by Lisa Haver
The Philadelphia Board of Education’s first action at its January 26, 2023 action meeting was to exalt itself. The second was to curb its own power.
The meeting opened with a multi-part ceremony in honor of “Board Appreciation Month”. District administration staffers presented student artwork made for the occasion. Students from several schools appeared on the large screen in the front of the auditorium, literally singing the board’s praises. Finally, a member of Superintendent Tony Watlington’s cabinet read a statement expressing the administration’s appreciation for the board’s dedication and great work.
Ears on the Board Of Education: January 26, 2023
by Diane Payne
Before the vote on the three Charter School renewals appearing on this agenda, President Streater made a statement about his concerns surrounding the interrelatedness of Charter School Boards, Charter Management Operators, and attorneys. He made clear that overlapping Boards and attorneys do not provide the adequate protection needed to be good stewards of public funds. This is one of many aspects of charter operations that are never publicly discussed except by APPS. It is almost impossible to follow the money funneled into charter schools and know who is benefitting from public funds and whose pockets are being filled with the many interconnected groups. (More detail on this will appear in the voting section.)
New Charter Applications Hearing: December 20, 2022
by Lynda Rubin
Four charter applicants, all of whom are currently operating charter schools that have failed to meet academic and other standards, have applied to the School District of Philadelphia to operate more. The opening hearing is a pro-forma “public” event in which charter representatives are each given 15 minutes to explain the mission of their proposed schools, with the district providing technical support for the on-screen presentations. Members of the public, on the other hand, are given only two minutes each to state their positions for or against the creation of new charter schools. The Board of Education seems to have gone out of its way to exclude the public from this hearing. They posted the legally required notice, in very small print, in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but they posted no notice on the district’s website in any banner on the board’s page nor the charter schools page. APPS members and others with previous knowledge of this process hunted through the website, finally locating a small notice in the board’s calendar. Despite the fact that all board meetings have been held in person for over a year, and that all district schools and offices are open, the board is holding all charter hearings via zoom. Why? In-person meetings have always been considered more informative, since presenters to a live audience are more engaging for all. They also provide an opportunity for people on both sides of the issue to organize and bring a unified message, as members of the Kensington Health Sciences Academy did in 2019. Their actions garnered community support and media attention. When the Board decides arbitrarily not to have fully public hearings, they are using yet another means to impose their speaker suppression policies. Our December 15 letter to the Board asked for fully public hearings: “Consideration for charter applicants and operators should not take precedence over the rights of the community to be fully present and to express their support or opposition to new charter applications as both individuals and organizations.” The Board has not replied.
Ears on the Board of Education: December 15, 2022
by Diane Payne
Students, educators, parents and community members who attended this action meeting waited in vain for the Board to discuss solutions for problems that had been in the news in the past few weeks: unsafe conditions at district schools, in particular Dobbins High school. Neither Board President Wilkerson nor Superintendent Tony Watlington mentioned the developing crisis. The Board stayed silent on the Dobbins crisis at its November 17 meeting, even after a Philadelphia Inquirerstory published just the day before. A December 9 Inquirer article quoted several district teachers about the administration’s failure to keep them and their students safe. Why won’t Board members and the superintendent discuss these crises at public meetings?
This meeting saw a change in Board leadership, with Reginald Streater taking the reins as Board President. In addition, Deputy Superintendent Uri Monson, the district’s CFO for years, has been tapped by PA Governor-elect Josh Shapiro to serve as his Budget Director; this was his last Board meeting. Watlington has increased central administration staff to address “customer service” (a term steeped in a corporate, product-oriented mentality rather than public service). Maybe the Board and Watlington could begin to address improved communication with a “no-cost” effort to publicly address concerns like those mentioned here as a first step to engagement and transparency.