by Lynda Rubin
The recently amended Philadelphia Home Rule Charter mandates that the Board of Education hold at least two public hearings each school year for the sole purpose of giving parents, students, teachers, and community members the right and opportunity to address the Board with concerns, suggestions, complaints and questions. One purpose of making these hearings part of the City Charter was to underline that the Board is a public body that needs to engage with and be responsive to the public will. The Board may not always agree with members of the public, but they do have to consider the wishes of the people as they make decisions about spending tax dollars and formulating educational policy. The city’s populace successfully fought to have the School Reform Commission replaced with a Board precisely because the SRC ignored the people’s interests and inclusion in the process of running public schools for our city’s children. That this Board is appointed by the mayor and not elected by voters in no way diminishes the fact that its members are expected to be working on behalf of the public–that is, their constituents.
In light of that, it is inexplicable that the Board did not publicized this meeting commensurate with its importance, resulting in a disappointingly under-attended meeting. Board members were informed by staff that robo-calls were made to parents, and that notice was posted on the District’s website. But this notice required a more descriptive and inviting name than the two-word “Public Hearing” in a small box in the Board calendar, which requires several page clicks to find. As community activist Mama Gail Clouden pointed out in her testimony, students’ home and cell phone numbers are changed too often to be a reliable means of contact. At the very least, a banner with the meeting information should have been prominently placed on the Home Page of the District’s website where anyone who goes to the website for any reason will see it. The Board should explore such ideas as using PSAs (Public Service Announcements) on TV and radio stations which are often provided free as a service to public schools.