Eyes on the SRC: April 19, 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
April 16, 2018

The SRC appears determined to maintain its legacy of non-transparency in its final months. Almost every month, the SRC fails to post resolutions on time. APPS sent several emails to the Commissioners, reminding them that they agreed to post resolutions at least two weeks before every Action Meeting as part of the court-ordered settlement to our 2016 Sunshine Act violation suit. Finally, the Resolution Summary and Description for the April 19 meeting appeared on Thursday April 12, a mere eight days before the scheduled meeting.

Now that the information has been released, it is hard to understand the delay. The heading on the Description simply states:  This meeting of the School Reform Commission is a Budget Hearing for the purpose of hearing public comment on the FY19 Budgets. There are no action items. The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the FY19 Budget at its Action Meeting on May 24, 2018.

Why the secrecy? The April 19th meeting is not listed on their schedule as a Budget Hearing but as an SRC Action Meeting.

We expect the new School Board to make a commitment to keep the public informed, and in a timely manner, when it takes power on July 1.

The SRC will most likely consider the revised application of the Franklin Towne Charter Middle School (FTCMS) at its April 26 meeting. Thus far, it is the only new charter applicant to reapply after being denied by vote of the SRC at its February 22 meeting, obviously taking to heart the encouragement expressed by Commissioner Bill Green just after that vote. One of the members of the FTCMS board is the chief of staff for State Representative John Sabatina, who supported Green in his recent failed Congressional campaign.

 Green must recuse himself on this vote.

This soon-to-be-dissolved body has the ability to approve a deeply flawed charter application that would become a financial burden for the District—indefinitely. In fact, there are few substantial changes in their revised application. In her February report, APPS member Diane Payne  listed several reasons for denial, including:

• Franklin Towne operates a K-8 elementary school—why the need for a separate 450-student Middle School?
• Student enrollment is 83% white
• Circular financial and real estate dealings (cited by former City Controller Alan Butkovitz in his 2010 report)
• FTC CEO oversees two schools and draws a salary of $260,000

Their revised application provides no remedies for any of these issues. The SRC must vote again to deny.


Defenders of Public Education Needed to Testify at this April 19 Meeting

Please consider attending the April 19th meeting at 440 N. Broad to express your concerns about this proposal.  CFO Uri Monson has repeatedly testified that charter schools represent the largest item in the district’s budget. We cannot afford any more. As Dr Hite implements the district’s plan to close Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive neighborhood public high school we ask: how can the SRC consider taking more money out of district classrooms and putting it into the hands of a charter operator with this kind of record? When do the needs of students in District schools become a priority?

To speak at any SRC meeting, call the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. on the day before the meeting at which you wish to speak. You have 3 minutes to speak and timing your remarks is important because they will turn your mic off at the end of 3 minutes.

APPS will be posting the April 26 edition of Eyes on the SRC for that meeting in the coming days.

 

APPS News: April 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
April 13, 2018

End of the Line

As the lame-duck SRC limps towards the finish line, millions  of taxpayer dollars continue to flow into the pockets of  private vendors. Case in point: Carnegie Learning contract to provide professional development services to approximately 1500 K-8 Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s annual summer mathematics initiative” received another $3 million at the March 15 SRC meeting  (B-3). Carnegie has pocketed $15 million from District contracts over the past two years. Carnegie has little investment in public schools other than increasing their own corporate footprint. Why can’t those funds be used to hire experienced Math teachers and coaches who work for the district and know the students, the schools and the curriculum?

Vacant school buildings are being sold for pennies on the dollar and converted to marketplace housing. Despite community efforts, Ada Lewis Middle School, once the largest middle school in the city, was closed almost twenty years ago; the District allowed it to become a neighborhood eyesore.  Developers eye school buildings as potential profitable housing projects. At the March 15 SRC meeting, it was revealed (Resolution A-10) that the developer added a contingency clause to the sale of this property for rezoning to include residential and mixed-use development”.

 SRC to Vote on Charter Do-Overs

Click here to read the entire post.

Community Fights Closing of Strawberry Mansion High

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by Lynda Rubin
April 9, 2018

 Several APPS members, in response to requests from community members, attended a meeting at Strawberry Mansion High School  (SMHS) on Wednesday, March 28. About fifty people—including parents, educators and alumni—attended the meeting, facilitated by Eric Becoats, Assistant Superintendent in charge of the district’s Turnaround Network. Like many of those in attendance, APPS members found out about the meeting from a notice posted on social media two days before. The district posted no banner about the meeting on its website, nor was there was any mention of possible change at SMHS at recent SRC meetings. Rumors had spread, in the absence of definitive information from the school district, that Strawberry Mansion, as a comprehensive high school, would be closing at the end of this school year. Some had heard that other programs, possibly twilight school or alternative education programs for students with academic and/or behavioral issues, would be housed in the building.

Using barely readable power-points, Becoats read through some possible changes and the reasons the district is “phasing out” the existing educational program at SMHS. There will be no 9thgraders admitted in September 2018. The remaining students will complete their years and graduate from Mansion.  Starting in September 2018, Becoats said, neighborhood students could attend a newly added accelerated school in the building, but he gave no details about the program or who would oversee it. An evening program for overage students and adults may be added later. In September 2019, 9thgraders could then be admitted to a new “skills-based” high school in the building.  Becoats said that was only “under consideration”, to which a community member responded, “So new students will evict existing students.” Becoats claimed that there would be full staffing until the last class graduates, and that the remaining students would complete their years and graduate from Mansion, but did not specify how the school could maintain sufficient staff for a variety of programs with declining enrollment. Nor did he seem to have any idea how the students in the remaining grades would deal with decreases in student body and staff.  Becoats continued to deny that Strawberry Mansion High School is being closed, as if the existence of the building constitutes the essence of the actual high school.

Parents, community and neighborhood leaders expressed their frustration at both Becoats’ dismissive attitude and the district’s lack of community outreach prior to making their decision.  One community member asked: Are we in the planning stage or the implementation stage? Becoats admitted that the district is now in the implementation stage.

Click here to read the entire post.

Who–and What–Does the New School Board Represent?

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Mayor Kenney enters the press conference with Superintendent Hite to announce the new Philadelphia School Board.

By Deb Grill, Karel Kilimnik and Lisa Haver
April 4, 2018

APPS biographies of the nine members of the new Philadelphia School Board.

Unlike the other 500, Philadelphia is the only school district in Pennsylvania whose voters cannot elect a school board. We’ve had town halls, online surveys, and pronouncements from city politicians, but it all comes down to this:  The government officials who will decide the future of the city’s public schools, and who will control a $3 billion budget, have been chosen by one person, Mayor Kenney.  His decision has been based, in part, on the opinions of the thirteen people selected by him to be on the Nominating Panel. It has also been based on the wishes of the influential individuals, organizations and corporations who have lobbied him to represent their interests on the board. Two built-in lobbyists on the Nominating Panel, Stephanie Naidoff and Bonnie Camarda, are members of the board of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which funnels millions every year from private investors into schools of their choice for the programs of their choice, mostly charters.

All of the deliberations of the Panel were held in secret. None of the district’s stakeholders, or the city’s taxpayers, were able to express their opinions about any of the candidates, whether pro or con, or to raise concerns about possible conflicts of interest. APPS did everything we could, short of legal action, to open up this process. We sent letters to the Mayor and to the Panel, refuting the Mayor’s false assertion that the Panel could deliberate in Executive Session because it was discussing “personnel matters”, pointing out that the Panel was neither hiring nor appointing any personnel. We had several community groups sign a letter asking the mayor to obey the Sunshine Act. 

APPS members  Karel Kilimnik and Rich Migliore wrote an op-ed published in the  Philadelphia Inquirer decrying the lack of democracy and the mayor’s attempt to have the charter change include language that would allow him to remove school board members without any due process, which would have killed the possibility of having a truly independent board.

Lisa Haver also wrote an op-ed questioning whether trading in one unelected, unaccountable school board for another, under the banner of local control, could be considered progress.

APPS also researched all forty-five Panel nominees. Now that the final selection has been made, we are re-posting the profiles of those selected with updated information.  One thing that stands out in the Mayor’s selection: there are no known advocates for public education. Since no one could question the nominees, we have no idea whether, or how much, they are committed to defending public education. We don’t know whether they believe that privatization and charterization are solutions to the problem of under-resourced neighborhood schools. We don’t know what their stance is on using anonymous private donations to fund public and charter schools.

Following are some of the patterns and connections that we have observed, so far, among the board members:

District and Charter School Connections

Click here to see a preliminary analysis of the
District and Charter School Connections of the new School Board.