Lancaster school, city officials oppose proposed business charter school

Members of the public speak at a January 2014 hearing for the Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship Charter School.

Some of the signatures were collected by a convicted criminal, others reportedly by minors.

Some of the signers listed a homeless shelter as their address.

Several pages were temporarily lost, and an expert says multiple signatures are in the same handwriting.

The question: Should those irregularities, and others, invalidate the Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship Charter School’s petition to have an appeal heard by the State Charter School Appeals Board?

RELATED: A closer look at the petition

On Monday, a County Court hearing on that issue will begin. County Court Judge Joseph Madenspacher will preside.

The charter school, known as ABECS, wants the appeals board to reverse the School District of Lancaster’s rejection of its application to set up shop here.

That decision, made in February 2014, marked the second time SDL turned down ABECS’ application.

1,000 names needed

By law, when a charter school’s application is denied, it can appeal the decision to the state board if it can collect 1,000 signatures supporting an appeal within 60 days.

The petition ABECS filed with its July appeal boasted more than 2,100 signatures.

In court papers, however, SDL calls the charter school’s signature gathering “substantially flawed” and the petition “unsalvageable.”

“We think the entire signature collection process was fraught with deficiencies and born of a defective process,” said Bonnie Hoffman of Philadelphia law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, who is handling the case for SDL.

The school district, ABECS counters, wants the signatures invalidated based on criteria that have “no basis in law.”

In any petition drive, there are bound to be a few invalid signatures, said ABECS’ attorney, Jason Hess of Morgan Hallgren Crosswell & Kane.

However, SDL won’t be able to invalidate “anywhere close to the number they need,” he said.

Mismatches found

SDL hired Joseph Rosowski, a forensic document examiner, to evaluate the signatures. His report found more than 100 signatures that don’t match their supposed signers’ real signatures as found on their voter registration documents.

Another 78 exhibit “common authorship,” Rosowski wrote.

SDL also alleges a number of procedural irregularities.

ABECS, in its own filings, lists 176 signatures it concedes are incomplete, duplicates or list addresses not in the school district.

Nevertheless, “the number of valid signatures is well in excess of the 1,000 signatures required,” it says.

It accuses SDL of spending “a tremendous amount of time and resources to thwart the community’s attempt to add educational choice to the students it is supposed to serve.”

The hearing beginning Monday is scheduled to last through Tuesday and into Wednesday. ABECS would be able to appeal an adverse ruling.

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