Board Laments Deficit, Fails to Mention Its Own Spending Priorities

Ears on the Board of Education: July 14, 2022

by Diane Payne

With only one item on the agenda and six public speakers, this should have been a quick meeting. But the 2-hour Goals and Guardrails session took up almost half of this 4 ½ hour session.  Eight of the nine Board members attended in person; Cecelia Thompson again attended virtually. 

President Joyce Wilkerson thanked Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania legislative delegation for passing a state budget that contains historic education funding increases. Unfortunately, the charter reforms that had been hammered out in bipartisan negotiations for years were killed at the last minute. Board Member Mallory Fix Lopez reported that the state legislature has passed HB1642 which will increase recruitment opportunities for new teachers in Philadelphia and also creates opportunities for high school student graduates from the District to receive credits toward a teaching certificate.

BM Thompson gave the Parent and Community Advisory Council (PCAC) report (not on the agenda) with the usual lack of detail and with no indication of the actual impact of this Council.  She noted that PCAC members were on the Superintendent’s transition team, although she didn’t mention that only seven of the eight-seven members of the entire transition team are parents. Thompson also reported that one PCAC member has volunteered to help analyze the 11,000 work order backlog for Philadelphia school buildings.  Giving this kind of responsibility to a parent volunteer of unknown qualifications should have raised questions, but none of the other  Board members asked why this kind of work was not being done by a qualified District employee from the Office of Operations. 

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Watlington Launches Administration with Questionable Contract

Ears on the Board of Education: June 23, 2022

by Diane Payne

Dr. Tony Watlington’s tenure as superintendent got off to an inauspicious start with his request to the Board, made before he was sworn in and granted by the Board without deliberation at its last meeting, for a major contract with Tennessee-based Joseph and Associates that came with a $450,000 price tag. The three-phase consulting project begins with the firm focusing on the “development and execution of a 100-day entry plan” for the new superintendent.  When the Board conducted its months-long superintendent search, with members of the community devoting significant time and effort, did they make their final choice with a caveat from the Board that Dr. Watlington was not prepared to take on the job as soon as he got here? Is this the message the Board and Dr. Watlington want to send the school communities—that their priority is not funding classrooms but outside consultants?  That a new superintendent wants to conduct business as usual? 

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Overlooked Hite Legacy

By Diane Payne

Dr. Hite has wrapped up a decade of superintendency in Philadelphia.  He received accolades from each Board member, the mayor, his administrative staff, and the media to name the most visible.  Farewells rarely dwell on failures and mistakes so in each of these speeches, PowerPoints, and media articles Hite is a star.  But just as District presentations and PowerPoints at each monthly Action Meeting do not represent the reality experienced on the ground, Hite’s departing accolades leave out the hurt and pain felt by teachers, students, and families impacted by his decisions.  

Hite’s unflappable demeanor and ability to effectively navigate the political gauntlet served him well.  The power structure of the District and city were happy with Hite.  APPS hopes that  the next Superintendent will receive praise from students, teachers, families, and public school advocates more than from the city’s power elites.  

Here is what was left out by the Board, mayor, and media.

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Board Renews Charters without Public Hearings

The Philadelphia Board of Education is just days away from renewing several charter schools, many of which have not met the basic standards set by the Board. The Board’s policies and practices ensure that the public has fewer opportunities to testify on how renewing the charters affect their neighborhood schools. The Board will also be voting to expand the enrollment of Keystone Academy Charter by over 40%, again with no public review. At its May action meeting, the Board added a Charter Schools Office presentation to the agenda just hours before the meeting convened and after they closed the window to sign up to testify. The Board holds no renewal hearings as other districts in the state do. Yet the Board will be voting to renew most of the twenty-two schools in this year’s cohort. Anyone who spoke at the May meeting–not knowing that the Board would be voting on the renewals next month– may be barred from speaking in June.

by Lisa Haver

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