Over the past two months, APPS members have attended meetings at six of the eleven schools selected by the school district to be “Priority Schools”. This initiative would affect the futures of these schools in a significant manner, but no presentation has been made by the Hite administration at any SRC meeting. The options presented to the schools have not been explained in detail; in fact, they were not mentioned at the final meetings unless APPS members asked about them. Neither Dr. Hite nor any member of the SRC has attended any of the focus group meetings at any of the eleven schools.
Again, there was no mention at the final meetings of the five options proposed at the initial meeting. Only because APPS members asked for an explanation was any given at the final meetings. At Benjamin Franklin High, however, neither district nor Cambridge representatives would answer that question. Parents attending these meetings are asked what would make learning better for their children, but they are not told how any of the five options would restore services.
Thanks to the School Reform Commission, Lisa Haver and other members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools now have a daily habit: reading the newspaper’s classified section.
Haver and five other members of the advocacy group were among the few people present on the morning of Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, at a quietly announced SRC meeting. The announcement of the meeting was made only in an ad placed in the classified section of the previous day’s Philadelphia Inquirer.
The purpose of the proceeding, as many suspected, was to cancel the School District’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Haver said she didn’t know about the meeting until another APPS member, Karel Kilimnik, called and asked her about it.
“Since then,” said Haver, “we have one member of APPS who, every single day, goes and looks at the classifieds to see if the SRC or the District is putting in these tiny notices that they don’t want people to know about.”
After a settlement with the SRC this fall, that kind of stealthy notice may be a thing of the past.
As a governing body for the city of Philadelphia, the SRC must adhere to the Sunshine Act of Pennsylvania, a law requiring “all meetings or hearings of every agency at which formal action is taken” to be open to the public with an opportunity for them to comment. This, according to lawmakers, is to create and maintain transparency in governing agencies for “increased public confidence.”
“If you don’t have an informed and active citizenry, government suffers for it,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
“Ideally, government and the public they serve work together for the best interest of everyone. And the public can’t help government do that if they don’t know what’s going on.”