July 18, 2016 — Could the Reading School District and the I-LEAD Charter School spend a million dollars pursuing their battle over the I-LEAD charter? It’s hard to say, but it certainly seems possible.

In response to requests filed by the Community Foundation under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, the district and the charter school revealed that their combined expenditures on lawyers and accountants total $226,210.88 so far. And from the looks of it, they’re just getting started. (To view our Right-to-Know request and the responses we received, click here.)

Following an extensive hearing at the school district level, the school board voted 7-2 to revoke I-LEAD’s charter. That’s not likely to be anywhere near the end of this fight.

I-LEAD has the right to appeal to the Pennsylvania Charter Appeal Board. Conceivably, the loser of that round could file an appeal with Commonwealth Court. The Pennsylvania appeals courts are a notoriously slow and expensive venue for dispute resolution.

And that’s just the potential for future action in the state process.

On May 9, I-LEAD filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district. So that will get a trial. And whoever loses that will probably file an appeal.

In short, it looks like “round one” is done, but there might be as many as four more rounds ahead. And at the current rate of spending, that could get really close to $1 million in legal and consulting costs.

That money isn’t coming from some mysterious place. It’s coming from the taxpayers and it’s not being spent on teachers and textbooks, both in desperately short supply in the city. The money spent so far would have paid for at least two or three teachers for a year. This is irresponsible.

Last year, the Community Foundation offered to pay for professional mediation that might have avoided all of this expenditure. There’s no way to guarantee success, but there was also zero risk in trying.

The I-LEAD Charter School accepted that offer; the school district rejected it.

We renew our offer to provide professional mediation through the Berks County Bar Association.  And the Community Foundation will bear the expense of the mediator.

Perhaps we can avoid the further waste of precious taxpayer dollars. And I’m pretty certain that the fate of our children will be better determined by local people of good will sitting down together instead of by a state bureaucracy.

Let me be unmistakably clear:  The Community Foundation isn’t taking a position about the substance of this dispute and won’t. We lack the expertise and, more importantly, the inclination to evaluate the charges the district has made or the response that I-LEAD has given.

What we do understand is that $226,210.88 has already been spent. It’s time to stop this wasteful spending and see if we can find a solution.

Kevin K. Murphy

Kevin K. Murphy, President

Berks County Community Foundation