By Deb Grill, Karel Kilimnik and Lisa Haver
April 4, 2018
Unlike the other 500, Philadelphia is the only school district in Pennsylvania whose voters cannot elect a school board. We’ve had town halls, online surveys, and pronouncements from city politicians, but it all comes down to this: The government officials who will decide the future of the city’s public schools, and who will control a $3 billion budget, have been chosen by one person, Mayor Kenney. His decision has been based, in part, on the opinions of the thirteen people selected by him to be on the Nominating Panel. It has also been based on the wishes of the influential individuals, organizations and corporations who have lobbied him to represent their interests on the board. Two built-in lobbyists on the Nominating Panel, Stephanie Naidoff and Bonnie Camarda, are members of the board of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which funnels millions every year from private investors into schools of their choice for the programs of their choice, mostly charters.
All of the deliberations of the Panel were held in secret. None of the district’s stakeholders, or the city’s taxpayers, were able to express their opinions about any of the candidates, whether pro or con, or to raise concerns about possible conflicts of interest. APPS did everything we could, short of legal action, to open up this process. We sent letters to the Mayor and to the Panel, refuting the Mayor’s false assertion that the Panel could deliberate in Executive Session because it was discussing “personnel matters”, pointing out that the Panel was neither hiring nor appointing any personnel. We had several community groups sign a letter asking the mayor to obey the Sunshine Act.
APPS members Karel Kilimnik and Rich Migliore wrote an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer decrying the lack of democracy and the mayor’s attempt to have the charter change include language that would allow him to remove school board members without any due process, which would have killed the possibility of having a truly independent board.
Lisa Haver also wrote an op-ed questioning whether trading in one unelected, unaccountable school board for another, under the banner of local control, could be considered progress.
APPS also researched all forty-five Panel nominees. Now that the final selection has been made, we are re-posting the profiles of those selected with updated information. One thing that stands out in the Mayor’s selection: there are no known advocates for public education. Since no one could question the nominees, we have no idea whether, or how much, they are committed to defending public education. We don’t know whether they believe that privatization and charterization are solutions to the problem of under-resourced neighborhood schools. We don’t know what their stance is on using anonymous private donations to fund public and charter schools.
Following are some of the patterns and connections that we have observed, so far, among the board members: