APPS News: March 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
March 5, 2018

 Nominating Panel Meets Behind Closed Doors

This hectic season continues as APPS fights against ever more threats to public education. We challenged Mayor Kenney’s unexpected decision to shut the public out of almost all meetings of the Nominating Panel, whose members he selected last month. We did not anticipate this mayor placing the community on the sidelines, being given no voice in who will control a $3 billion budget and the future of education in the city. As a result of the steady organizing and political lobbying of the Our City, Our Schools coalition, Philadelphians won a huge victory in November when the SRC voted to dissolve, effective July 2018. Without APPS’ continual coverage of the questionable contracts and decisions in our Eyes and Ears on the SRC, the journey back from state to local control would have been a harder mountain to climb.

Unfortunately, the Mayor slammed the door shut on those who had fought for local control by announcing that the Nominating Panel would meet in closed executive sessions, claiming that the Panel would be deciding on “personnel matters”. The Mayor knows, as everyone does, that the Panel neither hires nor appoints anyone, so no personnel matters are considered. The job of the Panel is to make recommendations for nominees to the new board. School board members are government officials, not employees. The Panel was given just over a month to come up with a list of 27 nominees, from which the Mayor would select nine board members.

APPS sent several letters to the Nominating Panel and the Mayor, including one signed by several community and labor organizations, demanding that the public have a say in the selection of the new board.

A list of over 400 applicants, without any personal or professional information, was released by the Mayor’s office a couple of days before the Panel’s second and final meeting, which had been moved up from its original date. (The applications were never released.) Of course, parents, teachers, students and most community members cannot attend a meeting held during school and work hours.

The only time for public testimony before this body happened at the highly-scripted second and final Panel meeting when they voted on their list of 27 candidates. No agenda was distributed before the meeting; there was no list of public speakers. Mirroring the SRC the board will replace, there was no deliberation prior to the vote.   APPS members Lisa Haver, Diane Payne and I testified about these issues.

We could only comment on the process, as the nominees were announced just minutes before the public speakers. A district teacher took some personal time to come and testify; he suggested the creation of a Teacher Advisory Board in addition to the Student Advisory Board that had been suggested by other community members.

In reaction to the criticism from most of the public speakers, several of the Panel members defended their actions. We do not doubt that the Panelists carved out time in their busy lives to undertake this task, but was there not one person on the panel who objected to the Mayor’s heavy-handed tactics? Where is this ship of local control, in dry dock for 17 years, headed? Their list of 27 candidates includes several with charter school connections, two parents at Penn Alexander (no other district school was mentioned), a preponderance of lawyers as well as individuals with financial/banking/investment positions. Missing, along with teachers or retired teachers, are parents of Special Needs and English Language Learners students, as well as parents whose children attend a range of district schools. Where are their voices?

APPS members have weighed in on these issues publicly.

Lisa Haver addressed the closing of the selection of the new board in the Inquirer/Daily/philly.com

Rich Migilore and Karel Kilimnik explained that one-person rule is undemocratic and that the Mayor should not be able to remove board members for political reasons.

APPS continues to challenge this undemocratic process. We have filed a Right to Know requesting extensive information on the process to select these 27 individuals.

SRC Denies Applications for Six New Charters

APPS members attended and testified at the first round of hearings on new charter applicants in December; we attended the second round at which public testimony was not on the agenda. Hearings for individual applications occurred through January; the SRC heard final testimony, then voted, at the February meeting. (Pennsylvania Institute Academy Charter School and Qor Charter School withdrew their applications before this final session.) Questioning by Hearing Examiner Allison Petersen, and the information provided by the Charter Schools Office, showed that there were serious issues—whether academic, financial, or organizational—in every application.

See the APPS reports on new charter applications here.

The SRC voted to reject all but one applicant. They voted unanimously to approve MaST III, despite significant concerns about enrollment, capacity, and governance. Conditions involving transportation for kindergarten students in zip codes 19120,19124, 19140, and 19141 (Olney, Logan, Hunting Park as well as a section of North Philadelphia) to enable them to diversify their potential student body as well as cutting their projected enrollment from 2600 to 1300 were mentioned. We are still waiting for the district to send us the conditions the SRC has imposed. Denying Philadelphia Hebrew Charter School resulted in commissioner Green advising them to re-apply. Mastery, APM, Franklin Towne, and two Aspira charters were also denied. Five APPS members along with two teachers, and two community members presented testimony decrying approval of any new charter applications

The February 22 Ears on the SRC notes the twisted connections of real estate ventures with charter schools along with the SRC’s categorizing of charter school topics as “quasi-judicial”. This categorization conceals these transactions behind a stone- wall the public is unable to penetrate.

APPS Keeps Our Eyes and Ears on SRC In Its Final Days

As the seventeen-year reign of the SRC comes to an end, we have to think about how to end their devastating policies, not the least is the reckless spending on edu-vendors. The same SRC that says we can’t afford to pay teachers and staff at a professional rate doesn’t blink when approving contracts for unproven programs including online learning, data collection and outsourced professional development. At its February 15 meeting, the SRC approved $114 million in new spending. Almost $20 million of that went to various vendors, including Pearson Inc; that means children will spend more time in front of computers rather than with teachers and support staff. Several parents and community members spoke against the resolutions. As one speaker reminded us “Technology is a tool, not a teacher.”

The SRC received so many questions about Resolutions A-7 (sending $9.5 million to the testing conglomerate Pearson Inc for “instructional management” with a side of data collection) and B-12( $10 million for online courses) that Dr Hite addressed these issues in his initial comments.

Dr Hite is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Superintendent’s Academy, where free-market policies are advanced as part of the substitution of ideology for knowledge. Unions are to be broken, and their work contracted to private companies and non-profits. Part of this process depends on destabilizing the workforce and creating insecurity among teachers, principals, and other school staff, thus heading off potential resistance as people fear for their jobs. Struggling schools don’t get needed resources, they are targeted for some kind of transformation. That could mean being placed into the Turnaround Network with the requisite loss of principal and most teachers. It could mean being chosen for the “System of Great Schools”, which increasingly results in being “partnered” with consulting companies like Jounce Partners or ISA without the knowledge or agreement of the school community.

Upcoming Events

  • Wednesday March 7: Oral Argument on School Funding Lawsuit in Commonwealth Court, Widener Building, 1339 Chestnut Street, 9th Floor, 9:30 AM.
  • Thursday March 8: SRC Policy Committee Meeting, 11:00 AM at 440 North Broad Street.
  • Wednesday March 14: Sign up to speak at SRC Meeting, call before 3:30 PM, 215 400 4180.
  • Thursday March 15: SRC Action Meeting, 4:30 PM at 440 North Broad Street.
  • Thursday March 22: SRC Action Meeting, 4:30 PM at 440 North Broad Street. (Call before 3:30 PM the day before)