Eyes on the SRC: August 17, 2017

SRC May 18

by Karel Kilimnik
August 14, 2017

The August resolutions include contracts and grants for over $14 million in district spending. A regular feature of Eyes is showing the history of spending on one program or company. The public’s ability to know about these issues has been compromised by the district’s decision to erase the history of SRC resolutions, minutes, amendments and actions on charters prior to last year. For reasons yet to be explained, the Communications Office put up a new website with missing information, but has not kept the previous website up (and since the Director and Assistant Director of that office went on vacation just after the change, answers have been in short supply). This is a simple technological matter. The City of Philadelphia has done exactly that so that the public still has access to public information. We do wonder whether the replacement of the previous website with an incomplete one signals a decision by the SRC to limit public access to district information. The SRC must rectify this matter and make sure that the people of the district can find all of the information they need.

Since his arrival five years ago, Superintendent William Hite has been implementing many of the corporate reforms taught at the unaccredited Broad Academy where he received his training. He has overseen the consistent shift of public positions to private companies, along with the requisite union-busting policies. The local media rarely holds him responsible for the shortcomings of the district he leads, even after disasters such as last year’s outsourcing of substitutes.

This Resolution Summary (83 as of August 10) exemplifies the rush to turn the district over to vendors whose primary purpose is not the education of all of our students but the expanding of their bottom lines. This flood of money into outside pockets only stops when there is enough pushback from stakeholders, politicians, and the media. We have a lot of work to do to reclaim our district.

Just some of the devastating actions of the Hite administration:

  • Shutter 23 neighborhood schools in 2013 (with plans to close 12-15 more)
  • Designate WD Kelley and Blaine elementary schools “Transformation Schools”, forcing all teachers to reapply for their positions, among other changes dictated by a grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership (2014)
  • Attempt in 2015 to turn two district schools over to Mastery Charters and Aspira, Inc; his efforts were thwarted by organized opposition from parents, teachers and community members
  • Place three more elementary schools— Cooke, Huey and Wister—into the Renaissance program over the wishes of most parents in 2016
  • Place four schools into The Turnaround Plan, forcing both principals and teachers to reapply for their positions, so that children came back in September to an almost entirely reconstituted faculty
  • Target eleven neighborhood schools—elementary, middle, and high schools—as “Priority Schools” in 2017. After spending $200,000 on a contract with Cambridge Education which provided no data and little useful information, the district forced teachers and principals at some of these schools to reapply for their positions.

Hite’s policies create churn and destabilized school communities as both teachers and principals are forced to leave their schools and students behind, some after serving in these communities for many years. Hite has presented no research showing this destabilization improves academics or school climate. In fact, news reports have detailed the problems Blaine and Kelley continue to face.

Each attempt to destabilize schools has resulted in intense public pushback, but rather than reassess the wisdom of the policies, Hite just changes the name and tweaks some of the details—from Renaissance to Redesign to Transformation to Priority. Fierce resistance to placing Steel and Munoz-Marin Schools into the hands of charter operators caused him to simply place Cooke, Huey, and Wister into the Renaissance Charter Program rather than allowing parents and community members to vote on it. Hite had to back down from turning Cooke over to the Great Oaks Foundation after City Councilwoman Helen Gym published a scathing report which clearly showed the company’s inability to run an elementary school.

We have witnessed an endless outsourcing of district services and resources to private vendors. Professional Development has taken a hit as vendors line up to provide Blended Learning and other packaged PD; transportation services have gone into the hands of private companies resulting in numerous complaints from parents as to incompetent services.   Favored vendors include Cambridge Education, Catapult Learning, The New Teacher Project and Relay Graduate Education.

A proposed contract for $150,000 to Cambridge Education to “conduct high quality and objective third-party reviews of school quality in a number of schools that have been identified as under performing” was actually voted down 4-1 (Commissioner Jimenez voted Yes) at the June 15 SRC meeting. Earlier this year, the district paid Cambridge Education $200,000 to hold meetings and gather information on the eleven Priority Schools. APPS members reported on the woeful shortcomings of both the methodology used and the report itself. So why is Cambridge back just two months later with its hand out for another $100,000 (Resolution A-8)?


Instead of spending this $14 million allocated to vendors for questionable experimental programs like blended learning or redundant teacher training from non-educators, the SRC spent this money on lower class size and more classroom aides?

Or instead of spending over $7 million in lawyers fees in one whistleblower case they should have settled years ago, the SRC had spent that money on preserving school libraries and bringing back certified school librarians?

Next SRC Meeting: Thursday, August 17, 4:30 PM at 440 No. Broad Street. Call 215-400-4010 before Wednesday 3:30 PM to sign up to testify.

Click here to read Resolutions of Note and the APPS analysis of them.



APPS Files Right to Know Appeal on District’s Secret Meetings with Charter Operators

by Lynda Rubin
August 9, 2017

APPS has filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records after receiving sparse information from the district in response to a formal Right to Know request filed in May. That request was filed after a NewsWorks article, also published in the Public School Notebook, revealed that SRC and district officials had met for months behind closed doors with several charter operators and industry supporters.

imgresHigh-level school district officials—including Superintendent William Hite, Charter School Office Director Dawn Lynne Kacer and SRC Chief of Staff Claire Landau—met behind closed doors for over six months with several charter operators and charter industry lobbyists, including Philadelphia School Partnership Director Mark Gleason, Mastery Schools CEO Scott Gordon, Russell Byers CEO Laurada Byers, Global Leadership Academy CEO Naomi Booker and PCCY Executive Director Donna Cooper.

The reason given by district spokespersons for those meetings was to discuss changes in the state’s charter law being proposed in the state legislature. No explanation was given for the secrecy of the meetings or the exclusion of advocacy groups and individuals who had come out publicly against the pending bill. If the SRC and district had intended to create language which balanced the ability of public schools to thrive side-by-side with charters, advocates to safeguard public school interests would have been involved and the meetings would, and should, have been held publicly.

APPS filed a legal Right-to-Know request with the SRC and School District on May 23, 2017 in order to discover the exact nature of these meetings: who attended and what was discussed, as well as any communications about proposed resolutions drafted by the group or individuals on behalf of the group.

The district’s Office of General Counsel responded on July 14, 2017, providing few details beyond those already included in the NewsWorks article. In fact, the district claimed that no minutes were taken. One of the heavily redacted emails between Landau and Amanda Fenton, Director of State and Federal Policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, referred to “the attached proposal for a comprehensive overview of the legislative proposal with the items discussed added.” However, the district claimed in its official response that the proposal in question was “an internal document”. A follow-up email from Landau to Fenton (Subject: “Legislative Language Check-In”) states, “Attached is the document that sums up where we are at the moment.” That document was also redacted by the district’s lawyers in the RTK response to APPS.

When SRC and district officials meet in secret, for months, with the managers of the schools they are supposed to be regulating, that is an obvious conflict of interest. That should be investigated by the PA Attorney General. When SRC and district officials meet to discuss legislation it will be proposing or supporting, that is a public matter. APPS will be investigating possible violations of the PA Sunshine Act, which says that the public has a right to know, and comment on, what its government officials are doing when conducting public business.

APPS Attorney Rich Migliore has filed an appeal to obtain all requested information and documents. Stay posted for the outcome of this appeal.

Actions show District prioritizes charter operators | Commentary by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin in the Public School Notebook – June 12, 2017


Ears on the SRC: July 6, 2017


by Lynda Rubin

Third Time’s the Charm For Catapult Inc. as Lawyers and Advocates Push Back on SRC Deal
The speeding train delivering a multi-million contract to yet another education vendor was temporarily halted, and eventually significantly scaled down, by parents and community members who had not been informed or consulted about this deal with the for-profit Catapult Learning, Inc. The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC,) demanded to meet with district staff to discuss the possible segregation of special needs children and how that would violate federal law, among other issues. Members of City Council, including Helen Gym and Derek Green, also sent a letter to the district addressing their concerns about IU-7.

The original IU-7 resolution, posted just three days before the June 15 SRC meeting, called for an initial 3-year expenditure of $36,073,350, with a possible increase to a 5-year contract through June 2022 at a total cost of $54, 473, 350. No staff presentation had been given previously, nor was any placed on the June 15 agenda. PILCOP and ELC attorneys immediately contacted district officials. The resolution proposed a separate facility for students with various special needs, including a program for autistic students. Attorneys and advocates were alarmed that the Hite administration was planning to segregate these students, in violation of the long-standing Least Restrictive Environment federal law. Because of this public pressure, the SRC withdrew the resolution just before the meeting. However, Dr. Hite did address some of the issues raised about the resolution. His explanation was that the district needed a facility to serve the approximately 100 students who had been at Wordsworth, whose contract with the district was cancelled in October 2016 after a student died in a struggle with staffer which was ruled a homicide.

However, rather than make this public and reach out to special education advocates, educators and parents for a discussion of how to best plan for these students, the SRC (which also functions also as the Intermediary Unit #26 board – covering the Philadelphia district only) and the District, with as little notice as possible, began the process of creating a new IU program, also to become a future training facility, under the contract and direction of Catapult Learning, Inc. The plan was to incorporate a total of 200 students, not just the Wordsworth students but other special needs students to start in September, 2017, with an expansion to 600 students by June 2022. Eventually, the resolution was scaled down to a 3-year, $10 million contract with Catapult limited to the returning Wordsworth students.

Notable here is that the program was obviously not just in response to the need presented by students returning from Wordsworth, but was seen as an opportunity for more privatization of public school students at public expense. No explanation was ever given about why that $54 million had to be paid to outsource the services for special needs students rather than be delivered by experienced district teachers in public school facilities.

Notification, Lack Thereof – Why the Rush?

Click here to read the entire article

Defenders of public education testify at the July 6, 2017 SRC meeting.


Click on the picture above to view the video of the testimony of defenders of public education testifying at the July 6, 2017 Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting. Click on the time stamps to see selected speakers at the meeting.

The video concludes with the discussion and vote on a $10 million contract with outsourced private company Catalyst Learning for an Alternative Special Education program.

These are the transcripts of APPS members’ testimony at the SRC meeting in order of their appearance.

Click here to read the transcript of Deborah Grill’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Tonya Bah’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Lynda Rubin’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Kristin Luebbert’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Karel Kilimnik’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Barbara Dowdall’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Richard Migliore’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Ilene Poses’s testimony.

Also see:

Over objections, SRC authorizes $10M new special ed program for Philly kids | Inquirer – Juyly 6, 2017

School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program | The Notebook – July 6, 2017