Universal Companies said Friday that it has reached a “tentative agreement” to extend its management of Bluford and Daroff charter schools, though the board overseeing the two West Philadelphia schools was still pushing for different terms.
The principal of one of the schools, meanwhile, assured staff members they will still be paid and receive benefits despite the expiration of the management agreements Thursday.
The impasse between Universal, the Kenny Gamble-founded company that runs seven charter schools in the city, and the Bluford-Daroff board has added uncertainty around the future of the two charters, which the Philadelphia school district handed over to Universal more than a decade ago as part of its “Renaissance” charter program to turn around struggling schools.
But two years ago, the district non-renewed both charters for operational and other deficiencies. The schools have since been fighting to maintain their status as charters — which are publicly funded but independently managed — with Daroff anticipating a decision this month from the state Charter Appeals Board.
In a statement, Universal said Friday that it and the Bluford-Daroff board had a “tentative agreement” to extend Universal’s management of both schools, but for different lengths: Daroff for 90 days, and Bluford for 12 months.
“These amended and restated management agreements were reached to avoid any disruption in the planned summer programs for students at both charter schools as well as the 2022-2023 school opening process,” the company said.
But, it added, “at the time of this email,” the board had “yet to execute and confirm the tentative agreement.”
The board requested one-year extensions for both schools, not just Bluford, according to a spokesperson, Ken Kilpatrick. But he said Friday afternoon the situation could change as negotiations progressed. The board’s president, Deshawnda Williams, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
At a staff meeting Friday afternoon, the principal of Daroff, James Ruffin, said the board was trying to achieve “better education for our kids, and better working conditions for the staff.” He then listed a number of areas where he said the board had found fault with Universal’s management, including student achievement, and custodial, food, and human resources services, among other areas.
Ruffin also informed teachers that they were employed by the board of trustees, not Universal Companies, and would continue to be paid and receive benefits despite the expiration of the management agreement.
“If you don’t want to work for the Universal Bluford Charter School and the Universal Daroff Charter School Board of Trustees, please email your letter of resignation immediately,” he said during the Zoom meeting.
After sending renewal management agreements to the board in April, Universal proposed terminating the arrangement in early June, citing an “irreconcilable disagreement… over the hiring, removal, retention, contract renewal and compensation of personnel, hiring of outside service providers at Bluford and Daroff without any input from Universal Companies in addition to hiring of a Principal at Daroff.”
The company also accused the board of taking actions that “materially interfere” with its ability to manage the schools, and of violating Pennsylvania’s open meetings law and charter school law. And it warned the board that its actions — including failing to inform the school district of changes in the charters’ management — could jeopardize the schools’ status, if the state charter appeals board determined the trustees lacked the ability to effectively govern the schools.
The board has faced anger from community members and teachers, who say they weren’t informed of the potential management change until mid-June.