Eyes on the Board of Education: April 30, 2020

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  As we stated in our March 24 letter to the Board,  “We have also asked that all non-essential Items be withdrawn for now, and that each Item Description include a sentence explaining why it is essential and must be voted on this month.“

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