July 11, 2017 — Last July, we reported in this space that the battle between the I-LEAD Charter School and the Reading School District had cost more than $200,000. Turns out that was just a beginning.
In late 2015, after learning of growing tensions between the district and the charter school, the Community Foundation offered to pay a professional mediator from the Berks County Bar Association in an attempt to avoid expensive litigation. While the charter school readily accepted that offer, the district summarily dismissed it.
In May of 2016, the Reading School Board voted to terminate the charter of the I-LEAD school, citing a variety of allegations regarding performance and mismanagement. The charter school appealed that ruling and filed a federal lawsuit against the district.
In June of this year, two crucial rulings were handed down. First, the Commonwealth’s Charter School Appeal Board ruled 5-1 to grant I-LEAD’s appeal of the district’s decision to revoke the charter. A few days later, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl dismissed I-LEAD’s lawsuit filed against the district.
This seemed like an opportune time to check in on what this mess has cost the children of the City of Reading. Last month, we filed a “Right to Know Request” with both parties to ask what they had spent in consulting fees and legal fees since the inception of this dispute. The result is staggering.
To date, the two parties have spent $393,960.05. That’s a staggering amount of money that could have hired teachers, bought badly needed textbooks, or fixed deteriorating schools.
Whether it’s over or not is hard to say. The district announced its plan to appeal the state decision to the Commonwealth Court, but it’s hard to imagine they could finalize that decision without reading the (as yet unreleased) opinion from the appeals board. And to my knowledge, the charter school hasn’t made an announcement about any appeals of the federal ruling.
I can’t think of a more disheartening spectacle in my 23 years in this job than the ongoing battle between the Reading School District and the I-LEAD Charter School. The clear winners here are a couple of Philadelphia-area law firms. The clear losers are the children of Reading.
To see a complete version of the responses to our request provided by the I-LEAD Charter School and the Reading School District, click here.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation