Ears on the SRC: July 6, 2017

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by Lynda Rubin

Third Time’s the Charm For Catapult Inc. as Lawyers and Advocates Push Back on SRC Deal
The speeding train delivering a multi-million contract to yet another education vendor was temporarily halted, and eventually significantly scaled down, by parents and community members who had not been informed or consulted about this deal with the for-profit Catapult Learning, Inc. The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC,) demanded to meet with district staff to discuss the possible segregation of special needs children and how that would violate federal law, among other issues. Members of City Council, including Helen Gym and Derek Green, also sent a letter to the district addressing their concerns about IU-7.

The original IU-7 resolution, posted just three days before the June 15 SRC meeting, called for an initial 3-year expenditure of $36,073,350, with a possible increase to a 5-year contract through June 2022 at a total cost of $54, 473, 350. No staff presentation had been given previously, nor was any placed on the June 15 agenda. PILCOP and ELC attorneys immediately contacted district officials. The resolution proposed a separate facility for students with various special needs, including a program for autistic students. Attorneys and advocates were alarmed that the Hite administration was planning to segregate these students, in violation of the long-standing Least Restrictive Environment federal law. Because of this public pressure, the SRC withdrew the resolution just before the meeting. However, Dr. Hite did address some of the issues raised about the resolution. His explanation was that the district needed a facility to serve the approximately 100 students who had been at Wordsworth, whose contract with the district was cancelled in October 2016 after a student died in a struggle with staffer which was ruled a homicide.

However, rather than make this public and reach out to special education advocates, educators and parents for a discussion of how to best plan for these students, the SRC (which also functions also as the Intermediary Unit #26 board – covering the Philadelphia district only) and the District, with as little notice as possible, began the process of creating a new IU program, also to become a future training facility, under the contract and direction of Catapult Learning, Inc. The plan was to incorporate a total of 200 students, not just the Wordsworth students but other special needs students to start in September, 2017, with an expansion to 600 students by June 2022. Eventually, the resolution was scaled down to a 3-year, $10 million contract with Catapult limited to the returning Wordsworth students.

Notable here is that the program was obviously not just in response to the need presented by students returning from Wordsworth, but was seen as an opportunity for more privatization of public school students at public expense. No explanation was ever given about why that $54 million had to be paid to outsource the services for special needs students rather than be delivered by experienced district teachers in public school facilities.

Notification, Lack Thereof – Why the Rush?

Click here to read the entire article

Defenders of public education testify at the July 6, 2017 SRC meeting.

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Click on the picture above to view the video of the testimony of defenders of public education testifying at the July 6, 2017 Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting. Click on the time stamps to see selected speakers at the meeting.

The video concludes with the discussion and vote on a $10 million contract with outsourced private company Catalyst Learning for an Alternative Special Education program.


These are the transcripts of APPS members’ testimony at the SRC meeting in order of their appearance.

Click here to read the transcript of Deborah Grill’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Tonya Bah’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Lynda Rubin’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Kristin Luebbert’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Karel Kilimnik’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Barbara Dowdall’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Richard Migliore’s testimony.

Click here to read the transcript of Ilene Poses’s testimony.


Also see:

Over objections, SRC authorizes $10M new special ed program for Philly kids | Inquirer – Juyly 6, 2017

School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program | The Notebook – July 6, 2017

APPS News: July 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
July 5, 2017

SRC’s Tsunami of Resolutions

The SRC loaded over 140 resolutions onto its June 15 Action Meeting agenda. Commissioner Green voted No on the new PFT contract at the June 20 SRC meeting because he deemed it “fiscally irresponsible”, but he did not raise that concern about any of the programs or contracts, many to private businesses, which totaled over $200 million in one sitting. Familiar corporate education vendors Mindset Works, back selling more “leadership kits” (A-82); Catapault Inc., possible recipient of a 5-year, $54 million contract for a controversial facility for special-needs students (B-8 ); along with Teach for America, Relay Graduate training, and Foundations, Inc and Jounce Partners (B23) continue feeding at the trough of education dollars. The District’s overdrive to outsource jobs and services races along with far too many resolutions to list here. As usual, the SRC provides scant information, leaving out descriptions altogether for many items, then vote the resolutions in blocks of twenty or thirty at the meeting’s end with no discussion or questions raised. APPS continues to point out that the SRC prioritizes charter operators at closed door meetings.

The district continues to funnel money to private law firms—this time another $8.5 million (Resolution A-71, which passed 4-1, Estelle Richman voting against). The SRC spent millions with these private law firms to fight the PFT after illegally cancelling that contract, appealing at every opportunity. The district has its own Office of General Counsel with twenty-one attorneys plus support staff. How many librarians, art teachers, and music teachers could that $8.5 million buy?

Solution for Special Needs Students—or Bonanza for Private Company?

 Resolution IU-7 was posted just three days before the June 15 meeting, then was “withdrawn by staff” at the last minute. This original resolution proposed entering into a 3-year, $36 million with the for-profit Catapault Learning Company to create a segregated K to 12 school for special needs students due to open in September 2017 (with a possible extension to a 5-year, $54 million contract). Barely two months to find a location, hire staff, and have an operational school for 100 students in kindergarten through twelfth grades. This resolution came as a surprise to parents of special-needs children and the community; as a result, there has been tremendous pushback, including letters from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center on behalf of a coalition of advocacy organizations including APPS. IU-7 has a twisted tale of resurrection as Diane Payne documents in the June 15 Ears on the SRC. At the City Council meeting held earlier that same day Councilman Derek Green introduced a resolution for the SRC to reject I-U7. It passed unaminously.

Although he did not address the issues of the secrecy and hurriedness of his actions around IU-7, Dr. Hite’s explanation was that the district needed to find 100 placements for former Wordsworth Academy students. After the homicide of a student at Wordsworth last October, the District was pressured to terminate its contract. There have been persistent complaints of physical and sexual abuse of children placed at Wordsworth’s residential treatment center since it opened. However, the resolution also included space for special needs students who were not residents of Wordsworth. Rather than use the better part of a year planning how best to serve this vulnerable student population, the Hite administration is attempting to present a fait accompli to parents who should not be rushed into making this kind of decisions about their children’s futures.

Requiem for Closed Philly Schools Vigil

We have listened to Dr Hite repeatedly state that he wants to close three schools a year over the next five years. We attended the neighborhood meetings in 2012 to allow public comment. We heard the anguish of students, parents, teachers, and community members as they desperately tried to save their schools from closure. We sat through numerous SRC meetings and listened to similar groups plead for their schools to remain open. Having heard the heartbreak of school closures and witnessed the devastation wrought upon those neighborhoods, we decided it was time to honor the closed schools as well as draw attention to Dr. Hite’s intentionsAPPS’ Requiem for Philly’s Closed Schools presented a beautiful yet mournful presence in the 29 tombstones created for each of the schools closed since 2011. We created three additional tombstones with a question mark as to who is next on the chopping block. Along with this video of the event there is an Action Sheet with ideas to help school communities organize.

Defenders of Public Education

 There were over 50 speakers on the June 15 list; several people whose names did not appear were allowed, without explanation, to speak during the meeting. One man, who did sign up to speak in advance, was omitted from the list. He sat through hours of testimony, then approached district and SRC staff requesting that they correct their admitted mistake and allow him to speak. Two APPS members approached both District and SRC staff requesting that he be allowed to speak. He even rose after the last speaker to request his turn only to be refused by Chair Wilkerson. The SRC’s capricious speakers policy was on full display at this meeting as some people were added to the list and others excluded.

The Our Cities Our Schools organization has developed a timeline that shows why the present commissioners must vote soon in order to return local control of the district to the people of Philadelphia. Several OCOS members spoke on this issue.

Also see:
SRC to vote Thursday on downsized proposal for new special education program | The Notebook – July 5. 2017

New, $10M special-ed school for Philly kids draws fire | Philadelphia Inquirer = July 5, 2017

Over objections, SRC authorizes$10M new special ed program for Philly kids | Inquirer – Juyly 6, 2017

School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program | The Notebook – July 6, 2017