The School Board nominating panel holds its first meeting. APPS protests blatant violations of the Sunshine Act.


The following is an excerpt from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook article The School Board nominating panel holds its first meeting. APPS protests blatant violations of the Sunshine Act.

A point of for the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) is transparency. APPS members sued the SRC in 2014 for violating the state’s Sunshine Act, which sets rules for the the conduct of government business,  and won a settlement that reshaped the way the SRC dealt with issue of transparency—although APPS is  quick to point out it’s a settlement they feel has not been consistently honored. For instance, the SRC often posts full descriptions of SRC resolutions after they have been voted on instead of in advance.

“The [nominating] panel is convened under the rules of the City Charter,” Haver said. “They are not an advisory panel. They are charged with selecting candidates for public office. They are city officials, and were addressed as such by members of the Mayor’s office.”

“As such, all of their meetings, including any committee meetings, must follow the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act,” she said. “Selection of candidates, and any deliberation about candidates, for this panel, is official action.”

The Mayor’s office disagrees with this interpretation of the Act.

“We appreciate the Alliance’s understandable desire to conduct as much public business as practicable in public,” Peterson said in a statement. “But the Alliance’s reading of the Sunshine Act is far from complete.”

She cited a section of the act that allows for deliberations involving political appointments to be conducted in closed-door executive sessions.

“A candid discussion about the strength and weaknesses of potentially hundreds of possible candidates cannot effectively be conducted in public,” she said. “It is also very likely that candidates will be more forthcoming about potential issues or conflicts of interest in private discussions.”

Haver suggested her organization is considering further action.

“APPS members have not fought against the lack of transparency by the SRC only to sit by and watch another board conduct its business in the same manner. We will be addressing our concerns to the panel and to the Mayor in the coming days.”

Eyes on the SRC: January 18, 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
January 15, 2018

Change is in the wind this month as we look forward to the end of the SRC, await the pronouncement of the fate of the six Priority Schools, and see how many of the nine applicants for new charters will hit the taxpayer lottery. Both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have said that the district will need to close more neighborhood schools every year for at least the next five years in order to balance the budget.

APPS members who testified last month at the first round of hearings for new charter applicants reminded the district that it cannot ignore the financial health of the district when considering new charters. District CFO Uri Monson has testified at the SRC and in City Council that charters are the single biggest item in the District’s budget. Philadelphia is fast approaching the 50/50 tipping point of district to charter schools.

Is the SRC deliberately pushing the District toward the New Orleans Model, which Commissioner Green has often lauded despite evidence that it has been a disaster for that city’s students and teachers?

Approving any new charter comes with the understanding that no matter how well or poorly that school may perform, the city is stuck with it for a long time. The five-year charter term has become meaningless. On the rare occasion that the SRC votes not to renew a charter, a long and expensive hearing process must take place, followed by a possible legal appeal. This can take years—while the school continues to operate. But when Dr. Hite targets public schools for closure, there is no appeal. In fact, there is not even a legal requirement for a hearing.

Despite the fact that the SRC agreed in a court-ordered settlement to post resolutions two weeks before action meetings, after APPS sued them for a pattern of violations of the PA Sunshine Act, the SRC just posted two new resolutions last Friday. Two concern renewal resolutions: the Memphis Street Academy resolution has been tabled since April 2017, the Universal Vare resolution since April 2016. Both were recommended for non-renewal by the district Charter School Office. APPS has asked at every meeting when the SRC would be deciding on these renewals; of course, we never got an answer.

In the face of predictions of more financial problems for the district, the SRC continues to sell school buildings at prices far below market value. This month, Resolution A-24 proposes the sale of the former Ada B. Lewis Middle School to an unknown out-of-state buyer. This raises questions about the effect of closing public schools, not just on the students but on the community as a whole, and about how little the community gets to say about it. Lewis was closed over ten years ago despite strong opposition from parents, teachers, students and community members. The district allowed the building, once home to the largest middle school in the city, to become an eyesore. In 2013, the District closed Smith Elementary in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze area. Many of the same community members who fought to keep Smith open formed the Save Smith School Committee to stop the sale of the building. Their long legal battle was lost when a judge ruled in favor of the district, thus enabling an out-of-state real estate investor to purchase the building, who quickly flipped the property to a local developer of high-priced housing.

Last month, the SRC approved the sale of the Beeber Wynnefield Annex. Neighbors had attempted to buy the building to convert it to a community center when the district closed it in 2002, but the District’s asking price of $300,000 was beyond their means. The building stood as an eyesore for almost twenty years, when Iron Stone Capital Partners bought it last month for $140,000—less than the original asking price.

 Is this what the people of Philadelphia want—for the District to shut down schools, then sell the buildings to satisfy the financial interests of developers and investors? The SRC offered little opportunity for the community to express its own needs, neither in Point Breeze nor in Wynnefield. Hite shut down Bok even though it was a thriving high school in a beautiful building; now that building is lost to the community. The SRC should consider the wishes of the community before it votes, not just the bottom line of developers and real estate investors.

Dr Hite’s pronouncement on the fates of this year’s cohort of Priority Schools may be made this month. He announced in a September press release that Penn Treaty will be “partnered” with the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA)—even before Cambridge Education and Temple University started to do their “School Quality Review”. The District told members of the six school communities that they would not be closed or charterized, but only for the next two years. Parents have repeatedly demanded a seat at the table where the future of their school is being decided, but have only gotten the usual dog-and-pony show of District-run meetings where no real decisions are made.

Catapult Learning reappears this month in two resolutions that propose lucrative contracts for the company. Since 2015 the company has shared in contracts totaling over $60 million for programs for high-needs students. In 2017, the District proposed awarding Catapult a $54million contract to run a stand-alone school for former Wordsworth Academy students; the District had to withdraw students from Wordsworth after the murder of a student at the facility. After strong pushback from The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, which is comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC), the proposal was cut back to $10 million to provide for the 100 returning Wordsworth students. [See Lynda Rubin’s summary of the July 6, 2017 meeting for more details.]

Even after the SRC approved that Catapult contract, there were still concerns about Catapult’s record, about the fact that no contract has been made available to the public, and the exclusion of parents, teachers, and advocates from the process. Dr. Hite attempted to reassure Coalition members by having Chief Academic Officer Cheryl Logan address those concerns. Logan said that the District would be carefully monitoring Catapult’s new schools, beginning with weekly visits. To date, neither Dr. Hite nor Dr. Logan has provided any account of visits or any type of oversight of Catapult.

What If…

…instead of spending $490,000 on some kind of undefined direct marketing campaign, and another $68,600 to a vendor for professional development, that half million plus went directly into classrooms? Students could have necessary supplies like paper, pencils, and crayons—as students in suburban districts do—and teachers would not have to beg for funds online.

Next SRC meeting: Thursday January 18 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday January 17.

Click here to read the APPS analysis of SRC resolutions.

Ears on the SRC – December 14, 2017

SRC 12-14-17

by Diane Payne
January 4, 2018

Ringing Out 2017

All five members of the School Reform Commission were present.  The Head of the Office of General Counsel, Lynn Rauch, was introduced at this meeting; she replaces Interim Director Miles Shorr.  Five members of APPS spoke in defense of public education.  To view their testimony, please go to  APPS members attend every SRC meeting to monitor and report on questionable, often destructive, SRC decisions that undermine public education–actions that otherwise would go unreported and undetected.

Sunshine Act Again Behind the Clouds

The SRC continues to violate the PA Sunshine Act, even after the 2015 court-ordered settlement between the district and APPS.  The SRC agreed to post resolutions two weeks prior to every meeting to give the public ample opportunity to review them.  However, just one week before this meeting, resolutions were posted on the non-renewal of Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson, and on the revocation of Khepera Charter.  These resolutions did not just pop up unexpectedly.  These charter renewals had been tabled for over a year and a half.  It is amazing that this body continues to flaunt the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Act as well as the stipulations of the APPS court settlement.

Walk-on Resolution

Commissioner Bill Green made a motion to add a walk-on resolution (SRC-10) to increase the seat enrollment of Independence Charter school by 25 seats.   Because of the APPS Sunshine Act agreement, audience members were permitted to sign up to speak for or against the resolution, but there was no explanation or context given for the action.  Regular attendees were not surprised to see Green once again going above and beyond for charter investors.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Click here to read the entire post.


First hearings held for nine proposed new charters

priority schools

First hearings held for nine proposed new charters | Philadelphia Public School Notebook -December 19, 2017

See the above article for a description of each of the proposed nine new charters. The article concludes with testimony of APPS members:

Aspira had to settle several suits brought against the company because of the sexual harassment perpetrated by Aspira Philadelphia CEO Alfredo Calderone. Unbelievably, he is still CEO… [Dawn Lynn Kacer, head of the CSO] testified that the financial improprieties had not only not been resolved, as promised by Kenneth Trujillo in May 2016, they had actually gotten worse,” Haver said in her public comment. “For the SRC to agree to put the education of more young people into the hands of Aspira would be a clear dereliction of duty.

She ceded the floor to several other activists from the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), familiar faces to anyone who regularly attends the SRC.

“Corporate charter schools continue to fight the SRC even today challenging the District’s right to oversee our public school students’ academic progress in their schools,” Lynda Rubin said during her public comment. “The SRC was put in place to purportedly shore up the financial supports for real public education in Phialdelphia. Not to hold a fire sale, selling or giving away its parts to private companies masquerading as public education stakeholders.”

Karel Kilimnik took issue with the argument made by SRC commissioners like Bill Green, that the SRC is not legally allowed to consider the financial impact that authoizing new charter schools would have on the District, since students take state dollars with them when they leave to attend a charter.

Kilimnik read from the 2015 SRC testimony of David Lapp, who was then an attorney with the Education Law Center:

I testified to the District that, when reviewing new charter school applications, the factors the District should consider cut against approval of new charters in the current fiscal and educational climate. This is especially true given the dearth of evidence that the charter sector has achieved superior results.

There have been recent public comments that suggest a mistaken belief that the charter law requires the SRC to approve new applications without considering the impact on District students. To the contrary, since the District has been declared to be in fiscal distress and the state constitution still requries that there be a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education,’ the impact of charter expansion on all students should be the most important consideration of all. But since questions have been raised, I wish to briefly clarify why such considerations are also legally valid.

The bottom line is that there has never been a [Charter Appeals Board] or court holding that a fiscally distressed school district is prevented from considering the educational impact on all students, including students in District schools and existing charter schools, when deciding whether to approve a new charter school application. In addition, no cases have addressed these issus since the charter reimbursement was eliminated. As you identify problems with the merits of a partricular charter application, you should be sure to also include, in the alternative, evidence and findings that approving the charter would negatively impact the educational experience of all students, including District students.