Eyes on the SRC: February 18, 2016

SRC 1-21-16

Welcome to the Seventh Edition of Eyes on the SRC.

by Karel Kilimnik

Before we get into the specific resolutions, we want to give an update on rules for speakers, as the SRC has changed them twice over the past two months. Since they won’t vote to make them official policy, you never know when they will change them again. We believe in school governance that is transparent in all aspects. The rules below are from the district website:

Revisions to current practice regarding speaker order: 

The School Reform Commission will be implementing new protocols based on two general principles. First, it is important to group speakers on the same or similar topics at Action Meetings in order to give Commissioners the ability to gain the big picture on each topic. Second, the Commission would like to encourage new voices and topics at meetings. 

Beginning February 18, 2016, the School Reform Commission (SRC) will be enacting the following changes to the order in which speakers testify at SRC Action Meetings:

  • Student speakers will continue to be prioritized and normally will speak first. 
  • Other speakers will be grouped by topic. Topics registered by new speakers, those who did not speak at the previous meeting, will be prioritized.
  • Speakers on resolutions will no longer be prioritized, given that all speakers are heard before votes are taken on resolutions. 

We also want to talk about the ramifications of what happened at the January 21, 2016 meeting. Commissioner Sylvia Simms introduced a motion from the floor at 10 p.m. to return Wister Elementary to the Renaissance list and have Mastery Charter take over its management, in effect publicly overturning the Superintendent’s decision to do an internal turnaround instead.

There was no resolution posted on the agenda, and no resolution was read aloud.  Despite requests from APPS members, Chair Marjorie Neff refused to let any member of the public speak on the resolution–another clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act. 

In fact, the Wister community, because it had been assured that no vote would be taken, was not represented at the meeting. Simms reassured the audience of her full confidence in Hite. You might ask: why do we need a $300,000 superintendent if you don’t support his decisions? Two other SRC members voted to approve Simms’ motion, even though they admitted that the district had used faulty data when it chose Wister in the first place. Mayor Kenney, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Helen Gym and many in the education community have expressed outrage about the SRC’s undemocratic action, which clearly violated the PA Sunshine Act.

The other issue that comes to mind is what criteria will they now use to turn other schools over to charter operators?

Click here for the full post to read Resolutions of Note and APPS comments.

Also see:

APPS Calls on the SRC to Rescind Its Illegal Vote
Alliance for Public School – February 1, 2016

Plan to privatize 3 schools is inconsistent and a gross overreach
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – February 10, 2016

APPS Calls on the SRC to Rescind Its Illegal Vote

SRC 1-21-16

February 1, 2016                                                              For Immediate Release

Members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools have called on School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff to nullify the vote taken at its January 21 meeting on the fate of Wister Elementary School in Germantown. In a letter sent Monday (click here to read the letter) APPS co-founders Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik list a number of reasons why the resolution introduced from the floor by Commissioner Sylvia Simms, and approved just minutes later by the SRC, is not valid.

Commissioner Simms, in an unprecedented move, introduced a resolution from the floor asking the SRC to proceed with pairing Wister with Mastery Charter Schools, thus overruling Superintendent William Hite’s decision to remove Wister from its Renaissance Program.   “Ms. Simms said she heard from parents on both sides, but she didn’t attend any of the meetings held by parents at Wister to keep the school public,” said Kilimnik.

APPS claims that “deliberate deception” was used by “district officials at all levels” to keep Wister parents from attending the January SRC meeting. Resolutions were posted to approve two other schools’ placement into the Renaissance program, but none was posted for Wister. District officials had already begun to hold meetings at Wister to develop an alternative program.

“The message from the district and the SRC was clear: we are taking no action on Wister,” said Kenya Nation, a Wister parent. “The Wister parents have been meeting every week over the past three months and came to the last three SRC meetings. I would have come to the January meeting if I had known the SRC was going to take a vote on the future of our school,” she said.

The letter also points out that no resolution was ever presented to the public at that meeting.   “Neither Commissioner Simms in her speech, nor Head of Counsel Michael Davis before he called the roll, gave anything other than an interpretation of what the resolution was supposed to be about,” said Haver. “That alone means that the action is not valid and must be rescinded.”

The letter also states that Neff’s refusal to allow the public to speak before the vote was taken is a violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. APPS filed suit against the SRC and the district in November 2014 on similar grounds after its vote to cancel the PFT contract the previous month.

Also see:

The Battle for Wister Elementary School
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools – January 20, 2016

‘Sunshine’ questions loom over SRC’s surprise resolution
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – February 8, 2016

Plan to privatize 3 schools is inconsistent and a gross overreach
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – February 10, 2016
Nine Philadelphia academics use the SRC’s much touted data to show their is not basis for privatizing Wister Elementary.

Kenny asked to investigate why Wister went charter
February 10, 2016

SRC’s decision an assault on democracy

Lisa Haver SRC 1-21-16

by Lisa Haver

(This post appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on February 1, 2016.)

When Superintendent William Hite announced that he had changed his mind about placing John Wister Elementary School into the “Renaissance” program and turning it over to Mastery Charter Schools, the school community rejoiced. He cited new data that showed the school had made significant growth. But at last week’s meeting, School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms introduced an eleventh-hour resolution, approved by the SRC, to override Hite’s decision. The resolution had not been posted before the meeting, and Chairwoman Marjorie Neff denied requests from members of the public to comment before the vote. It was a stunning abuse of power, even for the SRC.

Simms read a statement in which she expressed the “emotions” she felt after meeting with parents and Mastery representatives just days before the meeting. Wister parents fighting to keep the school public, who did not see Simms at any of the community meetings held over the past three months, were shocked. Some questioned why Simms was moved to action in this case when in 2013 she voted to permanently close 24 schools, even after hearing the pleas of their students, parents and teachers.

The SRC’s blindside has nothing to do with giving parents more choice; in fact, Wister parents now have fewer options. Students at the future Wister Mastery would attend Mastery Pickett for middle and high school. Children whose parents do not want them to attend a charter school from kindergarten through 12th grade would have to travel a longer distance each day, assuming that a school outside their catchment area would admit them. When parents were given a true choice, as those at two other elementary schools were two years ago, they voted overwhelmingly to stay in the district. What parents want their child’s school placed in a failed program? The 2015 PSSA scores show that, even with additional funding, none of the 21 existing Renaissance schools achieved a math score over 20 percent; only eight topped 30 percent in reading.

Nor does the SRC vote have anything to do with facts or data. Commissioner Feather Houston acknowledged the district used faulty data when it chose Wister as one of three schools to be turned over to charter companies.

The SRC’s latest assault on democracy leaves little doubt about its determination to move forward with the privatization of the city’s public schools. That agenda was rejected by the city’s voters in the most recent gubernatorial and mayoral elections. But the five SRC members, three appointed by the former governor and two by the former mayor, apparently have no intention of respecting the wishes of the voters. The SRC’s action leaves little doubt that the disenfranchisement of Philadelphia’s voters must end so that those with a stake in the district – that is, every resident and taxpayer – can choose a school board accountable to them.

No governmental body, whether appointed or elected, is permitted to rule by fiat. Sufficient time for consideration by both legislators and the public must be provided if we are to maintain a democratic system. An action with far-reaching consequences like converting a public school into a charter should not happen without notification or public discussion. The mayor and the governor cannot allow this action to stand.