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PA Charter School Fixed Its Lottery in Favor of “the Names We Wanted”

May 7, 2023

One way to hand pick students via lottery is to let the public believe the lottery is random (as it is supposed to be) while choosing preferred students behind the scenes.

When a charter school’s demographics seriously veer from that of the general population of students, well, that is a big tell.

And so it goes with mostly-white Franklin Towne Charter High School in Pennsylvania, located in a mostly-black PA school district.

That “demographic mismatch” is an obvious indicator that perhaps the so-called “random” lottery isn’t random at all, with the school “fielding allegations” about the issue, as the Philadelphia Inquirer notes. However, according to the Inquirer, it seems that the school’s fixed lottery issues were not made public until a school adminstrator, Patrick Field, heard now-former school CEO, Joseph Venditti, say so aloud.

The May 07, 2023, Philadelphia Inquirer provides the details:

A top executive at Franklin Towne Charter High School said this year’s lottery was fixed, with students from certain zip codes shut out, and others eliminated because they — or their older siblings — exhibited academic or behavioral problems. Some children were also excluded because Franklin Towne’s chief executive didn’t want to take anyone from a particular charter elementary school, in the event he might have to pay for their transportation.

Patrick Field, Franklin Towne’s chief academic officer and an administrator at the school for 17 years, said the lottery tampering was ordered by Joseph Venditti, the longtime former CEO. Venditti abruptly resigned Feb. 27, citing health reasons, after Field alerted the charter’s board chair about the lottery issues. …

The Inquirer reviewed a summary of the January lottery results showing that 205 students of 813 who applied were offered seats. The accepted students came from 22 zip codes; in 17 other city zip codes, none of the students who applied got in.

It is astronomically unlikely — with odds of 1 in 1,296 trillion — that no students would be selected from those zip codes if Franklin Towne conducted a random lottery as is required, an Inquirer analysis found.

The Inquirer continues regarding’ Field’s whistleblowing, but this situation is already fishy to me because how could the chief academic officer and a 17-year admin not know that something must be terribly wrong in a mostly-white school located in a mostly-black district?

Here’s how the Inquirer reports Field’s supposedly learning of the school’s enrollment problem:

Field was proud of the school’s success, which he credited to “remarkable” teachers and supportive families. But on Jan. 4, he overheard a conversation that gave him pause.

According to Field, Venditti was talking with a school secretary about the upcoming lottery — telling her the school had the “names we wanted”and that he would connect her with a member of the IT staff.

“I thought, ‘What did I just hear?’” said Field.

Field felt uncomfortable, so a couple days later initiated a conversation with the secretary.

“I was told that [Venditti] was tired of having bad families automatically get into the school,” Field said.

The secretary mentioned Venditti wanted to cut out students from Christopher Columbus Charter School, in South Philadelphia, because their special-education students had come with a mandate that Franklin Towne had to pay for their for school-bus transportation.

“He’s going to have our IT person pre-run the lottery so that none of the students that he doesn’t want will get in on the day of,’” Field said the secretary told him.

I call bull that Field only then realized that Franklin Towne manipulates rules in the powerful secrecy of a closed system and that Field and Venditti did not have a close enough working relationship for Field to (at the very least) know that all is not above board at their school.

In 2015, a former Franklin Towne Charter School (FTCS) elementary principal sued for wrongful termination, in violation of Pennsylvania Whistleblower law, among other claims. The associated federal district court opinion dated December 02, 2016, includes details that offer insight into an FTCS culture that makes it difficult to believe that in 2023, the FTCS chief academic officer only now has some inkling of improriety at FTCS.

The February 08, 2016, Inquirer and the February 11, 2016, Sprit News also briefly covered the suit.

Background from the opinion abount which charges could move forward (legal citations removed for ease of reading):

Plaintiff completed an initial interview with Chief Executive Officer Joseph M. Venditti (“Venditti”) and Chief Academic Officer Patrick Field (“Field”), and a subsequent interview with Venditti, Field, Board President Cynthia A. Marelia (“Marelia”), and the Assistant Principal. Plaintiff claims that during the interviews, Field and Venditti assured Plaintiff that FTCS had a “low churn rate” and would provide Plaintiff with a long career with growth opportunities. When asked, Field and Venditti allegedly explained that Field left the Principal role because he was “moving on to bigger and better things” at the FTCS
high school. Furthermore, they claimed that the Assistant Principal did not want the job because of the additional responsibility. Based on Venditti’s and Field’s statements, Plaintiff alleges, he believed the position would be one with longevity. Following the interviews, Plaintiff and Defendant negotiated the employment contract over multiple telephone and email conversations while Plaintiff was in New Jersey. On June 8, 2014, Plaintiff and FTCS entered into a two-year employment contract to last until at least June 30, 2016. Plaintiff believed that thereafter the contract would be renewed annually pursuant to common practice in education.

Plaintiff began his employment on July 14, 2014. Within the initial few days, Plaintiff allegedly learned that Field had actually been removed as Principal because of public outcry over acts of misconduct, including shoplifting and using physical force against a student. Moreover, the Assistant Principal had refused the position because he “knew what they were going to do” to the person hired for it. Plaintiff also discovered that Field was to be his supervisor. Plaintiff pleads that if he had known of Field’s history he would
have not have decided to leave his prior job. Because Field had wanted to remain Principal, the Complaint alleges, Field and Venditti began harassing Plaintiff soon after he became Principal. For instance, during a Back to School Night presentation in September 2014, Venditti allegedly yelled at Plaintiff in front of parents and staff members for improperly drafting handouts that Venditti had previously approved. During an award ceremony dinner in November 2014, Venditti made a speech before an audience of parents, students, board members, and Plaintiff’s spouse during which he noted that FTCS had seen many Principals in recent years and Plaintiff should “start getting his resume together.” Plaintiff was humiliated and embarrassed as a result of these comments.

Plaintiff also alleges he suffered retaliation as a result of objecting to various acts of misconduct he discovered on FTCS Defendants’ part. Plaintiff supposedly learned that FTCS filled many key administrative positions at the school with family members of school board members, in violation of FTCS’s charter application. Plaintiff also claims that there were students who qualified for an English as a Second Language (“ESL”) program, but FTCS was not providing ESL services yet falsely reporting that such a program existed. In addition, FTCS’s Professional Development plan allegedly did not include ESL, which contravened the Pennsylvania Department of Education (“PADOE”) Code. Plaintiff further asserts that FTCS was billing the PADOE for a full-time kindergarten program yet actually providing a program that was forty minutes too short. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff complained to Field and Venditti about all the above violations, but they ignored his complaints and retaliated against him. In May 2015, Field and Venditti warned Plaintiff that a parent was submitting a petition to replace Plaintiff’s role as Principal with Field, but they had allegedly fabricated the story. On June 17, 2015, Venditti told Plaintiff to write his own performance evaluation and make it a “good one, because Field wanted to pre-write a poor performance evaluation for Plaintiff and keep it in Venditti’s desk “just in case.”

Plaintiff additionally pleads that Field and Venditti obstructed his job. They ignored Plaintiff’s request to hire an art teacher and guidance counselor but continued employing a person who had no job responsibilities but was the wife of a former school board member. Field and Venditti also allegedly rejected a teacher Plaintiff had hired by sending her home on her first day and hired a friend of Venditti’s instead. When Plaintiff refused to place an employee on an improvement plan because it was prohibited by PADOE policy, Venditti forced Plaintiff to do so. On August 28, 2015, Plaintiff requested a meeting with School Board President Cynthia A. Marelia to discuss the above incidents. In response to the request, Field and Venditti supposedly increased their retaliatory behavior by giving Plaintiff his first poor performance evaluation. During Plaintiff’s meeting with Marelia, Plaintiff described Field’s and Venditti’s alleged violations of the charter application and PADOE Code, and informed her he intended to report the misconduct. Marelia said in reply, “You know we cannot move forward with you as Principal. Where do we go from here Todd?” Plaintiff interpreted the response as a termination, and when Marelia requested Plaintiff sign a notice of resignation Plaintiff did so.

Suffice it to say that the FTCS lottery fix likely stems from a culture of misconduct that has been going on for years under school leadership including both Venditti and Field as well as at least some members of the FTCS board.

For some reason, Field– a 2016 defendant in a whistleblower lawsuit– has decided in 2023 to be the whistleblower in the school’s lottery fix. Continuing with the May 07, 2023, Inquirer:

By Feb. 8, Field decided he had to come forward. He reached out to Joe Garbarino, the Franklin Towne board president. He sent Garbarino an email with a timeline and an analysis of the file he had seen.

Garbarino “was outraged,” and pledged to launch an investigation, Field said.

But according to Garbarino, that plan was scuttled by fellow board members, some of whom had met with Venditti before a Feb. 27 board meeting. …

Garbarino resigned during the meeting. …

“It’s known that the board doesn’t vote against Joe” Venditti, Field said. “The board gives Joe what Joe asks for.”

Regarding that lottery manipulation, the FTCS website includes the following statement from Venditti’s successor, CEO Brianna O’Donnell:

“Franklin Towne Charter High School is a public school.” A mostly-white public school in a mostly-black school district.

“Public” that doesn’t represent the public is not really “public,” now is it?

Back to the May 07, 2023, Inquirer:

Margie Wakelin, an Education Law Center-PA lawyer who has worked with families in complaints against Franklin Towne in the past, said changes are imperative.

“We need to ensure that our public schools — and charter schools are public schools — have public accountability, and are serving our students of Philadelphia,” said Wakelin. “All zip codes, all students.”

Yes, the FTCS lottery needs public accountability. However, it seems that the ability for a charter board and CEO to create a closed system able to conceal any deceit for years is the real problem needing addressing.

Then perhaps there will be less need for a replacement CEO to tell the public that the school is “public” in light of any clearly-anti-public scandal.

____________________________

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3 Comments
  1. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.

  2. fullerhunt permalink

    As someone who has worked in Philadelphia’s charter schools I say lotteries should be abandoned. Merit and character should be the deciding factor. We need to stop enabling the terrible behavior and lack of academic performance that so many inner city students engage in. One of the charter schools I worked at had required students to bring a portfolio of artwork and explain why they wanted to come to this school which was for architecture and design. Then, the school was forced to switch to a lottery, by people in the district who clearly hated these students, and the school was overrun with students who could not read or write and had terrible behavior. Sadly, the school went downhill and, eventually, lost its charter. Merit, excellent behavior, and character should be the only things considered when accepting students into a charter school.

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  1. Philadelphia: Charter School Rigged Admissions by Zip Code | Diane Ravitch's blog

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