FOX 29 Investigates: Charter Schools' Big Payout

A city charter school operator paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of its top educators after she went to court. What she claims happened, and why you could be footing the bill.

- A Philadelphia charter school operator made a six-figure settlement with one of its former top educators after she accused the chief executive officer of sexual harassment.

A city councilwoman says that top educator is not alone in her claims. Jeff Cole has this FOX 29 Investigates report.

The charter school group is ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, Inc. Taxpayers, tens of millions of your dollars go to ASPIRA schools.

While the School District of Philadelphia looks at possibly pulling two schools from ASPIRA, there's more controversy.

Alfredo B. Calderon, the highly paid CEO of the charter school operator, was friendly at hello but tight as a drum when the questions came.

"You paid her, your insurer paid her, $350,000," Cole said. "She said you sexually harassed her. Did you sexually harass her?"

"Sir, I am willing to set up a meeting, sir," Calderon replied.

We ran into Calderon in the parking lot of the North Philadelphia headquarters of ASPIRA, the large nonprofit he leads serving the Hispanic community.

We didn't want to talk about the five Philadelphia charter schools ASPIRA runs with tax dollars. We were there to press him on startling charges of sexual harassment made against Calderon and ASPIRA by one of its top educators, and ASPIRA paying the educator well over a quarter-million dollars to settle the case.

Cole: "Why did you settle…"
Calderon: "I will be willing to set up a meeting, sir."
Cole: "…a $350,000 sexual harassment case with Ms. Nunez?"
Calderon: "Sir, I understand, sir."
Cole: "Did you harass her?"
Calderon: "Sir, I can't..."
Cole: "You can tell me about it?"
Calderon: "Sir, I can set up a meeting with you."

The sexual harassment claim was made by Evelyn Nunez, the former Chief Academic Officer and Superintendent of Schools for all of ASPIRA's Philly charters.

Nunez, who is now the principal of the school district's Lewis Elkin Elementary, filed a charge of discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She charged she was a victim of "sex discrimination and retaliation" and claimed it was "continuing."

Nunez, single at the time, said she had a one-night-only romance with Calderon, and she was immediately embarrassed by it.

In the 26-page document, she says she was demoted in August 2012 because she:

  • "rejected the on-going sexual advances of Respondent Alfredo Calderon,"
  • "refused to allow him to talk about his on-going sexual conquests of teachers, students and parents,"
  • "refused to hire as a teacher a woman he had sexual designs on"
  • "and reported his some (but not all) of his behaviors" to the "Board of Trustees for the schools and ASPIRA."

Court records show in February 2013, Nunez sued ASPIRA under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Documents show the case was settled in June of that year.

Nunez's attorney, Patricia Pierce, says she is barred from talking about the settlement.

And Calderon is tight-lipped.

Cole: "Did you sexually harass Evelyn Nunez?"
Calderon: "Can we set up the meeting, please?"
Cole: "No, no, I've asked for the meeting for some time now … and we haven't had a meeting."

FOX 29 Investigates discovered the big money payout in a court document. It turns out ASPIRA didn't pay its insurance company a $25,000 fee, so the insurer sued them for it. In that suit, the large sum ASPIRA paid Nunez is stated right there.

The insurance company, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, writes that Nunez accused Calderon and his management team of "sexual harassment, and retaliation."

The company claims it put out $151,000 in legal fees and costs in defense of the suit and writes "National Union did also pay to the claimant, Ms. Nunez, and her counsel, on behalf of the insureds, (Aspira and its officer) the sum of $350,000 in full and final settlement of the claim."

We asked CEO Calderon if he told school district leaders – known as the School Reform Commission, or the SRC – about the big payout.

Cole: "Did you disclose to the SRC…"
Calderon: "Yes, sir."
Cole: "…that you settled a $350,000 sexual harassment claim?"
Calderon: "I am willing to set a meeting."
Cole: "Why won't you talk to me? Why do you need to have a meeting with your lawyer? You know what this is."

Lisa Haver is a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, a watchdog citizens group for the schools and the SRC.

Asked if she was startled by the amount of the $350,000 settlement, Haver said, "Yes, I am."

The schools advocate later added, "Well, it's shocking that that type of activity is going on in a school that serves the community."

Not only was Haver stunned by the money, she was very concerned that the Philadelphia School District says charter schools have "no obligation to tell the District about legal settlements and they don't."

"The taxpayers and the community that these schools are supposed to be serving have a right to know what their money is being spent on and what the climate of the school is and how its employees are being treated," Haver said.

Calderon promised us a meeting.

Cole: "Why would you settle such a claim if that didn't happen? Because that's a lot of money."
Calderon: "It was resolved, sir. I cannot speak to you right…"
Cole: "Why was it resolved? If you didn't do it, why didn't you fight it?"
Calderon: "Sir, I will talk to you, please."

That meeting didn't happen.

Instead, we received a statement (posted below) from a spokesperson who writes ASPIRA would like to share the details of the case but can't under the settlement agreement.

He adds appropriate disclosures were made to the school district, ASPIRA board and the board of the affected school.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez in a statement (also posted below) says she has met with other women who experienced sexual harassment but were unwilling to come forward after the board did not take action against Calderon.

Quinones-Sanchez says she has met with ASPIRA leaders to tell them Calderon and others have created a hostile work environment for women.

The ASPIRA spokesperson claims Quinones-Sanchez is waging a ceaseless campaign of unfair character attacks against Calderon.


Statement from Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez:

In response to your inquiry, “When I became aware of the EEOC complaints that led to the lawsuit and settlement, I spoke with the Board President, who resigned before the case was settled.

“Since that time, I have met with several disgruntled workers and other women who stated they experienced sexual harassment but were unwilling to come forward after the board did not take any action against Calderon. They feared retaliation and most left ASPIRA.

“As a woman, I am disappointed that an empowerment organization does not have a ‘no tolerance’ policy for the situation illustrated by this case. Over a year ago, at my request, I met with the Vice Chair of ASPIRA, Board Chair of the schools, and the new superintendent and expressed my continued concerns about the hostile environment for women that is created by Calderon and an almost all male executive team.

“As the former Board Chair and executive director, for me, ASPIRA is not just an organization -- it's a movement. It is a family that I was a part of as a student, staff, board member, and community resident. One person should not be more important than their mission, their staff, and their students.”



September 7, 2016
With respect to the claims identified in your inquiry, we are unable to discuss the details of this matter because the resolution of the dispute included a strict confidentiality agreement that was signed by all parties.  We would very much like to share the details of this case with you, but we are prohibited from doing so by the terms of the settlement agreement.  ASPIRA made appropriate disclosures about the matter to the School District, the ASPIRA Board, and the Board of the affected school in a timely manner. 
Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez’ comments, while outrageous and unfair, are not surprising.  Under her leadership, ASPIRA was a struggling organization that had difficulty paying its bills.  But that has not prevented the Councilwoman from trying to regain control of ASPIRA, either through repeated attempts to secure contracts for her family members; or by waging a ceaseless campaign of unfair character attacks against Mr. Calderon.
Here are the facts: ASPIRA today has become a leader in the education of children throughout Philadelphia’s Latino community.  Under Mr. Calderon’s leadership, ASPIRA’s students have made steady academic progress in schools that are better-equipped and far safer than ever before.  What’s more, under Mr. Calderon’s leadership ASPIRA has hired women in key leadership positions throughout the organization, and it has established a strict no-tolerance policy with respect to discrimination of any kind.
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