Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting: February 21, 2019

by Diane Payne

Lee Huang and Leticia Egea-Hinton co-chaired the meeting; Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson were also present. Board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Chris McGinley attended the meeting.  Two APPS members attended the meeting; one spoke in defense of public education. Minutes of the previous meeting were approved. This meeting was held at 4:00 p.m. in response to community requests for a more public-friendly meeting time.  Huang indicated that they would try to schedule “some” of the F&F meetings at this time. The meeting was well attended and featured seven public speakers. Once again, it was difficult to hear Board members and District staff. Several requests were made from the audience (as have been made at previous meetings) for presenters to speak into the mic, which went mostly unheeded. In addition, the wall speakers were on the lowest possible volume.  The PA Sunshine Act states that meetings are not public if the public cannot hear the official business being conducted. Is “transparency” just a buzzword for the Board or will they make sure that the public can hear and participate at all meetings?

(Meeting agendas and power-point presentations can be viewed on the SDP website by going to the BOE page and clicking on “meeting materials.”

Presentations by Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson

Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Update: This first presentation highlighted the 2nd quarter’s actual fund balance compared to the projected fund balance.  Unfortunately, the balance is 26.1 million less than projected.  The reasons for this difference, as explained by Monson, are two-fold: the revenue impact of the City’s “tolling bill” and increased payments to charter schools.  (More on the charter school payments under “Speakers Comments” below.) Monson reported that once the City and State release proposed budgets and revised revenue estimates, the SDP baseline budget will be updated, and either priority investments or potential cuts are added.

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Eyes on the Board of Education: March 28, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

As income inequality grows each year, we witness philanthropic institutions and foundations funding more District projects and programs.  Schools across the Commonwealth have still not recovered from the massive cuts former Governor Corbett imposed on districts. Pennsylvania still lags in funding public schools that must now rely more than ever on local real estate taxes. As corporations and the wealthy receive more tax cuts,  resulting in less government funding available for public education, the burden of funding schools falls on the shoulders of local taxpayers. All these private funders blur the lines of accountability and transparency. They are accountable to their investors–not the public.

Parent Involvement

Parent involvement continues to be an issue as the District makes decisions often without  informing parents and community members. The Mayfair School (Action Item 26) is about to receive a 14-classroom modular classroom to alleviate overcrowding. However, it appears that few if any Mayfair stakeholders were aware of this until we notified them. Outsourcing continues, whether it’s for financial matters (Action Item 7), Special Ed (Action Item 10), or counseling (Action Item 39). Once again the philanthropy/non-Profit sector steps up to fund school projects (Action Items 21 & 23). Good people may be doing good things for others, but shouldn’t we have a tax base that covers adequate school funding with everyone paying their fair share of taxes?

Public Notification and Involvement an Ongoing Problem

As we have noted in previous editions of  Eyes, the Board is failing to provide printed copies to the public of items to be acted upon at both Action and Committee meetings. Under the guise of going green, no paper copies of Action Items are available for the public at Action Meetings. Three binders with print copies of the Action Items continue to sit on a table in the rear of the auditorium with a warning not to remove–as if these are not public documents. How is the public supposed to follow the deliberation and voting on the numerous Action Items without a written guide? Until October 2018, the Board followed the SRC’s practice of distributing sufficient copies of resolutions at every meeting.  That needs to be restored. Not everyone has a laptop to follow along as Board members discuss Items they will be voting on. Reading these lengthy documents on a small cellphone screen is difficult if not impossible. How much money is really being saved at the expense of informing participants?

Agenda Problems

The Board Agenda continues to be problematic. Initially there were 40 Items, then there were 39. (We copied the original Agenda Items in case any disappeared.) The original Action Item 39 vanished. It has now been replaced with the former Action Item 40 ratifying a Contract with 12Plus. The original item read:  Action Item 39:  Contract with Project Based Learning, Inc. (Schools – Contracts).  Project Based Learning,Inc is a non-profit that  supports The Workshop School.

We understand that changes happen. The SRC actually noted next to the resolution  “Withdrawn by staff” and provided the withdrawal date. This meant that every resolution had its own number. The Board no longer follows this practice. They simply adjust the numbers without any explanation or date of change.  Board members continue to say that they want to be accountable and transparent. These changes would be a decisive move in that direction.

April Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday April 25 at 5 PM.  To register to speak, call 215 400 4010 by Wednesday April 24 at 3 or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

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APPS Urges Board to Hold Hearings on Charter Renewals

During the 17-year reign of the SRC, charter renewals have been approved without any public review.  Charters failing to meet standards in academic, financial and organizational areas were routinely renewed without any opportunity for the public to review the Charter School Office evaluations and make meaningful comments.

We have written two letters to the Board asking for them to create a new process for charter renewal, one that is open to the public and is not simply a rubber-stamp for charters that have failed to educate their students.  We have also raised the issue in our testimony in Board committee meetings.

So far, we have received no answer to either of our letters.

March 19, 2019

Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board:

We write to you concerning the numerous charter renewals that have been postponed indefinitely by the School Reform Commission and the Board over the past three years.

The District has allowed several charters to operate past their 5-year terms. In most if not all cases, this is because the charters have refused to accept the remedies for deficiencies, referred to as “conditions”, that the District has recommended.  The Board should discontinue the SRC’s practice of allowing charter operators to use their own refusal to address their schools’ deficiencies as a means of extending their 5-year terms. Several of the schools in question failed to meet academic, organizational, and financial standards.  Because of the dearth of public information on these matters, we can only assume that the District has suspended all efforts to have these operators sign new charters. Thus, the idea of a 5-year term for charters becomes meaningless.

In 2016, Universal Audenried and Universal Vare were recommended for non-renewal by the Charter Schools Office. The SRC renewed Vare last year, but Audenried’s non-renewal remains on hold for three years now.

In 2017, twenty-three charter schools were up for renewal (see list below). The SRC voted to renew eight of them at its May 1 Action Meeting. No resolutions were posted for the fifteen who had refused to sign a new charter; thus, no pubic action was taken on them.

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Ears on the Board of Education: February 28, 2019

by Diane Payne

This Board meeting seems to have signaled a real change in direction by those in charge of the District. All new charter applications were denied, and Dr. Hite responded to concerns brought by teachers about oppressive administrative practices.

Present

All nine members of the Board of Education were present as well as student representative Alfredo Pratico. (Student representative Julia Frank was absent.)  All meeting agendas and materials can be viewed on the SDP website and videos of previous meetings can be viewed by scrolling down on the BOE home page and clicking on Watch Previous Board Meetings.

Five members of APPS testified in defense of Public Education.  You can read APPS members’ testimony (and reports on Philly Public Education issues) on the APPS website. The room was filled to capacity; some members of the public had to sit in the lobby overflow area.

The meeting opened with a beautiful student performance by The Franklin Learning Center’s singing group The Bobtones, directed by Michelle Frank.  These performances serve as a reminder of the importance of the Arts in our schools’ curricula. The Arts should never be considered an “extra.”

Committee Reports

Reports from the Student Achievement (S.A.) and Finance and Facilities (F&F) committees were presented by Co-chairs Chris McGinley (S.A.) and Lee Huang (F&F).  (See APPS’ reports of these committee meetings on our website.) Community Engagement Committee Co-chair Mallory Fix Lopez reported that the announcement on those selected (of 123 applicants) for the Parent Advisory Committee would be made next Thursday, March 7th.  She also reported that the next Community Engagement meeting will be held at the Blackwell Community Center in West Philadelphia on March 21st. Information and a request for RSVP (not mandatory, just for planning purposes for food and childcare) can be found on the Board website.  Policy Committee Co-chair Maria McColgan reported that nine policies have been on the agenda for review and will be voted on at the March Board Action Meeting: Policies 111, 123.3, 211, 217, 304, 617, 709, 804, and 805.

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