Board of Education First Year Report Card: 2018/2019

Community Engagement – C – (Reinforce)

Advisory Boards and committees with regular meetings are positive improvements.  However, the Board falls short in the actual work of community engagement as seen in the number of times many community members have spoken up only to have problems, suggestions, solutions, and offers of collaboration fall by the wayside.

How to Improve

Schedule meetings in the evenings, and at multiple locations across the city that are accessible by SEPTA.  Provide free child care during meetings to support parent attendance.
Create a District-wide event calendar to ensure BOE  events don’t conflict with District events. Ask schools to inform families on how to use and access this calendar.
Provide better access to district presentation and information about Action Items with plenty of time for public engagement before voting.
There should be a clear and transparent format for answering questions and/or addressing problems brought before you in public testimony.  For example, questions and answers should be documented and provided online and at the next meeting.

Student Engagement – C+ – (Reinforce)

The addition of non-voting student representatives is a step towards giving voice and space to students.  Student performances and the continued practice of hearing student speakers first adds to their inclusion.  Engaging with students after they speak encourages participation.

How to Improve

Establish a student panel to dig deeper into issues brought before the Board creating a mechanism for students to have decision-making power on issues that directly impact them.
Find a way to inform the public as to how issues that have been brought before the Board have been addressed and the outcome of those actions.

Website Communication – D+ (Watch)

While made with good intentions, the website overhaul made access to information more difficult.

How to Improve

Publicly commit to finding deficiencies and problems, including a timeline and process for improvement.
Invite diverse groups of the public to sit down with Board Staff to share concerns and  offer examples of website navigation problems.
Spend more time and energy to ensure information is complete and consistent across District spaces.
Post complete meeting & hearing information. Post complete staff directories to ensure SDP accessibility.
Update changing information promptly and highlight date changes via website banners.

Meeting Materials – F – (Intervene)

The Board’s performance in this area is woefully inadequate as they have stopped providing copies of Action Items’ complete information at the meetings, in the name of “going green.”  The Board oversees a 4.2-billion-dollar budget yet the public is told to access the Action Items on their smartphones. This makes following dozens of Action Items impossible, it also presumes that all participants  have access to smartphones or laptops. This creates a significant barrier to public participation and excludes parents, students, educators, and community members who do not have the required technology.

How to Improve

Provide the public with complete Action Item information on paper documents as well as the means to recycle those documents after the meetings.
Give each item on the agenda a permanent number that matches the description across all web and printed formats. That number will not be changed or adjusted.
Include notes and dates for any items that are added or removed.
Ensure that action items are added within two weeks of Action Meeting.  Only in the most unanticipated and important occasions add items after the two week date including an explanation for the late addition.
Make materials on the topics discussed at Committee meetings available to the public.

Charter School Accountability – D – (Watch)

The Board voted against the three new and extremely flawed charter school applications it received.  In the past, flawed applications or past poor performance never stopped the SRC from approving schools.  This is a move in the right direction. If this Board is to distinguish itself from the state imposed and controlled SRC, they need to demand charter school accountability and transparency.  This should include new applications AND all charter school areas of operation.

How to Improve

Charter schools should be required to meet “Reinforce” or “Model” in all three categories to be eligible for charter renewals and/or enrollment increases.
Charter school requests for location changes that cause  disruption and turmoil and fail to adequately engage the communities impacted should stop immediately.
The “quasi-judicial” labeling of charter school business must stop.  Charter schools claim to be public, therefore charter school business must be conducted in public.
The complete text of charter school Action Items should be included with all other Action Item information 2 weeks before the meeting and at the time of Board voting.  Not including the full text is a flagrantly illegal circumvention of the Sunshine Act.  Adding text after the meeting is a falsification of the public record.
The salary information of all public-school employees and administrators is publicly available.  This information should be publicly available for all charter school employees as well.

Spending Priorities – F – (Intervene)

Unfortunately, the spending priorities of this Board are no different than the State imposed SRC.  Millions of dollars are spent on outsourcing while furthering the reach of corporate reform. Wealthy foundations and  non-profits continue to have a broad impact on where and how funds are spent with no public input. Toxic schools are only now receiving funding attention thanks to bold Inquirer reporting, Toxic City*Sick Schools.  Public testimony on spending priorities continues to go unaddressed and ignored.

How to Improve

Create a mission statement that commits to building in-house District expertise, union jobs, and public scrutiny in SDP spending.  Align spending with Anchor Goals AND mission statement. Engage diverse stakeholders in creating the mission statement. The Board should take a leadership role to ensure that remediation of current toxic conditions in our schools is immediately addressed as a central priority.