Former Olney West lost $4.4M following charter conversion

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

The U.S. Department of Labor pulled a multimillion dollar grant at the former Olney West High after the school was converted to a charter as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative.

Also a factor in the decision was that Olney West is no longer considered a "persistently dangerous" school.

The DOL retracted $4.4 million of the grant, said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. The grant’s total value was $6.27 million.

“It is a substantial loss for the school,” said Gallard. “We’re not happy with the findings from the Department of Labor, but they came up with a decision and we’re following it.”

In March 2010, Olney West was one of four high schools in Philadelphia that were awarded a DOL grant to reduce violence and improve educational outcomes through mentoring, job training, and related programs.

In January 2011, the District designated that both Olney West and Olney East – separate schools housed in a single structure at Duncannon Avenue and Front Street – would be converted to charters as Renaissance Schools. At the time, advocates raised concerns that the conversion would mean a loss of the DOL funds at Olney West, but their concern went unheeded.

Management of both Olney East and West was ultimately awarded to ASPIRA of PA, which reunified the schools when it took over last fall.

ASPIRA’s chief operating officer, Orlando Rendon, said his organization continued to support the programs funded by the grant this year while negotiations with DOL about details of the grant were ongoing.

Rendon said he was surprised to learn that DOL’s ultimate determination was that the new ASPIRA Olney was no longer eligible to receive the funds.

“We’re obviously upset,” Rendon said. “It’s the same students, with the same needs that need to be addressed. We just changed the operator.”

Rendon said ASPIRA is seeking other funds to continue the programs started under the grant.

Other District high schools receiving grant funds under the same program remain unaffected, according to a DOL spokesman.