Eyes on the SRC: August 17, 2017

SRC May 18

by Karel Kilimnik
August 14, 2017

The August resolutions include contracts and grants for over $14 million in district spending. A regular feature of Eyes is showing the history of spending on one program or company. The public’s ability to know about these issues has been compromised by the district’s decision to erase the history of SRC resolutions, minutes, amendments and actions on charters prior to last year. For reasons yet to be explained, the Communications Office put up a new website with missing information, but has not kept the previous website up (and since the Director and Assistant Director of that office went on vacation just after the change, answers have been in short supply). This is a simple technological matter. The City of Philadelphia has done exactly that so that the public still has access to public information. We do wonder whether the replacement of the previous website with an incomplete one signals a decision by the SRC to limit public access to district information. The SRC must rectify this matter and make sure that the people of the district can find all of the information they need.

Since his arrival five years ago, Superintendent William Hite has been implementing many of the corporate reforms taught at the unaccredited Broad Academy where he received his training. He has overseen the consistent shift of public positions to private companies, along with the requisite union-busting policies. The local media rarely holds him responsible for the shortcomings of the district he leads, even after disasters such as last year’s outsourcing of substitutes.

This Resolution Summary (83 as of August 10) exemplifies the rush to turn the district over to vendors whose primary purpose is not the education of all of our students but the expanding of their bottom lines. This flood of money into outside pockets only stops when there is enough pushback from stakeholders, politicians, and the media. We have a lot of work to do to reclaim our district.

Just some of the devastating actions of the Hite administration:

  • Shutter 23 neighborhood schools in 2013 (with plans to close 12-15 more)
  • Designate WD Kelley and Blaine elementary schools “Transformation Schools”, forcing all teachers to reapply for their positions, among other changes dictated by a grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership (2014)
  • Attempt in 2015 to turn two district schools over to Mastery Charters and Aspira, Inc; his efforts were thwarted by organized opposition from parents, teachers and community members
  • Place three more elementary schools— Cooke, Huey and Wister—into the Renaissance program over the wishes of most parents in 2016
  • Place four schools into The Turnaround Plan, forcing both principals and teachers to reapply for their positions, so that children came back in September to an almost entirely reconstituted faculty
  • Target eleven neighborhood schools—elementary, middle, and high schools—as “Priority Schools” in 2017. After spending $200,000 on a contract with Cambridge Education which provided no data and little useful information, the district forced teachers and principals at some of these schools to reapply for their positions.

Hite’s policies create churn and destabilized school communities as both teachers and principals are forced to leave their schools and students behind, some after serving in these communities for many years. Hite has presented no research showing this destabilization improves academics or school climate. In fact, news reports have detailed the problems Blaine and Kelley continue to face.

Each attempt to destabilize schools has resulted in intense public pushback, but rather than reassess the wisdom of the policies, Hite just changes the name and tweaks some of the details—from Renaissance to Redesign to Transformation to Priority. Fierce resistance to placing Steel and Munoz-Marin Schools into the hands of charter operators caused him to simply place Cooke, Huey, and Wister into the Renaissance Charter Program rather than allowing parents and community members to vote on it. Hite had to back down from turning Cooke over to the Great Oaks Foundation after City Councilwoman Helen Gym published a scathing report which clearly showed the company’s inability to run an elementary school.

We have witnessed an endless outsourcing of district services and resources to private vendors. Professional Development has taken a hit as vendors line up to provide Blended Learning and other packaged PD; transportation services have gone into the hands of private companies resulting in numerous complaints from parents as to incompetent services.   Favored vendors include Cambridge Education, Catapult Learning, The New Teacher Project and Relay Graduate Education.

A proposed contract for $150,000 to Cambridge Education to “conduct high quality and objective third-party reviews of school quality in a number of schools that have been identified as under performing” was actually voted down 4-1 (Commissioner Jimenez voted Yes) at the June 15 SRC meeting. Earlier this year, the district paid Cambridge Education $200,000 to hold meetings and gather information on the eleven Priority Schools. APPS members reported on the woeful shortcomings of both the methodology used and the report itself. So why is Cambridge back just two months later with its hand out for another $100,000 (Resolution A-8)?

WHAT IF…?

Instead of spending this $14 million allocated to vendors for questionable experimental programs like blended learning or redundant teacher training from non-educators, the SRC spent this money on lower class size and more classroom aides?

Or instead of spending over $7 million in lawyers fees in one whistleblower case they should have settled years ago, the SRC had spent that money on preserving school libraries and bringing back certified school librarians?

Next SRC Meeting: Thursday, August 17, 4:30 PM at 440 No. Broad Street. Call 215-400-4010 before Wednesday 3:30 PM to sign up to testify.

Click here to read Resolutions of Note and the APPS analysis of them.