by Karel Kilimnik
May 10, 2017
Spring is showering SRC meetings upon us: there are two meetings each month from March until June. We continue to inform supporters of public education in several ways: an overview of Resolutions to be voted on in our Eyes on the SRC, a report of these meetings in Ears on the SRC, video of testimonies from members and supporters, and a new section of Calendar Events. We appreciate any and all feedback on our writings. Please feel free to share additional information and resources or to ask questions. The next two SRC meetings for May are listed in the Calendar section. We are happy to advise those who want to testify but have never done so. We urge all who want to fight for public schools to attend and bring a sign if possible.
New SRC Policy Committee Meets—When Those Affected by Policies Cannot Attend
In March the SRC passed a resolution creating “ a policy committee that will review policies that affect students and staff”. They scheduled these meetings for 9 AM, when a when students, staff, and working parents are unable to attend. Thus, those who are responsible for implementing the policies, and those affected by them, are excluded. The first meeting of the SRC Policy Committee, Chaired by Commissioner McGinley and attended by SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Superintendent-designee Naomi Wyatt, met on April 6 in a small conference room at 440. About 80% of those present were district staff. Four APPS members attended, along with Councilwoman Helen Gym and her chief of staff. Prior to this initial meeting over 75 pages of district policies were posted Friday afternoon March 31 for public perusal. Read the APPS Ears on this Meeting for a more detailed account. If the intent was to enable the public, in particular those directly affected by these policies, to have some input, then these meetings need to be scheduled at a more convenient time.
Action Meeting Morphs into Budget Meeting
For months, the April 20 SRC meeting was posted on the district website as an Action Meeting—until a week before, when it became a “Budget Hearing”. Confusion reigned as the first people who called to sign up were told they could only speak about the budget, but those who called the following days were told they had to speak on another topic since there were already six people speaking on the budget. After the Inquirer
published a story about the misinformation given, the SRC allowed additional speakers. Unfortunately, the SRC continues to change its Speaker Policy for its own purposes; a resolution was passed on April 27 to cap the number of speakers for the next meeting.
The SRC’s lack of transparency is just one symptom of its failure to acknowledge that they are a governmental body charged with overseeing a $2.9 budget. Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson gave a five-minute presentation on that budget. During her testimony APPS member Lisa Haver pointed out that most people who are not familiar with detailed budgets, including her, do not understand where the funds come from and where they go. She suggested the SRC provide a tutorial for the public. The SRC actually took her idea seriously and asked Uri Monson to work with Lisa on this. After several conversations, Monson released, along with the budget itself, a “Budget 101” which gives the lay person a better understanding of how their money is being spent.
Showering Vendors with Contracts (While Denying Teachers One)
The steady stream of public funds to private vendors continues. The SRC approved a $1.2 million contract extension with The New Teacher Project (created by corporate reformer Michelle Rhee). APPS has created a FAQ on the various non-profits and consultants hired by the district We ask: WHAT IF the $1.2 slated for TNTP was spent to hire more staff, including more bi-lingual Counseling Assistants. The SRC Budget is not simply a reflection of whether the district has adequate funds , it is about the SRC’s priorities on how it is spent. Spending on outside vendors and outsourcing, rather than on classroom services, is not the answer to improving the district for its students.
Six district teachers gave moving testimony about the prospect of having to leave the schools and children they love because they cannot afford to work without a new contract. One teacher has already handed in his resignation as his bills continue to mount while his salary remains stagnant. Later, the SRC voted to approve $140 million in contracts to various “alternative schools”. Although there were several lengthy staff testimonials about the schools, no data was provided, such as retention rates for teachers.
SRC Conducts Business Without a Quorum
Commissioner Green left two recent meetings early, without explanation, and returned via phone just before the voting on resolutions commenced. Green’s absence means that the SRC conducted most of its business on April 27th without a quorum. This calls into question the validity of all official actions taken at that meeting.
SRC Still Blocking APPS Camera
A few months ago, SRC staff ordered APPS’ videographer to move to another location. After years of filming from a location with an unobstructed view, he now has to contend with traffic and noise. We were never given an explanation why he had to move from a place where he was blocking no one’s view or access to the front of the room.
Community Fights to Save Its School
Save Smith School has been relentless in its quest to have the shuttered Smith School (closed in 2013 along with 22 other schools) reopened as a public school instead of being converted to condos by an out-of-state developer. Members gave testimony about the lack of community input and of transparency during this process.
Note: On Monday, May 15, there will be an opportunity to hear and speak with new SRC Commissioner Chris McGinley in a more informal session. Dr McGinley is the sole commissioner with an education background that includes serving as a teacher, principal, and Superintendent of the Lower Merion School District. He is a professor of Education at Temple University. “Take Back Your Neighborhood” is a community organization founded by newly-elected State Representative Jared Solomon.
▪ Wednesday, May 10: City Council Hearings on the School District Budget, 10AM to 4 PM, Room 400, City Hall. Dr Hite, SRC members and district staff will give testimony and answer questions from Councilmembers.
▪ Monday, May 15: “Take Back Your Neighborhood” Monthly Meeting, 7 PM, Max Myers Recreation Center, 1601 Hellerman Street in NE Philadelphia. Speakers include new SRC commissioner Dr. Christopher McGinley.
Wednesday, May 17: Public testimony on school district budget. City Council Room 400, 10 AM to Noon, Room 400. Call Council President Darrell Clarke’s office at 215 686 3442 to register to speak.
▪ Thursday, May 18: SRC Action meeting, 4:30 PM, 440 North Broad Street. Call 215.400.4180 before 4 PM Wednesday May 17 to sign up to speak.
▪ Thursday, May 25: SRC Action Meeting 4:30 PM, 400 North Broad Street. Call 215.400.4180 before 4 PM Wednesday May 24 to sign up to speak.