Dirty smear tactics of charter schools
Is this any way to promote a charter school?
The pending debut of the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School in Catasauqua in September might have been uneventful, considering school officials said they had met their goal of enrolling 300 students for the sixth-to-12th-grade school.
Then a newspaper ad in the Morning Call and an anonymous mailer raised the school's profile dramatically. They touted the drug bust of a Liberty High School student last year, asking parents" "Why worry about this type of student at school?" and advising them to "Come visit Arts Academy Charter School."
Reaction to the unsigned mailer, which listed the school's address, was immediate. Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy called it a low blow and an impetus for the Legislature to reform the state's charter school act.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a critic of the state's approach to charter schools, said he wants to know who drew up and authorized the promotions. He asked the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General to look into it.
"Unfortunately we have become accustomed to dirtball mailers and tactics like this in political campaigns," DePasquale said. "But when it spills over into our education system and one public school appears to have attacked another it becomes downright deplorable."
While there's nothing unfactual about the student drug bust in the ad and mailer — and we support anyone's right to speak out about education funding and choice — we agree with DePasquale's concern about the tactics used in an anonymous mailer. The broadside is felt deeply by public school officials and supporters, considering Pennsylvania's charter schools are funded by taxpayer money funneled through district budgets. Public school boards have a say in approving charters within their boundaries, but the state's enabling law has generated a flurry of charters, which compete with public districts for students.
So who's behind the ad and mailer? Charter school officials say it's not them. School attorney Daniel Fennick said the school is trying to divorce itself legally from the mailers and stop any unauthorized advertising. School CEO Loraine Petrillo resigned over the flap and other issues.
With no one stepping up, we're left to consider the underlying details: Developer Abe Atiyeh, who has leased other buildings for charter schools in the Lehigh Valley, is the owner of the building housing the new school in Catasauqua. Previously he paid a consultant a per capita fee to sign up enrollees at another charter school. Last week an Atiyeh employee made a public records request of the Bethlehem Area School District, seeking 10 years of arrest records on Liberty High School students.
When asked about the mailers and ads, Atiyeh refused to comment and hung up on an Express-Times reporter.
Time and a thorough investigation should reveal the source of the solicitations, which, even if they are legal, dip into a simplistic, fear-mongering approach to draw students from public schools to charter schools.We hope DePasquale and others get to the bottom of this and answer the legal questions involved. Lawmakers who have been hearing pleas to correct the flaws in the state's charter school law should consider this another reason to get moving.Dirty tactics smear efforts of charter schools | Editorial | lehighvalleylive.com: