by Diane Payne
June 3, 2017
This regular Action Meeting of the SRC had been scheduled for the specific purpose of voting on the FY 2017-18 budget. In the three days before the meeting, however, several items were added, including the unannounced reconsideration of Deep Roots charter, whose application was rejected 3-1 in February. All five commissioners attended.
Eight APPS members gave testimony in defense of public education.
SRC’s Willful, Continuous Violations of the Letter and Spirit of the Sunshine Act
The 2016 Commonwealth Court-ordered settlement of the suit brought by APPS after SRC violations of the Sunshine Act stipulates that resolutions must be posted two weeks prior to each meeting. Unfortunately, there have been repeated violations of this settlement agreement by the SRC. The resolution summary for May 18 was not posted in time. Some resolutions have only a title, but no description, which was the case for all of this meeting’s resolutions with one exception. In the case of the charter school resolutions, the SRC now designates every charter amendment—new applications, renewals, amendments—as “quasi-judicial’, then uses that unexplained designation as justification for 1) not providing full resolutions and 2) discussing charter business in executive session instead of in open meetings. APPS has repeatedly questioned the legality of hiding information from the public regarding the crucial actions on charter school applications, but the SRC continues to stonewall. This SRC changes policy on a whim (the number of speakers at the May 1st meeting was limited to 24 total, and half were from one school), breaks its own rules (conducting the April 27th and May 1st meetings after Commissioner Green left the meeting in violation of policy 006.1), and ignores the Sunshine Act—all the while paying lip service to transparency and community engagement.
The Deep Roots Charter Sham
This issue alone shows the depth of the corruption of the SRC. Their actions before and during the meeting on Deep Roots leave no doubt that it has, and will, put the interests of charter operators and investors before those of the students, parents and communities.
The SRC waited until three days before the meeting to post a resolution (with no text, just a title) to vote on a revised Deep Roots application—which has yet to be released by the district. There was no explanation of why this charter company was back only three months after it had been rejected. In fact, the Charter Office director acknowledged that there were “no substantive differences” between the first application and the revision.
APPS’ Deb Grill repeated many of the same points she made in February about the obvious inadequacy of Deep Roots’ curriculum, teacher recruitment, ELL resources, etc. She noted, again, that Logan Blyler, the school’s projected instructional leader, has only five years teaching experience, all in charters. He has no principal or administrative certification, although he is allegedly pursuing one at the “School Leader Fellow” program with Jounce Partners, a program comparable to that of Relay Graduate School. Jounce’s program is new, untried and lacks any evidence of success. Deb reminded the commissioners of the intense, scripted teacher coaching plan which can only result in high teacher attrition. Those teachers, in the revised application, would actually be paid less to work a 12-month year with only short breaks. Deep Roots’ mission statement says it will teach “motivated” students without addressing how to motivate the others.
The new proposal increases the allocation for nursing services by $30,000. Nursing services are outsourced with an unnamed health services provider to provide mandated health screening and other services in the Pennsylvania School Code. A nurse will be at the school several days a week. To pay for this, they reduced the salary of teachers from $50, 00 to $47,500. This includes an extended year for students and teachers of 188 days and 20 days of professional development for teachers.
The application actually invokes both Restorative Practices and No Excuses models without acknowledging that they are contradictory; this was cited by the hearing examiner in January as an indication that the application was a cut-and-paste from other charters, particularly KIPP. Deb asked whether those commissioners who had worked with Deep Roots board member Sophie Bryan would recuse themselves. Bryan served in several high-ranking positions in the district, including the Superintendent’s and Charter offices. She also served as Green’s chief of staff when he was in City Council. (No one abstained when the vote was taken.)
Karel Kilimnik told the SRC that Deep Roots’ application had “holes big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through”.
SRC Perpetuates Expensive Farce