In Council News, Helen Gym by PHL Council

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Charter chain will cut teachers and quadruple administrative spending; Cease consideration, says Councilwoman Helen Gym

PHILADELPHIA— February 23, 2016 – City Councilwoman Helen Gym has released a detailed analysis of a charter operator’s proposal to run a Renaissance Charter School, calling the plan an “unjustified mess” with a massive reduction in instructional spending for Philadelphia schoolchildren at an increased cost to taxpayers.

In January, the School Reform Commission voted to match Great Oaks Foundation, Inc. to Jay Cooke Elementary School as a Renaissance charter operator. According to the Councilwoman’s analysis, Great Oaks has zero experience in K-5 teaching, has never operated a turnaround school, and plans to cut 40% of Cooke’s teaching positions while quadrupling the school’s administrative costs.

“This company has proposed an indefensible use of public funds that will cost more than we currently spend while offering students even less than they already receive,” said Councilwoman Gym. “Their proposed budget and academic programs are an unjustified mess which defy standard accounting practices and basic pedagogy.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • Great Oaks’ Foundation Inc. plans to collect an annual $550,000 “management fee” and projects a $576,000+ fund balance within a mere five years – all funded by School District dollars.
  • Great Oaks plans to quadruple administrative expenses while spending less than half its funding on direct instruction. As a result, Great Oaks will spend less money on Cooke children than they currently receive as a District-managed school.
  • Great Oaks plans to reduce the overall teaching staff from 36 to 23 teachers, including reducing the special education teaching force from 7 teachers to 3 teachers, while dramatically increasing the number of special education students the school serves.
  • Great Oaks plans to replace teachers with uncertified tutors making poverty-level wages – $7,000 per year – even as it insists that public money cover tutors’ housing costs.
  • Great Oaks has high rates of exclusionary discipline in its existing schools. Its Philadelphia proposal relies on a crude carrot-stick approach to school climate while eschewing best practices in Restorative Justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Additionally, the Great Oaks Foundation, Inc. board maintains strong unstated ties to Victory Education Partners, a for-profit charter chain that ran failed EMOs in Philadelphia from 2002-2010.

“The SRC’s approval of this proposal is simply indefensible, especially given the fact that the District claims it wants to be a ‘great charter school authorizer’[1],” Councilwoman Gym said. “This is exactly why we demanded that these proposals be made available to the public prior to any vote. Great Oaks offers little in the way of educational innovation while relying on a bloated administration, stripped-down teaching staff, and poverty-wage tutors to save the day.

“I urge the District and the SRC to cease all consideration of Great Oaks as a Renaissance operator. Cooke families, the District, and our city deserve better than Great Oaks Foundation, Inc.”

[1] School District of Philadelphia, Action Plan 3.0, Action item #2. “Be a great charter school authorizer to ensure all charters are good school options, and promote the sharing of successful practices across all schools.”


Helen Gym was sworn in for her first term as a Philadelphia Councilmember-At -Large in January 2016. Her primary concerns include addressing widespread poverty in Philadelphia, particularly through an emphasis on building a quality public education system that anchors schools within communities. For more information, visit

More on this:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer.

From the Public School Notebook.

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