by Karel Kilimnik
We Did It!
On Thursday, November 2, Mayor James Kenney gave an address in City Council chambers in which he asked Council to support his decision to call for an end to the SRC. The response was overwhelming approval. Council Education Committee Chair Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill to place a referendum on the May 2018 ballot to amend the City Charter so that, for the first time, Council would have approval power over the Mayor’s choices for a 9-member school board.
APPS members have attended every School Reform Commission meeting for the last five years, including special meetings, emergency meetings and Policy Committee meetings. Some of us have attended since the first meeting of the state-imposed board in 2001. No one is happier than we are to witness the dissolution of the SRC and a return to local control. But let’s keep our eyes on the ball and examine the realities behind it.
APPS has documented the devastation wrought by the unelected, unaccountable SRC for the past five years: the rampant privatization of services and staffing; the attempted cancellation of the PFT contract; the outsourcing of Professional Development, transportation services, and Special Ed programs; the forcing out of teachers in schools deemed to be “underperforming”; the annual charter expansion while evidence of that model’s failure mounts; the permanent closure of almost thirty neighborhood schools. We have called out more than one Commissioner for conflicts of interest. The list goes on.
One year ago, several community groups and unions including APPS, POWER, NAACP, Parents United for Public Education, Reclaim Philadelphia, the WE caucus of the PFT, the 215 People’s Alliance, Media Mobilizing Project and a number of local unions formed the Our Cities, Our Schools Coalition (OCOS), calling for a return to local control. OCOS organized several rallies at City Hall and district headquarters at which City Council members and community leaders spoke. OCOS held a public forum to discuss the issue (all SRC commissioners were invited; none attended). OCOS collected thousands of signatures online calling for an end to the SRC.
Mayor Kenney campaigned two years ago on a promise to return the district to local control, but flipped after he took office. He said repeatedly that it wasn’t the right time, and claimed that the district would lose funding from Harrisburg if we gave up state control. OCOS kept up the pressure on the Mayor for a year—calling his office, challenging him at neighborhood town halls, and writing commentaries in local newspapers. Contrary to the story line in recent articles and editorials in the local media, the Mayor did not wake up one day and decide to end the SRC. Resolution SRC-3 is the culmination of strong grass-roots organizing. It is the first step on the path to creating an elected school board in Philadelphia. We applaud Mayor Kenney’s decision to accede to the will of the people. But the battle for true community control is far from over.
Local Universities Enable SRC Agenda
November’s resolutions reflect the growing influence of local universities in district business. Resolution B-5 accepts “the donation of services and resources” from Temple University for “Transforming School L.I.F.E. (Leadership, Instruction, and Family Engagement) for English Learners” resurfaces . This $2.7 million grant from the federal government appeared in the October Resolution List for approval, but had to be postponed due to the absence of Commissioner Bill Green. Commissioners McGinley and Wilkerson had to abstain as they are both employed by Temple. Will Commissioner Green be absent again (as he has been for all or most of five meetings this year) and delay the vote again? If this grant went directly to the district, this problem would not exist.
Drexel University’s role continues to expand with Resolutions A-12 Categorical/Grant Fund: $250,000 Ratification of Grant Acceptance from the Promise of Strong Partnership for Education Reform; and Resolutions B-3 and B-4 for the newest SLA addition –SLAMS. Last year, Drexel was authorized to administer a $6 million federal grant in the Mantua Empowerment Zone. This Zone seems to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone created by Geoffrey Canada in NYC. At one point, the fifth grade scores in his charter school were so low that Canada simply removed the entire fifth grade class. When outside organizations, even universities, become “partners”, they make these kinds of decisions, not district stakeholders.
Resolution A-14 continues the trend of outsourcing services formerly performed by district employees to out-of-state vendors: providing professional development, decreasing truancy, and funding staff positions. Dr Hite is a graduate of the non-accredited Broad Superintendents Academy, which advances an ideology of outsourcing, privatization, and union-busting.
Please keep in mind that both Dr Hite and Mayor Kenney have said they intend to close two neighborhood schools per year for at least the next five years. School closing announcements are usually made around this time in the school year; perhaps the news of the SRC dissolution will push it back a month or two. Dr Hite will also be disclosing his decision on the fate of the six Priority/SGS Schools in February. New charter school applications submitted in the next month will be voted on by the SRC in February 2018. The next few months will be turbulent ones—stay tuned.
…the Hite administration took the $522, 582 earmarked here for private vendors and spent it on bring back 20 Parent Ombudsmen? Or NTAs? Parents at Priority schools meetings have said that providing these services would provide an invaluable service to the children at those schools.
Resolutions of Note