Victory for APPS in its SRC Sunshine Suit

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From the Philadelphia Inquirer, November 18, 2016
SRC agrees to more transparency

The meeting was held early in the morning, called with minimal notice. Barely any members of the public were present, and no one registered to speak.

 But the School Reform Commission took an unprecedented step – voting to cancel its teachers’ contract – on Oct. 6, 2014.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an activist group, sued, alleging the SRC violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act with this under-the-radar move. More than two years later, it has settled the case against the SRC and then-Chair Bill Green, winning a promise of more transparency from the commission.

 The SRC must now be more forthcoming about the purposes of its executive sessions, telling members of the public which specific cases it discussed if legal matters come up.

It also agreed to post on the Philadelphia School District’s website full SRC resolutions two weeks before meetings. The exception is quasi-judicial resolutions.

Resolutions presented less than 48 hours before a regular meeting will be made available to the public and clearly marked as walk-on matters. The SRC also promised to allow interested people to speak about walk-on resolutions without advance registration, and agreed to not take any votes until the public has had the chance to comment.

A district spokesman said the SRC was pleased that the parties were able to reach a settlement.

“The policy adopted in response to this case codifies practices, such as publishing resolution lists two weeks in advance of public action meetings, which the SRC put in place last year in order to increase public access and transparency,” said H. Lee Whack Jr., the spokesman.

At the October 2014 SRC meeting, no one was allowed to testify until after the vote – which has since been nullified by the state Supreme Court.

The lone speaker that day was Lisa Haver, a retired School District teacher, a frequent district critic, and a founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. This week, she called the settlement, years in the making, “a first step – a significant step – toward more openness and transparency.”

Haver and others have been frustrated by the SRC’s method of operation.

“People have to know what their government is doing, and to have a reasonable opportunity to speak on it,” Haver said.

The settlement is enforceable in court, and Haver said her group would continue to monitor the SRC closely.

But, she said, she is optimistic that a new-look SRC – Joyce Wilkerson just joined as chair and Estelle Richman awaits state Senate confirmation – will help push the issue.

“I think that they will honor this agreement, and they may be open to making the SRC more accountable, more transparent,” Haver said. “They both worked in government for a long time. The SRC is a governmental body. It controls a $2.6 billion budget. It has to be more accountable.”