of programs, etc. I can’t fully address all of those topics in detail here. They should have been addressed in a Public Hearing re: the appropriate Major Modification Request that was never submitted by Freire.
Here are some of the changes that have resulted from the Change in Location:
The school has a single small entrance on a narrow, one-way street.
Traffic is already congested, and child safety will be a concern.
There is no transportation plan; buses cannot fit down our small street. Freire relies on DART dropping students off blocks away from the school.
There is insufficient parking, as required by City Code.
The school now has $2 million dollars in loans (Barclay’s Bank and McConnell/Johnson developers) and a $800,000 Line of Credit (Barclay’s Bank).
There is no longer a Gym as specified in the original application.
There is no longer a Physical Education program or teacher, till year #3.
There is no longer a cafeteria — but a lunch room and boxed lunches, instead.
There is a business located on the 2nd floor (Freire will be on the 1st and 3rd floors). They will be sharing an entrance, an elevator and a staircase.
There is no longer a Head of School; instead, there are two “Academic Heads,” each with only 4 years of teaching experience, and none in leading a school.
Once again, I urge CSAC, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter.
Marilyn J. “Lyn”) Doto
Say, isn’t physical education a mandatory course in Delaware schools? If the State Board and Murphy actually don’t honor the state regulation in regards to charter modification and change of location, I hope these feisty residents sue the hell out of not only Freire, but the DOE and the State Board of Education. What a crock! And William Porter… a zero tolerance school and that… yet he still works for the organization. Bill Gates would be so proud!