Lisa Haver is a public school activist in Philadelphia. Here she writes about the long, drawn-out and very expensive proceedings to close down a failing charter school in that city.

She writes:

When the School District of Philadelphia targeted Germantown High School for closure just one year before its 100th anniversary, there was no legal recourse for students or families. No law required the District to conduct an inquiry or call witnesses in order to hear testimony from those fighting to save the school. While the administration of Superintendent William Hite did hold an informal meeting at the school, the community’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Germantown High, along with 23 other neighborhood schools that had served generations of Philadelphians, was closed by vote of the School Reform Commission in a matter of months.

Closing a charter school is a very different story. The Pennsylvania Charter Law mandates a lengthy legal process, beginning with weeks of hearings at the District level. Thousands of pages of documents are entered into evidence. Should the hearing examiner rule in the District’s favor, the charter school can appeal to the state’s Charter Appeal Board in the hope that the 6-person board of political appointees, most of whom have ties to the charter sector, will overrule the decision of the local board. Should that fail, the school can appeal to Commonwealth Court.

Not only is the process is long and expensive, but the public must pay for both sides of the dispute while the wrangling goes on, year after year.

So how many lawyers does it take to shut down a failing charter school?

The Inquirer story explains that “because charter schools are funded largely by school districts, taxpayers are paying not just for the district to make its case but for the charter to defend itself.

The District also pays for the hearing examiner, the stenographer, and for the assembling and copying of thousands of documents. Aspira Olney’s lawyers are making between $180 and $300 an hour, but lawyers for Aspira Inc. wouldn’t disclose their hourly fees—and they are under no obligation to, even though they are paid, indirectly, with taxpayer funds. The District could be shelling out $10,000 a day in legal and administrative fees. That doesn’t include billing for preparation and other costs. That’s $140,000 for the already scheduled fourteen days; total cost will easily exceed $200,000. How many teachers or librarians could that buy? How many toxic buildings could be made safe?