Phila. charter school says nightclub will close

April 1, 2010 4:07:05 AM PDT
School officials in Philadelphia say a charter school will no longer allow a nightclub to operate on its premises during nights and weekends.

District officials met with operators of the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School on Wednesday.

The school had come under fire for allowing Club Damani to operate in its cafeteria during off-hours. The club had been serving alcohol despite an expired liquor license.

A statement from the district says Harambee officials have removed all banquet supplies and equipment from the building.

Harambee is on spring break this week. A spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

'Questionable spending' at schools'

On Tuesday, City Controller Alan Butkovitz says his office has found questionable spending at the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School.

Butkovitz announced his findings Tuesday following an Action News report that Harambee operates in the same building as Club Damani.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Butkovitz raised the name of one Rhonda Sharif. Butkovitz says she was the chief operating officer at Harambee and the CFO and /or business manager at two other charter schools all at the same time. The other two schools are the The Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Center on North Broad Street and Khepera in Germantown.

Butkovitz said Sharif pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal income from 2003 until 2008 and he listed hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending by Sharif for conferences, retreats and travel for which no documentation is provided.

However, he stopped short of claiming there's any illegal activity here.

During this same period, according to the controller, Rhonda Sharif's husband, Shamsud-Din Sharif, hit the jackpot with millions in construction contracts at those same three charter schools. His company, Str8 Hand Construction, did an estimated $7.5 million in business at the schools over four years.

Sharif would not discuss those allegations on Tuesday.

Butkovitz says this is part of his probe into the spending of 13 local charter schools. Sources confirm that a federal grand jury is looking into what they've found at five schools, including the Math, Civics and Sciences Center, where officials confirm they've cooperated with a subpoena for five years of financial records.

The school's founder told Action News they've done nothing wrong. Rhonda Sharif was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Action News investigation into Harambee

In an exclusive report on Friday, Action News learned that Club Damani, located in the building as the Harambee Institute, served alcohol despite an expired liquor license.

A statement on its Web site says recent media reports contain "inaccurate allegations."

On Monday night, the Philadelphia School District issued a statement regarding a nightclub at Harambee.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman sent a letter to the operators of Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, notifying them that she finds unacceptable its reported practice of leasing space in a building where a club serves liquor.

The School District is working in conjunction with the State and the City to investigate these allegations.

Moreover, the District said it is moving quickly to schedule a visit to the building and review the legal arrangements to operate the facility. If this building is being used inappropriately and endangers the well-being of children, school officials say they will take immediate action to find an appropriate facility for the students.

Superintendent Ackerman's letter states that a school and a nightclub cannot co-exist in the same space and must cease immediately.

There was no reaction Monday from the charter school CEO who is said to be out of town.

In Harrisburg, the head of the Senate Education Committee has vowed there will be an investigation about how you end up with a bar inside a school building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report