An investigative report published in the Philadelphia City Paper has revealed that the community organization and charter school operator ASPIRA “was running a deficit of $722,949 as of last June and owed the publicly financed schools $3.3 million. That’s in addition to millions of dollars in lease payments and administrative fees filtered to ASPIRA and entities it controls with no oversight.”
At ASPIRA’s September board meeting, we tried to get answers about where that money went.
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.
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.
Demand that ASPIRA account for our hard earned tax dollars. Call ASPIRA at 215- 455-1300 and demand they return the missing $3.3 million to Philly’s schools. Tell ASPIRA to use our monies where it is needed, in the classroom to support their students and staff.
Some people say “unions and charter schools don’t mix” but I can prove that a good union will make a charter school better.
At Khepera, my charter school in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood, teachers and staff formed a union three years ago and negotiated a fair contract with our administrators. We are no longer just school employees; we have become partners in the education of our children. Today our school is humming.
But across town at Olney ASPIRA High School, CEO Alfredo Calderon refuses to meet with his staff.
ASPIRA managers have so blatantly threatened the school’s unionizing teachers that the National Labor Relations Board has called a hearing on October 15 for ASPIRA to account for its actions.
The Philadelphia Daily News reported that in just one month ASPIRA spent at least $17,000 on legal fees to fight its teachers. ASPIRA has threatened to spend as much as $400,000 to silence educators at a time when every public education dollar in our struggling city must be directed at children in the classroom. Do parents and taxpayers really want their education dollars pulled out of the classroom and stuffed into lawyers’ pockets?
ASPIRA was founded as a community-based organization, but has become another top-down management company that ignores the needs of children and the community. There is a better path. ASPIRA’s school board could learn from my unionized charter school, where teachers:
• Help make decisions on our labor-management committee,
• Participate in the teacher evaluation process,
• Communicate directly and honestly with parents and the school board, and
• Advocate passionately for our students.
If we are to raise the bar in every classroom, ASPIRA’s CEO and school board must accept the importance of collaboration with teachers and staff.
Please join us in appealing to ASPIRA CEO Alfredo Calderon and ASPIRA members by adding your name to this letter.
We are stronger together!
Kim “Mama Omotayo” Johnson, science teacher
Fellow, National Science Teacher Association, 2012
President, Alliance of Charter School Employees, AFT Local 6056