by Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin
The Board of Education held two consecutive remote meetings: the Lump Sum Budget Presentation and a joint meeting of the Finance and Facilities Committee and the Student Achievement and Support Committee. All members of the Board attended online; Dr. Hite attended the Budget hearing. [The video of the meetings can be viewed from the Board’s homepage; the budget power-point can be accessed by visiting the “meeting materials” page.]
Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson provided updated budget projections for FY 2020/21. Both President Wilkerson and Dr. Hite urged members of the public to advocate for continued adequate funding from the state. The City’s contribution to the District remains intact for now. Student Representative Doha Ibrahim read prepared remarks on how the Covid-19 has affected the District’s students, seniors in particular. Her remarks served as a reminder of the human impact behind the budget data.
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by Karel Kilimnik
During this difficult time, when it seems like the earth has opened up under our feet, the Board must be especially mindful of its leadership roles as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget. In times of crisis, there is often pressure to bypass rules in the name of “flexibility”. While some expediency may be called for, more important is maintaining democratic structures and public trust. Last month, the Board approved a last-minute Item that ceded some of its own powers to Superintendent Hite, granting him the authority to spend up to $15 million on contracts needed to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The Item appears on the April 30 agenda for renewal. Kudos to Dr. Hite for instructing Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt to recommend, at the April 23 joint committee meeting, that the Board not renew. APPS stated its strong objection to this action, and we support its elimination.
The ongoing economic collapse portends serious budget problems for the District. Revenues from the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), Rideshare tax, liquor-by-the-drink tax, and others will take a dive. For many, memories of the 2013-14 Doomsday Budget linger. The School Reform Commission approved a budget that temporarily eliminated secretaries, assistant principals, counselors, certified librarians, extra-curricular activities including sports, most support staff, music and art, and new books.
Dr. Hite and the Board have urged the public to contact state representatives and Governor Wolf to ensure that the state education budget remains intact; if not, the federal government would lend some assistance but would not provide the same level of funding. The District has put a freeze on hiring central office staff, and Dr. Hite has also stated that his Administration is “reviewing and prioritizing all Action Items and contracts”. That review should include all unnecessary contracts including those for outsourced professional development from companies such as TFA, Jounce and others. Given the impending budget crisis, no charter school amendments for increased enrollment should be approved. This month’s agenda includes two: Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages and Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School. As we stated in our March 24 letter to the Board, “We have also asked that all non-essential Items be withdrawn for now, and that each Item Description include a sentence explaining why it is essential and must be voted on this month.“
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The following commentary was written by APPS member Cheri Micheau and published by The Notebook on April 15, 2020.
During the coronavirus crisis, staff and administration in the Philadelphia School District have been understandably concerned about equitable access to online/virtual instruction for all students, including those with special needs. I am sure that the public applauds its plan, in this rapidly changing and unpredictable situation, to buy and distribute Chromebooks, work with service providers to ensure that all students have internet connections, and produce educational packets and online resources.
Instructional approaches will inevitably evolve, and the outbreak provides an opportunity to consider how, and how well, the District has been addressing the learning needs of English learners (ELs) and how it will meet their instructional requirements online. This attention could pay off in more appropriate instructional approaches and policies, both now and in the long term.
I have long advocated, from both inside and outside the District, for high-quality, thoughtful English learner education. It has been clear to me that the needs of English learners have been poorly understood and only superficially addressed by the District for decades.
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