Board of Education Policy Committee Meeting: October 11, 2018

By Karel Kilimnik

Policy Committee Meeting Convenes for First Time

Policy  Committee Chair Wayne Walker called the meeting to order. Also present were Committee members Julia Danzy, Lee Huang, and Chris McGinley. Board members (but not Policy Committee members) Mallory Fix Lopez, Angela Mc Iver, and Leticia Egea-Hinton sat with members of the public attending this first  BOE Policy Committee Meeting. District staff in attendance included Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt, serving as liaison to Superintendent Hite; Chief of Schools Shawn Bird; Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson; General Counsel Lynn Rauch; and Chief of Student Support Services Karyn Lynch.

The ten policies under consideration at this meeting were:

  • 111: Lesson Plans
  • 126 Class Size
  • 230 Public Performance by Students
  • 232 Student Voice
  • 331 Expense Reimbursement
  • 620 Fund Balance
  • 703 School Cleanliness and Classroom Management
  • 719 Art Collections
  • 813 Other Insurance
  • 828 Suspected Financial Misconduct and Dishonesty

Walker stated that the Policy Committee will provide the public with a deeper understanding of District Policies as the Committee will review and change policies as needed. The meetings will provide an opportunity for the public to comment and ask questions.  Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt added that this Committee Meeting was an opportunity for the District to receive input on policies. These statements may have been sincere, but the fact is that no one other than the Committee and District staff had access to the policies under consideration, as pointed out by Lisa Haver in her testimony. How can the public participate when only those in charge know what is going on? A meeting is considered “public” under the PA Sunshine Act only when the public has notice of what the governmental body is discussing and voting on. In addition, no Speakers List was distributed, despite requests from APPS members and reporters at previous Committee meetings.

Chief Operations Officer Danielle Floyd, and Director of Operations Matt Melady spoke on Action Item # 703 School Cleanliness and Classroom Management. Melady reported that their department is engaged in an effort to bring together principals and building engineers as the District recognizes that “clean spaces enhance academic progress”. Of course, teachers have said this for years. The idea is to release principals from having sole responsibility by having Building Engineers conduct a daily evaluation of the building. For buildings found deficient an “action plan” will be developed including follow up visits from the Office of Operations.  Floyd and Melady proudly touted their hiring of 45 new employees since June. The Operations Department has partnered with the Office of Talent to fill vacancies, the number of which was not specified. They also reported that the District was prepared to raise the wage for cleaners from $9.81 to $13.32 an hour in the next contract. Floyd admitted that the very low salary has been an impediment to hiring enough cleaning staff. As we noted in the October 18 Eyes on the Board the District “ In 2012, members of the custodians’ union 32BJ of  SEIU, including bus drivers, maintenance workers, cleaners, building engineers, and bus attendants agreed to concessions worth $100 million in order to help close the District’s budget deficit. They had little choice as the Hite administration was threatening to lay off all 32BJ members and outsource their jobs. Many of these union members are parents of District students struggling to support their families with wages that took a significant nosedive with this contractual agreement.”  The Hite administration seems to have figured out that onerous wage rollbacks are not inducements for hiring staff.  The question should be raised at the next meeting: Why is the District not paying employees a minimum of $ 15/hour? This  Policy is listed as an Action Item for the October 18 Board meeting.

District Art , Past and Future

A presentation on the history of District Art collections ensued as Policy 719 Art Collections was reviewed. In question are over 1000 pieces of art, including frescoes, paintings, murals, sculptures, and prints from the early 19th century to the present. Some had been displayed in the former District headquarters at 21st and the Parkway, but many came from District schools. In 2003 artwork disappeared from school hallways and offices over the Christmas break. About 72 paintings were taken from Wilson Middle School, which had built up an impressive collection over the decades. This mass confiscation, conducted without notification of school principals, was carried out by then-CEO Paul Vallas, who described it as an “inventory”. The SRC came close to selling all of the art, which was placed in storage in 2012, but after the testimony of a former Wilson teacher and administrator, the SRC voted not to sell. A District Art Advisory Committee reached out to local art galleries in 2013 for possible exhibits, resulting in the 2017 Michener Museum show.

Chris McGinley stated that he wants to amend the policy being proposed (not available at the meeting and still not posted on the BOE website) that artwork be returned to schools. He recommended that the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia raise funds to both preserve and restore the artwork. McGinley reiterated the importance of this art to the school communities they were taken from and made the following recommendations: that the District give an annual public report on the status of the collection to the Board, and that, in the event a school is closed or repurposed, all the art in the building would be inventoried and collected.

Parents and Community Members Bring Concerns

As the Speakers List was not distributed, we were unable to identify speakers. (We will repeat our request to the Board that they make the list available as has been the practice for years.) Several speakers addressed their concerns over about some District administrators stifling parental involvement. run by parents. A parent from Baldi Middle School (who also testified at the Board Action Meeting on October 18) reported that the principal told the Home and School to vacate the building and take everything with them. He had decided that he didn’t want a H&S (which is not a principal’s decision, it is the parents’) because Baldi already had a SAC. Another speaker reminded the Committee that  a SAC and the Home and School are not interchangeable – SACs are controlled by the District and Home & Schools are independently run by parents. SACs are elected in some schools and have no decision-making ability; they can only offer advice, and the principal has final say on any issue. Home and Schools are driven by parents and often carry out fundraising. The parent felt that the Policy Committee needs to address parent rights and the different functions of Home and School chapters, SACs, and Friends of groups.

Another speaker addressed the need for a full-time nurse at her child’s school. This parent reported that the nurse has to spend time every week at another school and that she is not given necessary information because she is not officially assigned there. Thus, when an emergency arises the nurse cannot access the child’s medical record.