Just after Thanksgiving, we spotted an image on social media of Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) students marching in the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia with a Gerald the Bookworm parade balloon.
CCA appears in the parade at 1:12:38 in this video. CCA’s promotional spot airs at 1:32:35.
Since CCA is a school that is funded by tax dollars, we were interested in learning just how many dollars that were *supposed to be spent educating students* were instead spent promoting CCA in this parade.
On November 30th, we filed a Right to Know request with Commonwealth Charter Academy seeking this information, because a school that is funded by tax dollars should be required to tell the public how it is spending those dollars.
But that is not how it works in Pennsylvania.
Eight weeks after filing our request this is where we stand:
- We rescinded our request for the cost of the balloon and the parade entry fee. It appears that CCA’s parade appearance was included in the promotional spot that CCA paid for.
- CCA lawyers have sent us multiple denials of our request for the cost of the promotional spot (they claim it is a protected trade secret) and dozens of pages of legalese.
- We have responded with case law that shows they are wrong.
- The OOR will issue its determination by February 7th.
- If the OOR determines that CCA must give us this information, CCA can continue to refuse to comply, in which case we would need to go to court to get it.
- The timeline and links to all of the legal documents are below. We are grateful for the pro bono legal counsel offered by an ally.
Pennsylvania has one of the worst charter school laws in the nation when it comes to financial transparency for charter schools.
And our state government has been an astonishing failure when it comes to financial accountability and oversight of cyber charter schools. School districts are mercilessly audited every three years by the state. Meanwhile, billions of tax dollars have flowed into cyber schools that have not been audited for years or have never been audited at all.
The opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars in the cyber charter sector are staggering and cyber charters are taking every advantage afforded them to siphon millions of tax dollars into private pockets every year.
Next week we will be sharing the documents we received in a different batch of Right to Know requests from cyber charter schools. The thousands of pages of advertising expenses are hard evidence that cyber charter schools are awash in taxpayer dollars that they waste.
Many lawmakers are working hard to pass charter school accountability and funding reforms that will put an end to this abuse of tax dollars. More than 60 lawmakers–Republicans and Democrats–have co-sponsored House Bill 272. It is time for Republican leadership in the House to stand up for the taxpayers they represent and immediately bring this bill up for a vote.
Thank you for your support of public education.
Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA
November 30, 2021
Ed Voters files a Right to Know (RTK) request with Commonwealth Charter Academy seeking the following information:
- An invoice or other documentation that shows the cost of the parade balloon that was used in the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia.
- An invoice or other documentation that shows the cost to enter CCA group in the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia.
- An invoice or other documentation that shows the cost of promotional spot for CCA during the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia.
December 6, 2021
CCA sends this response to Ed Voters’ RTK request, which includes the following statement:
To the extent CCA has records relating to the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia, the records would reveal a trade secret and confidential proprietary information and be exempt from access. See 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(11). This includes records of third-parties. See 65 P.S. § 67.707(b).
December 7, 2021
Ed Voters files an appeal with the OOR.
December 7, 2021
Our appeal was docketed by the OOR and assigned the docket number AP 2021-2799.
December 17, 2021
CCA and lawyers from two firms file a Notice of Entry of Appearance in Docket # AP 2021-2799
December 17, 2021
On behalf of CCA, lawyers from Ball, Murren, and Connell, LLC file a 6-page document,(Motion to Dismiss Requester’s Deficient Appeal) seeking to request that the OOR dismiss Ed Voters’ appeal or request that additional information be provided in support of the appeal.
December 21, 2021
Ed Voters emails the OOR in response to CCA’s motion to dismiss on December 17.
December 23, 2021
CCA lawyers submit a 34-page supplemental record document and again request that Ed Voters’ request be denied by the OOR.
January 11, 2022
Ed Voters sends a supplemental record submission to the OOR in which we:
- Accept CCA’s claim that no records exist relating to items 1 and 2 from the initial request.
- Reiterate that its claim that item 3, relating to confidential proprietary information and trade secrets is invalid and provide case law to support our claim that CCA should provide “Invoice or other documentation that shows the cost of a promotional spot for CCA during the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia.”
January 12, 2022
CCA sends an email to the OOR asking that Ed Voters’ supplemental submission dated January 10, 2022, not be considered by OOR or accepted into the record, since it was submitted after the record was closed.
January 28, 2022
CCA submits supplemental evidence stating that CCA does not have an invoices that details the cost of the parade because it purchases a “sustaining media package” that included the parade but that does not break out the cost for the paarde. (Emphasis mine)
Since the affadavit I submitted as part of CCA’s original submission sets forth that CCA did not purchase, lease, rent, enter, or request a balloon or float in the Parade , and CCA did not enter a group in or request individuals to particiate in the Parade, I will provide additional detail related to invoices in general and the request for invoices related to the cost of the promotional spot.
In March 2021, Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) contracted with Target Media, Inc. (Target) to provide media consulting and placement sevices for traditional media, e.g., TV, radio, outdoor, print. CCA’s Board of Trustees (Board) also approved the costs for the contracted services, including fees and media buys. CCA is invoiced for media buys and fees associated with services provided by Target. Such invoices come from Target to my attention at CCA.
CCA did not pay for a promotional spot for CCA during the November 2021 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia (Parade); consequently, CCA has not and will not hreceive an invoice from Target for a promotional spot for CCA during the Parade.
CCA did purchase a sustaining media package that included the Parade from 6abc through Target. A sustaining media package differes from a promotional spot or advertising in that it is a way CCA maintains an active role in the communities it serves. Due to the nature of the contract between CCA and Target, the costs approved by the Board , and how CCA is invoiced for fees and media buys, CCA has not and will not receive an invoice from Target that individually sets forth the costs of such a sustaining media package.
January 28, 2022
The CEO of Target Media submits a statement arguing that information about pricing for media is proprietary.
The OOR issues a final determination that our appeal was valid but that, “The Charter School has proven that it does not possess the requested invoices and need not retrieve the invoices under Section 506(d).” So our request for this cost was denied.