Eyes on the Board of Education: January 17, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

NOTE:  Unlike the BOE and District leadership when we are mistaken in what we have written we will take ownership and remedy the problem. Based on the testimony given by numerous ESOL teachers at the Janaury 17th Board meeting we feel compelled to retract the APPS Analysis for Action item 11 Contract with WestEd Professional Development for EL Instruction. According to teachers who actually implement ESOL instruction they find that QTEL is one of the best Professional Development Programs they have encountered. Also, we were mistaken in  identifying the William Penn Foundation funding for this project.  It is for another of WestEd’s programs. It is not for QTEL.

Budget Issues

The largest single allotment in the District’s budget goes to the 87 charter schools. Although there are no Action Items on this month’s agenda regarding charters, the Board will consider three new applicants next month. The Board must remember these facts when they decide in February:

  • The District cannot afford any more charters.
  • The Charter School Office is seriously understaffed; it has only 12 staff members to monitor 87 schools.
  • Our review of renewal evaluations shows consistent barriers to enrollment, lack of due process when students are accused of infractions, and expulsion for minor infractions such as uniform violations.
  • Many if not most charters pay rent and management fees to private companies; the Board has no control over those costs.
  • Neither the Board nor the public has access to the financial records of the Real Estate/Management companies which profit from the charter system, thus they have no control over those costs.
  • Administrative salaries and compensation are decided by the boards of the individual charters, not the Board of Education.  Ten charter CEOs, according to the most recent tax information, are paid over $200,000 in salary and compensation–and all of those schools have SPR Achievement ratings which place them in the Intervene category.
  • Charters do not offer “choice” to parents. The charter school chooses its students.
  • The PA Charter School Law has been called one of the worst in the country by many, including PA Auditor General Anthony DePasquale.

According to Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz, the US has the highest rate of economic inequality among “any of the advanced countries”. Gains achieved over the last fifty years have gone almost exclusively to the top 1%.  The destruction of “The American Dream” is felt deeply in our public schools where resources are scarce, union collective bargaining rights are rolled back, and teachers are blamed for this situation even as their wages and buying power diminish. Students suffer in toxic buildings with inadequate resources. . In 2013 the SRC passed Dr. Hite’s Doomsday Budget, resulting in massive layoffs of counselors, teachers, and other support staff. Our District is still reeling from the $1 billion budget cuts implemented by former Governor Corbett. The District is now led by a Broad Academy-trained superintendent. Eli Broad, an advancer of free-market ideology and policies,  is one of many uber-wealthy “philanthropists” pushing their corporate education agenda in public school districts across the country. Experience and degrees in education are secondary. Self-proclaimed innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit will suffice. Charter school proliferation at the expense of traditional district-run schools has been an important strategy in the corporate education agenda of privatization. Relationships in the school community have become secondary to competition and technology.

Ongoing Website Issues

Board of Education members are government officials with a stated commitment to  “…provide our diverse audiences with information that is relevant, timely, and easily accessible.”  If so, then why is navigating their website so complicated? It’s akin to wandering through a labyrinth in search of the exit (or information in this case).

Some questions:

  • Why is information dated prior to 2015-16 still not posted? When the City of Philadelphia made its transition to a new website, users were given the option of using the previous format or the new one. We suggested that the District do the same, but that fell on deaf ears. We were told that it would take about a year to fill in the older documents, but they remain unavailable.
  • Older documents can only be obtained by filing an official Right to Know request, which can take over 5 weeks to process.  It is also an unnecessary waste of staff time to search for information that should be online.
  • Why is nothing posted from the October and November Action Meetings?

The District has a fully staffed IT Department. If  they cannot resolve these issues, they should demand a refund from the vendor that sold them this program. These are public documents that, as the Board acknowledges, should be “easily accessible”. They are not. What is being done to remedy this situation?

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