During the early months of 2008, Philadelphia-based scholar of Islam and the Middle East Dr. Daniel Pipes chronicled the failed attempts of soul-music-mogul-turned-Muslim-activist Kenny Gamble (aka Luqman Abdul-Haq) to shake down the Philadelphia Housing Authority and create an all-Muslim enclave in South Philadelphia.
While the sordid affairs makes for fascinating reading – not least because it led to the resignation of Bush Administration HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson and the collapse of the attempted shake-down – its “happy ending” should not have lulled anyone into complacency.
Now comes the news that the Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has given to Gamble two South Philadelphia public schools – Audenried High and Edwin Vare Middle School – to be converted by him into charter schools, with an estimated annual income to Gamble’s Universal Companies of 9 million Philadelphia taxpayer dollars.
Not surprisingly, this latest Gamble shake-down has all the trappings of a back-room deal, which has provoked South Philly residents and Philadelphia school activists to outrage. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a respected newsletter and website “for parents, educators, students and friends of the Philadelphia public schools,” reports that “neither the public nor the SRC [School Reform Commission] will be given a say in plans to turn over the schools to Universal Companies.”
According to the March 10th Notebook:
The process troubles Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, who has fought against the conversion of District schools to charters.
“The [District's] attitude is that it doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks,” he said. “The deal is done.”
The first SRC vote on the Promise Neighborhood Partnership schools will come in April, when the members vote on authorizing the charters for Audenried and Vare.
“The match and the charter [for Audenried and Vare] will be approved at the same time,” Childs said.
The SRC now has only four members following the recent resignation of Ambassador David Girard-diCarlo last month. Chairman Robert Archie has confirmed that he will recuse himself from any eventual votes involving Universal because of his longstanding personal connection to founder Kenny Gamble. He has served on Universal’s board and his law firm, Duane Morris LLP, has represented the organization in business dealings.
Because of SRC rules, that means that the votes of all three remaining commissioners will be required to grant the charters.
Community members have also been shut out of the bequest of the schools to Universal.
According to the March 13th Notebook:
[M]any of the roughly 100 people in the audience [at last week's community meeting with Universal], frustrated that the Universal takeover was presented to them as a fait accompli, remained focused instead on the School District’s process for deciding Audenried’s future.
“From what I read, [the plan for the school] sounds good,” Jim Helman of the Grays Ferry Partnership, a coalition of seven community groups in the area, said after the meeting. “[But] I think the School District went about this conversion to a charter school all wrong, Instead of consulting with the community, they’re now informing the community of something they already decided.”
Still other residents don’t want Universal in control at all.
Audrey Martin, a resident of Grays Ferry, said that Nunery was missing the point.
“We don’t want this,” said Martin, referring to the charter conversion plan itself. “We want you to keep these teachers. These kids are close to them, and that’s what makes a difference.”
As part of the District’s “Promise Neighborhood Partnership” model for turning around Audenried and Edwin Vare Middle, all of the current teachers will be force-transferred, then given the opportunity to re-apply to work for Universal – minus their union benefits. They will not be guaranteed a job in another school in the District, which might need to lay off some teachers due to a massive drop in state and federal aid.
Entirely left out of this whole discussion, of course, is what kind of schools the Islamist-inspired Universal would run, and where the $9 million in annual Philadelphia taxpayer funds would be spent.
As Pipes pointed out in his 2008 series on Gamble and Universal, the company’s website openly proclaims:
[T]he whole of Universal Companies is a testament to faith:
By the Blessing and Mercy of Allah (SWT), the efforts of Universal Companies serve as a national model for what can be done with commitment, compassion, focus and careful planning and execution. Just another proof positive of the words of the Qur’an where Allah (SWT) states: Let there arise from among you a small group of people, inviting to all that is good. They enjoin the good, and forbid the evil, and it is they who attain success”. (3:104)
To sum up, Gamble likes to tell listeners, “We are not just here for Universal, we are down here for Islam.”