Eyes on the SRC: December 15, 2016
by Karel Kilimnik
As 2016 draws to a close and we contemplate what the next four years may bring, we need to pay close attention to the ways in which the public continues to be shut out of decision-making at the SRC. The SRC is a governmental body overseeing a $2.8 billion budget. This is our tax money at work. Although we successfully negotiated a resolution to our lawsuit charging the SRC with violating the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, there remain many hurdles with transparency.
APPS members are proud to have achieved what no individual or organization has done in the fifteen years since the SRC was imposed on the city: making that body more transparent and accountable through a court agreement. Highlights of the settlement include provisions to publish official resolutions two weeks in advance of the monthly Action Meeting and ensuring that the public has a reasonable opportunity to speak on every resolution, whether posted just before the meeting or during. Thus, anyone attending the meeting will be able to sign up at the meeting on “walk-on” resolutions, which are those posted within 48 hours of the meeting, and resolutions “from the floor” which may be introduced during the meeting by an SRC commissioner (as Sylvia Simms did in January, thus clearing the way for Mastery to take over Wister Elementary).
Of course, issues of accountability still remain. The SRC now fails to include any text with an increasing number of resolutions deemed “quasi-judicial” (e.g., Resolutions SRC-5 and -6). Those resolutions are blank except for the title. How can anyone make a comment, or even ask a question, about a resolution that doesn’t say anything? The SRC has never publicly explained what “quasi-judicial” means or why charter renewals have been classified as such. The dictionary gives this meaning: “noting, pertaining to, or exercising powers or functions that resemble those of a court or a judge”. Renaissance charter schools are actually contract schools: they agree to provide services in exchange for payment. Does a judge get involved when a contract is signed between two parties? If not, then why is the SRC hiding these contracts behind a wall of secrecy and refusing to allow the public to view them?
Something new this month: Resolutions SRC-1 and SRC-2 are “For Review”. By whom—the people attending the meeting or just the six people at the table? How can anyone ask questions when no information is provided? The only testimony the public can give is to query the SRC Commissioners who routinely fail to answer.
The resolution to hand over $23 million to Big Picture Inc. to reopen Vaux High School and operate it as a “contract school” for six years has reappeared. Again we must ask: why is this huge sum necessary to reopen one high school? Where is the money coming from? What is a contract school? We hear that the district is too broke to have a full support staff in every school, then we hear that it has a surplus. Teachers are told that they must “face reality” when they ask for a fair contract, then the SRC allots $23 million for one school. When will the SRC give the public some straight answers?
In October, Dr. Hite announced his newest turnaround category, “Priority Schools”, but we are still waiting for him to make a public presentation at an SRC meeting on what that might mean for the future of those schools, as well as what this will cost the district.
Renewal resolutions for Mastery schools Gratz, Clymer, and Shoemaker are MIA once again. We can only assume that Mastery does not want to agree to the conditions which the Charter School Office recommended. Again, the SRC has a responsibility to update the public on what has been happening for the past eight months. These resolutions have been appearing and disappearing since April. Mastery Gratz and Mastery Clymer were to have been renewed in 2016. Does this mean they receive an extra year for their next contract?
Renewal resolutions for Universal’s Audenried and Vare have not been seen, or even mentioned, since April. Those for Aspira, Inc.’s Olney and Stetson also come and go without explanation. The SRC apparently feels no obligation to the community to tell us what is going on with these schools.
Next SRC meeting: Thursday December 15 2016, 4:30 PM at 440 N. Broad Street. Do you want to testify? Call 215.400.4180 before 3 PM Wednesday to ensure that your voice will be heard.