Ears on the Board of Education: September 20, 2019

SB 7-9-18

by Diane Payne

Present

All nine members of the Board of Education (BOE) were present.  Eight members of APPS attended; five testified on behalf of public education.  Mayor Kenney came to welcome the students who were chosen as non-voting BOE representatives.  Of 54 applicants, two students were selected by a Board committee to serve as non-voting student representatives.  Julia Frank of Northeast High School and Alfredo Pratico of J.R. of Masterman High School were sworn in and seated.  They will alternate attendance at future meetings and will bring student voice to issues before the Board.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown spoke to welcome the Board and to advise them that City Council was there to support and monitor district operations.  She noted three main areas of concern: school health and safety, suspensions, and African-American studies in the district’s high school curriculum. Also in attendance for part of the meeting was Councilwoman Helen Gym.   Gym has been outspoken against the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) and was the only No vote on the issue earlier that day in Council. The Board’s agenda included a vote on the current list of KOZ properties (more on this below).

The meeting began with a  lovely musical performance by Universal Language, a group of Franklin Learning Center students.  It was inspiring to hear the beautiful voice and stellar musical accompaniment of these student musicians.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Superintendent William Hite addressed the District’s upcoming open enrollment process.  The timeline has been moved, but the total number of days to complete the application process is the same.  Applications can be submitted from September 21st through November 2nd. There was a question about counselors having a difficult time due to the new timeline conflicting with Early Admission College Applications (EACA).  Dr. Hite said that only 5 high schools were possibly affected but research indicated really only one school would be affected. They were assured by that school there was no problem with conflicts impacting the EACAs.

Board Reverts to Business as Usual                                                    

The official BOE agenda included an extensive visual presentation on the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties from First Deputy Director Sylvie Gallier Howard and Senior Deputy Director Duane Bumb of the City’s Commerce Department.  (The power-point can be viewed here.)  The PA General Assembly created KOZs in 1998 as a program designed to spark development in blighted, vacant, or underutilized properties that might not otherwise be developed. This program abates a long list of both state and city taxes as the lure for investment and the projected economic improvement, particularly job creation. The hook for the School District is that by law these properties must make Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) that amount to 110% of the 55% that would come to the District in real estate taxes.  These PILOTS are paid annually and are based on the previous year’s property assessment. By law, both City Council and the BOE must approve the list of properties submitted by the Commerce Department before the applications can proceed to the state.  (These properties can be viewed on the above mentioned powerpoint.)

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Defenders of Public Education Speak Before the Board of Education, September 20, 2018

SB 7-9-18

Click on the individual’s name to read the transcripts of some of the speakers at the September 20, 2018 meeting of the Board of Education.

 

Supporters of Strawberry Mansion

Catherine Blunt

Karel Kliminik

Tayna Parker spoke extemporaneously.  You can view her testimony at time stamp at 3:11:23 on the District video 20180920 BOE Action Meeting.

APPS and Community Members

Barbara Dowdall

Deborah Grill

Lisa Haver

Heather Marcus

Lynda Rubin

 

 

 

Commentary: To make big impact, new Philly school board must break with the past

SB 7-9-18

The following commentary by Lisa Haver was published by The Inquirer on September 11, 2018.

July 9 was a great day for the people of Philadelphia. The first meeting of the newly appointed Board of Education signaled the end of our long school governance nightmare.
The new nine-member board has made symbolic gestures toward breaking with the infamous past of the School Reform Commission, such as opening public spaces at district headquarters and refurbishing with some of the artwork confiscated from district schools and offices over 15 years ago.
The board has also begun to institute meaningful reforms, including establishing committees so that those with a stake in the district can engage in more meaningful participation beyond their allotted three-minute testimony, maybe even engage in dialogue with board members. The board even discussed resolutions before voting on them, a sight rarely seen during the 17-year reign of the SRC. 
But a true “break with the past,” as promised by former SRC chair and now board president Joyce Wilkerson at that first meeting, means a thorough rejection of the devastating agenda carried out by the SRC.
The SRC was imposed on the city for the purpose of carrying out the corporate, free-market agenda, the same privatization plan carried out in cities across the country: Close neighborhood public schools; expand charters, then make them almost impossible to close when they fail; and  force children to take standardized tests every year, then use those test scores to label them and their schools failing in order to justify charter-izing or closing them. Many decisions rubber-stamped by the SRC were made in the boardrooms of private foundations and nonprofits.  As it became increasingly clear that this “reform” did little more than destabilize the city’s public schools and neighborhoods, Philadelphians voted by a 2-1 margin for a nonbinding resolution to dissolve the SRC. 
The board must abandon the destructive spending priorities of the SRC and implement time-tested reforms.
In addition to lowering class size from 33 students, the district, now enjoying some semblance of financial stability, should bring back the remaining support staff laid off four years ago—reading specialists, non-teaching assistants, counselors, classroom aides for students with special needs. This board could signal its intention to improve the lives of our students by bringing back fully functioning school libraries. It’s a disgrace that there are fewer than 10 certified librarians in a district of more than 200 schools.
The board must bring back an equitable system.  A first step would be to abolish the district’s philanthropic Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, whose board meets in private to “help set funding priorities.” Schoolchildren should not be placed in the role of charity recipients. 
All funding decisions should be made in public, by the duly appointed Board of Education.  We should not maintain an undemocratic structure in which unknown individuals or corporations can decide which schools will be lucky enough to receive money for basic resources.
One of the biggest challenges the district faces is lack of funding from Harrisburg. The board should join with the Pennsylvania School Board Association to become more vocal advocates for fair funding. But we have to make sure that the dollars we get are spent on improving every classroom in every school. Outsourcing millions every year to consulting firms for teacher-training programs of questionable quality do nothing to improve education for our students. 
The board must invest in neighborhood schools and stop approving new charter schools. The district cannot afford them. Don’t renew charters that do not meet standards. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on schools that promised to educate children better than district schools but now want standards lowered when they have clearly failed to do so.
What local control will look like is up to the board members themselves.  They must be accountable, above all, to their constituents—the students, parents, educators, and community.  

Eyes on the Board of Education: September 20, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Last Spring, at the urging of Superintendent Hite, the SRC approved a 2018-19 School Calendar in which school started a week before Labor Day. Dr. Hite gave little rationale for this, but he did say that June is just as hot a month as August. The first week of school brought days of early dismissals because of extreme heat and the lack of air conditioning in most district buildings. Dr. Hite, in response to public criticism, has created a “calendar committee” to gather data on this issue, which would have been a better idea last Spring. One lasting legacy of the SRC and the Hite administration is the lack of stakeholder dialogue on crucial decisions. Fortunately, the New Board of Education has changed its approach in order to allow discourse on a range of policies and practices. The BOE has established three new committees: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, and District Partnerships and Community Engagement; the Policy Committee was established last year and will continue to meet under the Board. (See our reports on the first two committee meetings.) This structure allows for more dialogue about proposed policies and for raising concerns so that the community will have more than the three minutes allotted to BOE Action speakers.

Ongoing Outsourcing

We often feel like the proverbial broken record as we continue to track money spent on outsourcing staff and services instead of rebuilding the internal District structure. There is an untold wealth of professional wisdom among those with years of experience in our classrooms and offices. Teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, and other staff have devoted their lives to working with students. They have created curriculum, projects, and other educational materials based on their knowledge and understanding of the students in their classrooms and schools. This administration needs to acknowledge and support these efforts across the district, not just in selected schools. For example, instead of sending more money into the coffers of vendors such as In-Class Today,Inc (Action Item A-15), the District could reinstate the School-Home Liaison staff. The District employed Nutrition Educators (B-2) until outsourcing their jobs to Catapult Learning,LLC last year. Every time this happens the District abdicates its responsibility for accountability to students and parents; private companies are not accountable to the public. Whenever District services are outsourced, and whenever a school is closed or charterized, the Superintendent should return a portion of his salary, as he is no longer responsible for overseeing that service or that school. We need Board members to question these expenditures as the SRC did not. Who benefits – our children or vendors?

This Year’s Model

Every year Superintendent Hite announces some new model of transforming schools that will “turn around” underperforming neighborhood schools. Over the past two years, he has targeted 17 schools as part of his “System of Great Schools” (or “Priority”) program. This has created tremendous uncertainty and instability as teachers and principals worry about whether they will have to re-apply for their positions simply to stay in their school, while parents fight to keep teachers and administrators who have dedicated themselves to those schools. In keeping with the Hite administration practice of rebranding positions and programs, an indication of how the corporate mentality has infected the district, this initiative is now referred to as “Focus Schools”. Unlike in previous years, there has been no resolution or action item approving contracts to consultants for this program. APPS has learned that Cambridge Education, who was paid $300,000 for obviously inadequate reports, will not return for another serving of District money.
However, Temple University will again be facilitating community engagement. The District has entered into a contract with Temple, but since for some reason it was not approved by the SRC or the BOE, the public has not been informed of the details or the amount. We have found it very difficult to find current information on the District website, so we are posting a link to the page. The three Priority schools this year are:
Avery D. Harrington Elementary School (K-8), 5300 Baltimore Avenue
Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School (6-8), 7501 Woodbine Avenue
Alain Locke Elementary School (K-8), 4550 Haverford Avenue

Last month we applauded the posting of Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries in the Action Item Summary. As of the date of this edition of Eyes, those Summaries have yet to appear. We also urged the BOE to list vendor contracts that enables the public to view the negotiated terms.

Charter Chains Move to Consolidate Power

Will the new Board members continue their predecessors’ tradition of bending over backwards to ensure that well-connected charter schools find a home in the District? Some SRC Commissioners even made a point of advising applicants whose charters had been denied to reapply—which they did, when they were then approved. Public schools need the Board to set a new course. That means not simply rubber-stamping inadequate charter applications without acknowledging the impact on neighborhood schools. MaST is simply one in a string of charters with connections to enlarge their realm at the expense of every student in the District.

If in October the Board approves the application from MaST charter to consolidate its governing boards, it will become the first Multiple Charter School Organization in the city and the state.  We have seen no coverage about this in the local press, but the public needs to understand how this could affect the District in many ways, including financially.

What If…?

…instead of spending $ 384,000 (Action A-15) on outsourcing Attendance Services, the District brought back the School-Community Liaisons? Developing and maintaining relationships with students and families not only improves attendance but helps to prevent or resolve other issues as well. That money would not only work towards building better Home-School relations but also create jobs in low -income neighborhoods by hiring community residents.


Click here to read the Action Items of Note and the APPS Analysis