Last week APPS co-founders Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik sent two letters to the Board of Education concerning the Board’s failure to follow the PA Sunshine Act at the October 18, 2018 Meeting. The texts of the letters are below.
Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools
October 25, 2018
Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,
We are writing to inform you of the Board’s failure to follow the PA Sunshine Act at the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.
At last week’s Board Action Meeting, the Board voted on Action Item 4: Personnel Terminations. As Lisa Haver told the Board just prior to the vote, the Item had not been posted with adequate notice and the public was given no opportunity to comment on it before passage. In addition, crucial information was missing from the Item as posted by the Board on both the website and on the hard copy. Those are violations of both the PA Sunshine Act and the District settlement with APPS resulting from our 2015 legal complaint about the District’s pattern of violations of the Sunshine Act. The response to Ms. Haver, from General Counsel Lynn Rauch, was that the Action Item was a personnel matter. While the Sunshine Act allows governmental bodies the right to discuss personnel matters in Executive Session, it gives no exceptions about public votes on those matters.
The list of new hires and terminations posted prior to the meeting did not list any terminations. Nor were any terminations listed on the hard copy available at the Action Meeting. On Friday, the attachment on the website was changed and listed the names of those terminated. This constitutes a falsification of the public record.
On Friday, the Action Item was listed on the website as “updated 10/18/2018”, and a link to an attachment was added. That attachment listed the names of those terminated. In addition, the attachment was written as an Action Item with full content, which was not distributed as part of the Action Item Summary at the meeting, nor was it read into the record in full.
The attachment states:
October 18, 2018
RESOLVED, by the Board of Education that the employment of the following individuals is terminated effective October 18 2018 as recommended by the Superintendent:
TAYLOR, ABDUL J General Cleaner WILLIAMS, ANTHONY Custodial Assistant
and be it
RESOLVED, that Cindy Taylor be dismissed from her employment by the School District of Philadelphia as a Food Service Assistant, effective immediately, and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are adopted as the reasons of this decision, and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that this decision was made in accordance with the Pennsylvania School Code of 1949, as amended, following an independent review of the record by the individual members of the Board of Education
and be it
RESOLVED, that Richard S. White be dismissed from his employment by the School District of Philadelphia as a Classroom Assistant, effective immediately; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are adopted as the reasons for this decision, and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that this decision was made in accordance with the Pennsylvania School Code of 1949, as amended, following an independent review of the record by the individual members of the Board of Education.
The Board did not vote on this Action Item at the public meeting on October 18. Thus, it was taken in secret. Section 713 of the PA Sunshine Act states that business transacted at an unauthorized meeting can be challenged and found to be void.
The Board can take steps to rectify this matter by voting on the Item in its entirety at its November Action Meeting.
Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools
October 25, 2018
Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board of Education,
We are writing to you to inform of the Board’s failure to follow the PA Sunshine Act at the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.
At the October 18 Action Meeting, the Board failed to provide adequate copies of the Action Item Summary to be voted on at the meeting as it had at the August and September meetings. There were copies of the Agenda and the Speakers List on the table outside the auditorium, but no copies of the Action Item Summary, which included attachments. There were three binders with the Action Items just inside the door, but no notification on the outside table that these materials were available. No mention of the location of the Action Item Summaries was made by the Board or the General Counsel. In any case, three copies for a meeting in which over 150 members of the public attended is obviously not adequate. The PA Sunshine Act requires the Board to act in public. If the public is not able to see the text of what is being voted on when it is being voted on, then the Board is actually voting on the Items in secret.
The Board has made a commitment to public engagement and transparency. The public cannot be engaged if those in attendance have no way to know what the Board is discussing or voting on. In future Action Meetings and Committee meetings, the Board must make available adequate copies of the Items and Attachments under consideration. The only alternative would be to have the Board read every item verbatim before each vote.
As you are aware, APPS members worked with former General Counsel Michael Davis to come to an agreement which acknowledged the public’s right to comment meaningfully on resolutions before the SRC, now Action Items before the Board. That right is embodied by the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, which codifies the public’s right to participate meaningfully in the governance and decision-making of the District by speaking to the Board before it votes on any Item. Our agreement requires that the Board post full texts of all resolutions at least two weeks prior to any vote on any Item. Any Item not posted at that time is subject to the Walk-on Item provisions of our agreement. In no event should any Item be voted upon without prior notice of the full resolution.
In addition, we are disappointed to see the Board engaging in the same block voting of items that the SRC did. When members of the public are trying to follow along, it is not possible to look at 15 to 20 items at once. If there is going to be block voting, there should be no more than 5 Items voted on at once. In addition, block voting makes it very difficult to follow which Items some Board members are abstaining from. Any Item that has any Board member abstaining should be voted on separately, and the name and number of the Item should be read aloud.