Click here to read the letter sent by APPS to Commissioner Bill Green about his leaving SRC meetings during speaker testimonies.
This article was published in the Philadelphia School Notebook
by Dale Mezzacappa – May 4, 2017
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools is asking why Bill Green left for large portions of the last two School Reform Commission meetings, suggesting that the behavior “calls into question” his ability to serve on that body and saying that he should consider resigning.
At both the April 27 and May 1 meetings, Green, who reportedly has back problems, left during the public speaking portion, then rejoined the meeting by telephone in time to vote on resolutions. Both meetings were marathon sessions lasting several hours.
Lisa Haver, APPS co-founder, said that Green’s absence clearly violates the SRC’s own policies and that APPS is not ruling out legal action to question the validity of the votes taken at the two meetings.
“Does the SRC make rules and say they don’t have to follow them?” Haver asked. “Those are their bylaws, that is their speakers’ policy. Mr. Green wasn’t there for the whole meeting, it’s spelled out what the requirement is.”
The policy in question is 006.1, which says that the someone joining by electronic communication “shall be considered present only if the Commissioner can hear everything said at the meeting and all those attending the meeting can hear everything said by that Commissioner. ”
The School District issued a statement saying that “all business transacted at both meetings was valid and in accordance with the applicable law.” Reached by telephone, Green took no questions and offered no explanation for his actions. The statement is “all that we’re going to say on the matter,” he said.
The statement, attributed to Miles Shore of the General Counsel’s office, said: “At the regular action meeting of the School Reform Commission on April 27, 2017 and at the special meeting on May 1, 2017, a quorum of Commissioners (a majority of appointed Commissioners) was present when the meetings were called to order. All business transacted at both meetings was valid and in accordance with the applicable law. The SRC did not not transact business or take any formal action at the regular meeting on April 27, 2017 or at the special meeting on May 1, 2017 in the absence of a quorum.”
But the relevant policy says that when a commissioner joins the meeting remotely, “a majority of Commissioners shall be physically present.” At the April 27 meeting, Commissioner Christopher McGinley was not present, leaving only two commissioners in the room, Farah Jimenez and chair Joyce Wilkerson.
The five-member body has only four members now because the state senate has yet to confirm Gov. Wolf’s nomination of Estelle Richman to fill the seat vacated by Feather Houstoun. Richman has been attending the meetings as an observer.
Haver said that in leaving without explanation, Green disrespected the people and the process. “Mr Green owes an explanation to the people why he didn’t listen to all the information on what he voted on,” she said.
At that meeting, the SRC voted on nearly 50 resolutions, including amendments to some charter agreements and a several contracts, including one allocating $149 million to operate alternative schools for the next five years.
At the May 1 meeting, the SRC voted to approve eight charter renewals, started the nonrenewal process for one charter, and delayed a voting on a second nonrenewal recommendation. It also voted on two charter amendments.
The April 27 meeting had 58 registered speakers, and the May 1 meeting had more than 30. At both meetings, Green left during the earlier part of the speaker segments and called back just before the vote on resolutions was about to start.
“At the April 27 meeting, you missed the testimony of 50 parents, students, district employees and community members, in addition to questions and comments by other commissioners,” the APPS’ letter states. “At the May 1 meeting, you missed two of the Charter Applicant Speaker Representatives and 23 or the 24 public speakers. You were not present to hear any part of the presentation by Charter School Office Executive Director DawnLynne Kacer and CSO Program Manager Regan Reamer on the 23 charter renewals and two charter amendments.
“Your apparently planned absences are disrespectful to the parents, students, employees and community members who took the time to research and write testimony…More importantly, your failure to be present for these meetings reflects a disregard for the responsibility that an SRC commissioner has to the stakeholders of the district.”
The letter, signed by Haver and APPS legislative liaison Lynda Rubin, says that Green’s actions warrant his leaving the commission. “We ask that you consider resigning your post,” the letter reads.
Haver, a retired District teacher, and her organization have tangled with the SRC before, winning legal concessions around Sunshine Act violations and over their right to carry protest signs into the meeting space.
“I think if the SRC makes rules, they have to follow them, and if they don’t follow them, there has to be some form of ramifications,” Haver said. “If Mr. Green has some reason why he can’t serve, he should resign. But he owes everybody an explanation why he couldn’t be there for the whole meeting.”