Following ethics report on Robert Archie and Dwight Evans, some feel students were robbed of opportunity
When former School Reform Commission chair Robert L. Archie and state Rep. Dwight Evans were using closed door meetings to coerce Atlanta-based charter manager Mosaica to back out of its just-awarded $60 million deal at Martin Luther King High School and hand it over to Evans’ cronies at Foundations, according to a report issued last week by the mayor’s office, Conchevia Washington believes a crime was being committed against a community and, more importantly, against its children.
“It would be tough for me to get up in the morning and look myself in the mirror,” Washington, the mother of a King student and chair of its Student Advisory Council, said of Archie and Evans. “It is a crime in and of itself when you rob children. We chose a provider we felt best fit the needs or our school.”
If Evans, Archie and others mentioned in last week’s bombshell fact-finding report on MLK — which was released by Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman — have committed a crime, they have not done so in the eyes of those who have watched this sad drama unfold over the last several months.
As of last Friday, the District Attorney’s office told the Tribune that it had not laid eyes on the report 48 hours after its release last Wednesday. A spokesperson in the state Attorney General’s office said this is not the sort of investigation that the office typically undertakes. And in the office of the state Auditor General, where they are still investigating the SRC for its buyout of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, an official there was unsure whether an investigation would ensue.
According to Committee of Seventy President Zach Stalberg, assuming the report is accurate, the roles of Archie and Evans both warrant a closer look. More than 30 people participated in the report, including Archie, but Evans chose not to be interviewed.
“Philadelphians should be appalled by the report’s picture of backroom dealings and political strong-arming,” Stalberg said. “And we don’t know the complete story because Dwight Evans refused to cooperate with the investigation. The fact that he didn’t demands further inquiry by someone with subpoena power.”
Ultimately, only a court can determine if what Evans and Archie engaged in rises to criminality. But Washington feels that she and other parents have been robbed of the opportunity afforded them by the SAC to be intimately involved in guiding the education of their children.
“When we first got together and formulated the SAC, it was based on getting parents involved in the decision making of not just what is best for the school, but what is also best for the community,” Washington said. “It gave real power back to parents who were previously powerless. Under normal circumstances, we would not have been allowed to confirm the provider.
Now, Washington feels powerless because King is not a charter school; it recently became a Promise Academy. She said that King’s transformation into a Promise Academy will improve the struggling school, but she pointed out that King’s conversion prevented another school in need of receiving the increased resources that come with being a Promise Academy.
“It trickles down,” Washington said. “No one goes unscarred.”
So often, African Americans like to point the finger of blame elsewhere, usually evoking the mythic “Man.” But this does not fly with Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor at Bright Hope Baptist Church. Johnson says there is no room for this when the mayor, district attorney, police chief, fire chief, the majority leader of City Council and, until recently, the head of the SRC are all African Americans. The wounds, he says, are self-inflicted.
“Sadly, buried under the mountain of political debris are the futures of our children and community,” Johnson said. “As a pastor and father, my heart is grieved by the political fighting and infighting. Now, more than ever, our community is in desperate need of courageous, selfless leaders solely focused on the best interests of our great city.”
In the meantime, Washington has committed herself to working with King and making it a better place than it was before, even though she’s convinced the city and its corrupt political habits won’t soon change, and that Archie told the truth when he told Mosaica boss John Porter, “This is Philadelphia. Things are different here.”
She does not, however, have a problem saying that she supported Mosaica over Foundations for one reason only.
“I’m just speaking for myself,” Washington said, “but I felt that Mosaica offered our children the best opportunity for a future outside of high school. I felt Mosaica had a better plan to broaden the horizons of our children. They were not interested in just getting our kids out the door. I felt that they were better equipped to make sure that my child would thrive and not just survive after high school.”
Then, Washington sighs. She starts to speak, then pauses again, clearly collecting her thoughts.
“Taking that from a parent — that’s a crime,” Washington says.