by Diane Payne
March 21, 2018
This was a regularly scheduled action meeting, and all four of the remaining commissioners were present. Commissioner Farah Jimenez resigned unexpectedly after last month’s meeting. In her resignation letter to Governor Wolf, which gave no reason for her resignation, Jimenez said that “..it has been a gift to be in service to the students of Philadelphia.”
Ms. Jimenez secured the position of President and CEO of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) in 2016. Prior to Jimenez’s appointment, PEF meetings were open to the public. However, slightly more than a year after assuming this role, Ms. Jimenez barred three regular attenders of PEF Compact meetings, including a public school parent, even though they had tickets (which were not required prior to Jimenez’s appointment). Admittance to these meeting are now guaranteed only to regular financial contributors of PEF, even though their purpose is to discuss public education; others can take their chances on a waiting list. APPS has questioned, as have members of City Council, the potential conflict of interest in serving as an SRC Commissioner while leading PEF.
Jimenez has been a consistent and vocal supporter of charter schools. No matter the drain of resources it caused to existing public schools, no matter the harm to remaining public school students, and no matter the lack of demonstrable success of charter schools. Charter expansion at any cost is a big part of the legacy of Commissioner Jimenez.
Ten members of APPS were present for this meeting; four members and others testified on behalf of public education.
A Matter of Integrity
Earlier this month, Commissioner Bill Green threw has hat into the political ring by announcing that he would challenge U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle in the Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District.
The Pennsylvania School Code states that “no commission member may, while in the service of the School Reform Commission, seek or hold a position as any other public official within this commonwealth.” Governor Wolf publicly stated that Mr. Green cannot legally run for office while serving on the SRC.
Green claims that the School Code doesn’t apply to him or the position of U.S. Representative. Hence the question of a civics lesson for Mr. Green. Adding to this unfathomable position is the public support from SDP attorney Miles Shore who told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that “the definition of ‘public official’ in the Ethics Act does not include any federal positions.” What Shore does not say is that the Ethics Act is completely irrelevant here. The PA School Code is the applicable law. The General Counsel for the SDP is Lynn Rauch. Miles Shore is the Deputy General Counsel. Why is Miles Shore making public statements on behalf of Mr. Green?
At this meeting, APPS’ co-founder Lisa Haver addressed this issue in her testimony:
My questions, which I ask Chair Wilkerson to answer at the end of my three minutes, are:
- Is one of the duties of the district’s General Counsel to advise an SRC commissioner on how to skirt the law in order to advance his own political career?
- Is the opinion communicated by Mr. Shore to the media the official position of the district and the SRC?
- If so, will the SRC vote tonight, in a resolution from the floor—that this opinion, that Commissioner Green can both serve on the SRC and run for office—is the official position of the district and the SRC?
- If it is not, will the SRC support the Governor’s position that Commissioner Green is in violation of the School Code by not resigning?
Chair Wilkerson, after a brief sidebar with General Counsel Rauch, stated there would be no statement at this time but that a public statement would be provided the next day (March 16th). Although APPS emailed Ms. Wilkerson the next morning asking for a copy of the opinion, no response was sent.
District Needs More Student Services, Not Less
Furness High School student Shavya Subba and Furness teacher Tiffany Lorch testified in support of the position of Bilingual Counselor Assistant (BCA). 53% of Furness’s students require ESOL services. Lorch noted that next year’s budget calls for drastic cuts in the number of BCAs. She spoke about the crucial role these women and men play in aiding our immigrant population as they strive for academic success. Lorch noted the paltry salary BCAs receive and the fact that they do not have access to computer-based information for the students they serve. At the conclusion of the public speakers,
Dr. Hite addressed Lorch’s comments by stating that although he agreed that BCAs should have access to information, much of what Lorch described was not the official role of BCAs. In other words, she was describing things not in their job description. Lorch disputed Hite’s interpretation and noted after the meeting that everything she stated was about translation–which is in fact their job!
Further, at the end of his comments to Lorch (which did not afford her a public response), Hite neither answered her question about cutting the positions nor offered a solution to the lack of access they have to student information. He justified the paltry salary as a contractual agreement with the PFT for a high school graduate position. If every teacher or school professional stuck to his/her official duties, the district would grind to a halt. Almost every district employee goes above and beyond to help our students. Dr. Hite should be more thoughtful about suggesting that people simply stick to the narrow confines of their job descriptions.
In these waning months of the state-imposed School Reform Commission, they continue to spend millions on questionable programs.
Resolution A-24 approved contracts totalling $49 million to several vendors to provide Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). According to information given during the staff presentation: “The acronym ERP stands for enterprise resource planning. It refers to the systems and software packages used by organizations to manage day-to-day business activities, such as accounting, procurement, human resources, payroll, on-boarding, and project management.” One of the approved vendors is a company called Oracle. City and State PA published a story on the day of the SRC meeting in which SDP CFO Uri Monson justified contracting with Oracle:
While Monson acknowledged that the optics of a “lame duck” SRC signing off on a major contract were not ideal, it was imperative to advance the long-delayed upgrade. He said there had been three prior attempts at similar upgrades â€“ all of which failed â€“ and asserted that another delay would push the process back another 15 months or disrupt the proposed contract altogether.
Oracle has botched work and had questionable outcomes in both Philadelphia and other cities. A former Oracle VP told City and State : “If I were a Philly resident I would be worried about this contract … whenever I see that someone [is] buying multiple Oracle products under one agreement, that customer is binding themselves to Oracle payments virtually in perpetuity, whether or not their usage of Oracle products increases or decreases…”
The language of the resolution itself was confusing and seemed to contradict some information in Monson’s presentation. The resolution listed six companies: Cherry Road Technologies Inc; Oracle; ADP, LLC; Wonderware Inc. (dba CORE Business Technologies); Emphasis Software; Information & Computing Services, Inc; and TransAmerica Training Management, Inc. However, the powerpoint shared at the meeting noted, “The Steering Committee for the RFP review unanimously recommended that SDP contract with Cherry Road Technologies to serve as the implementer of a new, Cloud based, Oracle ERP Solution.” Thus, it remains unclear who exactly is receiving this money.
Monson noted a lengthy and involved vetting process. However, there was no mention of how any serious concerns would be handled in either the resolution or the presentation. Considering that this is a $50 million expenditure, this lack of public oversight is a concern to district stakeholders and city taxpayers.
Resolution A-29 for $1,333,000 to The New Teacher Project (TNTP) appeared on the resolution list one week prior to the meeting. The SRC agreed to post resolutions two weeks prior to meetings in accordance with the Commonwealth Court Settlement of the APPS Sunshine Violation lawsuit. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for resolutions to show up at any time in spite of this agreement.
TNTP is an organization which lacks credibility as it was formed by corporate reformers, not educators. Only a district which values disruption, privatization, and corporate interests would spend millions on training principals and teachers in this manner. It is not sound pedagogy and it is not sound use of taxpayer money.
Thirty-nine resolutions were voted on in just three blocks. The SRC spent $180,164,794 and accepted $3,088,175 in grants and donations at this meeting.
The next SRC meeting is a budget meeting on March 22, 2018 at 4:30.
In April, a budget meeting is scheduled for April 19, and an additional budget meeting will follow on April 26.
To speak at any SRC meeting, call the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. on the day before the meeting at which you wish to speak. You have 3 minutes to speak and timing your remarks is important because they will turn your mic off at the end of 3 minutes.