Eyes on the Board of Education: September 19, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Years ago the garden of privatization seeds were sown, the garden well tended by corporate disruptors, and now in full bloom. The current administration, led by the Broad Academy-trained Superintendent William Hite, has been steadily outsourcing everything from school staff to special education services to support for central administration.

Crumbling and toxic buildings, along with past and future school closings, give lie to the District’s stated goal of having  “a great school close to where children live”. Not long ago children walked to their neighborhood school. Teachers spent their career teaching in one or two schools. That has all changed now as the winds of corporate reform continue to blow through the District.

Corporate education supporters hold Board and CEO positions at many of the vendors who are offered contracts before the Board this month.  Attuned Education Partners (Item 7) is rife with officials from TFA,  Broad Academy, Relay GSE, and McKinsey & Company. The Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education is on the Board of  Relay GSE Board.

Item 6-Amendments to Contracts with ACS Consultants, EBS Healthcare, and Progressus Therapy – Special Education Teachers diverts more taxpayer money into the pockets of outside vendors as the District continues to struggle to recruit and retain teachers.

An honest effort toward teacher retention includes examining working conditions. Teachers have been held accountable for the failures of No Child Left Behind and the testing culture that permeates school systems. Additional stressors here include incompetent school leadership and continual turmoil inflicted by the Acceleration Network and Priority Schools turnovers. Before the corporate “dump the losers” mentality took hold,  it was not uncommon for teachers to spend their professional life in one or two schools. That is true stability.

Items 41 through 47 (Mastery Charter School Renewals) present a list of seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools, most of whose new contracts have lingered unsigned for years. The Charter Schools Office (CSO)  now recommends what amounts to retroactive renewals–without calling them that–some as far back as 2016. Although 5 of these Renaissance schools were recommended for 5-year Renewals with Conditions by the CSO when they first came up for a vote, the conditions have now been disappeared by the CSO.  The renewals specify that they “ do not include any school-specific conditions”. What was removed that Mastery did not want to implement? The public was never told what the conditions were, so we have no way to know what was rejected by this charter operator. The District conducts all charter renewal agreements in secret.  The SRC treats charter schools as clients, not as public schools, and the Board is continuing that practice. Where is that data proving the success of the Renaissance Charter School Program in ensuring “that all students have a great school close to where they live”? The District website states:  “A Renaissance Charter School is a neighborhood school that is operated as a public charter school and can only enroll students from the neighborhood, also known as a catchment zone.” But Councilmember Helen Gym’s report provides data showing a rise in out-of-catchment students at several Renaissance charter schools.

Allowing negotiations between charter management companies and the District to be conducted behind closed doors, and allowing Charter operators to refuse to correct their academic and financial deficiencies, simply continues the SRC practice of providing cover for charter operators at the cost of actual public schools.  Based on the District’s 2019 Budget Vendor List, the projected cost for these seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools over their five-year contract is $$888, 494, 511. 

Charters grow like weeds as they regularly apply for amendments to increase school enrollment (Items 39 & 40 KIPP Charter School ). Inadequate public information is provided for these expensive Items; in fact, there is not even a cost posted.  The SRC actually provided far more details than the skimpy descriptions given by the Board. One of the four Board’s stated priorities is “Transparency”. Failing to provide adequate descriptions of what is being voted on does nothing to support that commitment.

What If…

….the Board refused to approve any more enrollment changes for charters until district-run schools were all housed in healthy buildings? 

October Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday October 17, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday October 16, or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

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Student Achievement and Support Committee Report: September 5, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

The Committee conducted its first meeting of the new school year continuing some unfortunate practices from last year: failing to provide all necessary materials for those in attendance prior to the meeting, specifically the full content of the Action Items on the agenda and the staff presentations.  Although the agenda and some very brief descriptions were posted before Thursday, it was not until just a few hours before the meeting that the titles of Action Items 39 through 47, renewals of 9 charter schools (to be reported on below), were added to the Agenda.

Parents, teachers, students and community members need to know what will be discussed before the meeting if they are to make informed comments and questions.  Each time APPS raises that issue about any Board meetings we are told that the public can submit written testimony online. True, but submitted written testimony after the fact is NOT ever communicated to the public and is a very different experience than being able to face the Board members themselves and communicate concerns to those in the audience and any reporters who may be present.  We hope the Board of Education moves into its second year by taking seriously the right of the public to be given timely notification of items and be able to observe, attend and comment on any School District issue. (Access the updated agenda and materials here and clicking on the icons to the right of  9/5/19 – School Student Achievement and Support Committee. The power-point presentations for the following presentations were added for public view to the link above after the meeting.)

Present at the first Student Achievement and Support Committee of the 2019-2020 school year  were Co-Chairs Chris McGinley and Angela McGiver, Committee members Julia Danzy and Mallory Fix Lopez. Maria McColgan was absent.  Board President Joyce Wilkerson stopped in briefly to observe.  Click here to view the full report.

Finance and Facilities Committee: September 12, 2019

by Lisa Haver

Two positive developments: the acoustics were much better and the Committee members were very responsive to the public speakers.

Present: when the meeting convened at 10 AM, Co-chairs Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang. Joyce Wilkerson arrived at 10:13; Wayne Walker attended via phone. Angela McIver, Chris McGinley and Julia Danzy arrived later and sat at the head table.   The attendance of other Board members is appreciated, but the Co-chairs should specify who actually serves on the Committee.

The Agenda listed 22 Action Items for possible discussion before the September 19 Action Meeting. No content was included, not even the amount of the contract or grant.  The Committee did address the need to have Items on the Committee agenda at least one week before the Action Meetings. (I reminded the Committee before my testimony that the District, in its legal settlement with APPS on Sunshine Act violations, agreed to post all Action Items at least 2 weeks prior to the Action Meeting.)

Minutes of the June 13 2019 Committee meeting were approved by the Co-chairs.

Click here to read the rest of the report