The COV-19 virus has turned our lives upside down. Class and race matter little to this germ, but we must work to get resources to those who most need them in the face of this potentially fatal disease. The District struggles to ensure that students are fed while schools are closed, for how long no one knows. Support from every level of government is crucial as we face a looming economic and social upheaval. The Philadelphia Board of Education is a governmental body that controls a $3.2 billion budget and whose decisions affect the lives and futures of thousands of children.
APPS members expect the Board of Education to inform its constituents of its actions and intentions. Schools will need resources when they open, but the contracts and funding for those resources have to be approved months in advance. Thus the Board will have to vote on essential items now or in the near future. When it does, the public must be able to observe and participate. That participation will take a different form, but the Board must make the best effort to make sure the public can be present, even if virtually. APPS has made a number of suggestions to the Board about how to have the public interact at its March 26 Action Meeting. And as steadfast observers and participants in all meetings and hearings held by the Board of Education, APPS has reviewed the current Board Agenda for the upcoming Action meeting on Thursday March 26.
Due to the governor’s restrictions on public gatherings, the public will not be present at the March 26 Action Meeting. The Board has indicated that it is considering holding some type of online meeting. Because of the limited nature of virtual meetings, the Board should only vote on essential items. All other business should be tabled until the community can observe and comment in person. The current Item Summary includes a number of items that do not require immediate action by the Board.
We understand that the Board is in the process of figuring out how to hold the meeting. Every Item on the agenda must include, along with the usual description, an explanation of why the Item must be voted on now and cannot be tabled. One example is Item 31, Contract with Various Vendors for Professional Learning Support $2,000,000. This proposed contract with Schoolkit was tabled at the February Action meeting, with the promise of further discussion at the March Student Achievement and Support Committee meeting, now cancelled. This non-essential contract should be withdrawn until the public can weigh in at a fully public meeting.
Representative governments cannot, and should not, come to a halt, even in times of crisis. The Board needs to arrange a way for the public to not only view the meeting but present testimony as well. We have made these suggestions to the Board:
- Only essential Items voted on this month. All other Items tabled.
- Take questions via email or twitter during the livestreamed meeting. If the questions pertains to a specific Item, read the question or comment just prior to the meeting so that Board members can answer before voting.
- Have staff members read the testimony of public participants. Testimony sent in to the Board should be considered oral testimony, not written testimony. Testimony of Items should be read before the Board commences voting.
- The Board should inform the public of its decisions and actions by posting a banner on the homepage of the District website.
APPS members look forward to attending and participating in this Thursday’s meeting.