Who is Behind the Philadelphia School Partnership?

PSP

by Deborah Grill
November 9, 2015

The move to privatize public education has many players. Some attempt to move in giant steps. In Los Angeles, Eli Broad has raised $490 million in a bid to place half of Los Angeles public school students into charter schools. In New Orleans, city and state politicians took advantage of the chaos and destruction after Hurricane Katrina to fire public school teachers and convert all public schools into privately run charter schools. In Newark, Superintendent Cami Anderson, appointed by Governor Chris Christie, stripped the elected school board of most of its power and implemented “One Newark”.   This plan instituted a lottery eliminating the right of parents to enroll their child in a neighborhood school, closed many public schools, and increased the number of charter schools. Recently, New Jersey politicians have targeted Camden as the next city to close all public schools and replace them with an all-charter district.

Other school choice players, including those in Philadelphia, choose to go about it more subtly. While individual politicians and organizations have been involved in the push to open charters, the inception of the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) in 2010 (originally the Philadelphia School Project) has provided the organization and money to speed up the privatization of the city’s public school system.   The Partnership has been able to do this through its management of the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, formulated and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. PSP’s influence has grown through its lobbying efforts and through the grants it has bestowed on schools of PSP’s board’s choosing through its own Great Schools FundPSP facilitates and staffs the Compact Committee meetings as well as serving as it fiscal agent. The meetings of both PSP’s Board and the Great Schools Compact Committee are closed to the public.

As the District begins another round of school closings and converting neighborhood schools to “Renaissance” Charters, a closer examination of PSP’s history and board members is needed to understand how this private organization has become so influential in just five years. This article is part of a series on the make-up and influence of The Philadelphia School Partnership.

Click here to read the entire article.

Ears on the October 15th SRC

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By Diane Payne

At the meeting of the School Reform Commission on October 15th the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools asked several questions. This post details answers (or lack thereof) to our questions and also comments on the remarks of Superintendent Hite and Commissioner Green at the end of the meeting.

Two of the unanswered questions:

Karel Kilimnik: Where can we find the salaries of all the recently hired administrative personnel?  No answer

Diane Payne: My question today on resolution A2….what evidence did you use to select Mastery Charter School teachers as coaches for our staff rather than using the expertise and knowledge of your own district teachers?  No answer


 

Click here for the full Ears on the October 15th SRC post.

APPS members have called on Governor Wolf to remove Commissioner Farah Jimenez from the SRC for cause 

SRC

On October 8, 2015, APPS sent a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf asking him to remove Farah Jimenez from one of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s gubernatorial spots on the SRC.

After observing a number of irregularities by SRC member Jimenez, APPS sent a letter asking her to explain. We asked her to explain why she voted to approve a $300,00.00 contract with Mastery Schools for teacher training passed in August. We asked why she abstained from a vote to transfer management of Frederick Douglass elementary from Young Scholars to Mastery, and then admitted at a later SRC meeting that she took part in discussions on the transaction at SRC executive sessions. We asked her to explain her decision, and the SRC’s, not to disclose the fact that she oversees the district’s Charter Office or that she facilitated the application and approval process for 39 charter applicants last winter. These are all important questions due to the fact that her husband is on staff at a law firm that does extensive business with Mastery and KIPP schools.

Ms. Jimenez’s response was to have her lawyer send a letter, obviously intended to intimidate, accusing us of “defamation” and “malice” toward his client. We were shocked to see a public official, after being asked to respond to concerns regarding her actions as a public official, take steps to silence members of the public. If she does not resign, the Governor has more than enough reason to remove her.

 APPS letter to Governor Wolf


On October 15, 2015 the Daily News reported on the APPS letter to Governor Wolf.

Advocacy group to Gov. Wolf: Get rid of SRC member

A local group of education advocates has sent Gov. Wolf a letter asking for the removal of Farah Jimenez from the School Reform Commission because of her husband’s association with charter schools.


On October 16, 2015, Daily News columnist Christine Flowers wrote a column attacking APPS because of the letter and defending SRC Commissioner Jimenez.

SRC’s Jimenez the one who really cares | Philadelphia Daily News – October 16, 2015

This is APPS response to the Flowers’ column.

We wish to respond to Christine Flower’s column (“SRC’s Jimenez the one who really cares”, Friday, October 16) comparing members of the Alliance of Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) to the Taliban because we asked SRC Commissioner Farah Jimenez to explain actions she has taken as a member of the SRC.

The column makes a number of false statements. APPS is not “run by union leaders”. We are an independent grass-roots organization of teachers, community members and parents who believe that a public school system should serve the interests of the community, not private investors. We receive no outside funding. We do speak out at SRC meetings on those issues, and have done so long before Ms. Jimenez’s appointment last year. We are puzzled by Ms. Flowers’ position that this constitutes “harassment”. Members of the SRC have a responsibility to explain their actions to the public they have been appointed to serve. Public officials are accountable to the public, not the other way around.

APPS made no “personal attacks” on Ms. Jimenez, nor did we engage in any “name-calling”. The questions we raised in our letters to Commissioner Jimenez and to Governor Wolf were based on public comments made and actions taken by her at SRC meetings. As reported in the Daily News, we questioned her decision to vote to approve a $300,000 contract with Mastery Schools in spite of the fact that Mastery is represented by the legal firm at which Ms. Jimenez’s husband is employed. We asked why she abstained on a vote to transfer management of Frederick Douglass Elementary to Mastery Schools, then stated publicly that she took part in discussions in Executive Session on that matter. We asked why neither she nor the SRC disclosed that she had taken on oversight of the district’s charter office or that she facilitated the charter application process earlier this year in which both Mastery and KIPP, who is also represented by Ms. Jimenez’s husband’s law firm, had submitted applications. Contrary to Ms. Flowers’ assertions, we made no allegations. We asked Ms. Jimenez to explain why these actions do not constitute a conflict of interest. We have yet to receive a reply.

Ms. Flowers fails to point out that Ms. Jimenez’s response to APPS’s letter was to have her lawyer send a letter, clearly meant to intimidate us into silence, which accuses us of maliciously seeking to defame his client without citing any example of that. Ms. Flowers, an attorney herself and a journalist, knows that members of the pubic must be protected from frivolous allegations of defamation by public officials if we are to maintain a free society. Nor does Ms. Flowers cite the impartial legal opinion of Rob Caruso, Executive Director of the State Ethics Commission, as quoted in the Daily News: “If the public official is sitting in on discussions, weighing in on a matter, that’s an attempt to influence.”

She states that APPS sued the city and demands to know where the settlement money went. The fact is that that the suit was filed by individual members of APPS whose First Amendment rights were violated, a fact that was admitted to by Ms. Jimenez herself at an SRC meeting. Although they were under no obligation to disclose it, those members actually testified that the money had been distributed to schools and student programs at an SRC meeting when Ms. Jimenez was present.

Ms. Flowers’ loyalty to her friend is admirable. It is not, however, an excuse to attack members of the public for expressing their opinions and demanding that public officials to be answerable to those they are entrusted to serve.


Want to do something?

Call Governor Wolf at 717-787-5825 and request that Farah Jimenez be removed from the School Reform Commission.

APPS testimony at the November 2, 2015 School Reform Commission meeting

On Monday morning, November 2, 2015 the Philadelphia School Reform Commission held a special meeting to vote to borrow $250 million to keep the schools open during the Pennsylvania budget crisis.

Phila. schools borrow $250M just to stay open | Philadelphia Inquirer – November 3, 2015

Cash-strapped Philly schools borrow $250 million as state budget impasse continues | Philadelphia Daily News – November 3, 2015

Only two members from the community testified at the quickly called meeting, APPS members Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik.

The meeting was reported by Channel 6 Action News with clips from the testimony of APPS members.

Below is their full testimony.

Lisa Haver - SRC Testimony - 9-17-15

Lisa Haver SRC Testimony

Today, I am delivering a letter today to Chair Neff and to the office of open records. APPS is requesting information on the payments to date to all of the law firms involved in just three of the district’s current cases: the cancellation of its contract with the PFT; the appeal to the arbitrator’s case on assigning counselors, during which they have had 9 lawyers in the courtroom; and the APPS complaint, now entering its second year, on violations of the Sunshine Act. Any public expenditure is public information, despite what we have been told by one SRC member. The public needs to know how the district which cannot afford to pay teachers a fair wage or fix crumbing buildings can afford exorbitant legal fees over many months, especially in relatively simple cases like the Sunshine Act complaint.

Second

The children of this district are being robbed of their education because of the mismanagement of the Hite administration and the SRC. The beginning of the year, as any educator knows, is crucial and sets the tone for the entire school year. You get to know the children and they get to know you. The most important thing they need to know about their teacher is that she will be there when they need you. But when you are running around covering classes, you aren’t there. When you should be preparing interesting and engaging lessons, the ones you will be judged on, you are covering another class. When you should be calling parents because a child has a problem, or just to introduce yourself to let the parent know you are available, you are covering classes.

This administration and the SRC have moved this district into the corporate world in many ways: privatization, outsourcing, referring to parents as “customers” and talking about “customer service”, inordinate use of data. But in the corporate world, people resign or are fired for a screw-up of this magnitude. All of the people responsible for this debacle should do the decent thing and resign; that includes Dr. Hite and his administration, and it includes the SRC who voted to approve in its haste to find another way to get rid of union employees.

Karel Kiliminik

Karel Kilimnik SRC Testimony

First, I want to say that the state legislature taking a vacation without passing a budget is criminal.

There are so many ways you could save money. Eliminate hiring outside law firms. For instance, instead of settling our APPS lawsuit through the mediation process, someone sitting up there has chosen to drag it out thereby continuing payment to a high priced outside law firm. We are not asking for money. We are asking that the SRC comply with the state Sunshine Act. We want District money to be spent in classrooms not in legal wrangling.

Here’s another way to save money. Stop outsourcing. Look at the disaster created by Source4Teachers. Now the District is begging retired teachers to return as substitutes. Break the Source4Teachers contract and return to the previous system.

Dr. Hite , you claim to want to be responsive to parents so why are the parents at Cooke, Huey, and Wister not being given an opportunity to vote on whether they stay with the District or get turned over to a charter school operator. Are you saying that parents aren’t smart enough to make a decision about their child’s future? Where is their choice in this? You have stripped them of their choice by making this decision for them.

At the last Wister meeting the District staff told us “exciting news”. We were informed that 18 parents had submitted their names to be in the lottery for choosing a charter school operator. There will be 5 parents and 2 community members selected to serve on this panel. Almost 400 students and 18 parents turned in their names? When parents starting asking specific questions like where is the lottery being held and who is selecting the names there was a resounding silence punctuated by District staff saying “We don’t have the details now.” Really? Either someone is not telling the truth or it is another case of incompetence as we have seen in selecting Source4Teachers.

Dr. Hite, at the first Wister meeting parents were given an incorrect location resulting in a delay in starting the meeting. This was a deliberate act. All the District presenters were at the correct location except for a Charter School staff member who casually joined us and then turned out to be a major presenter at the session. Coincidence? I think not. At Huey this game is still being played. Parents are not given the correct location for the District-led meeting. Why is this still going on? Why would anyone trust you and the District to be truthful when you are misleading them on informational meetings?

Dr. Hite, it is time for you to go. SRC commissioners, your time is up. Vote to dissolve.