by Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin
The Board of Education held two consecutive remote meetings: the Lump Sum Budget Presentation and a joint meeting of the Finance and Facilities Committee and the Student Achievement and Support Committee. All members of the Board attended online; Dr. Hite attended the Budget hearing.
Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson provided updated budget projections for FY 2020/21. Both President Wilkerson and Dr. Hite urged members of the public to advocate for continued adequate funding from the state. The City’s contribution to the District remains intact for now. Student Representative Doha Ibrahim read prepared remarks on how the Covid-19 has affected the District’s students, seniors in particular. Her remarks served as a reminder of the human impact behind the budget data.
Monson projected a bleak economic picture. He reiterated concerns that the State will cut the basic education subsidy by the maximum allowable amount. Monson reported that District attempts to reach Harrisburg for clarification have failed. The District’s plan does not assume any new labor contract costs for the coming year. The District will receive $130 million in Federal stimulus money ($14 million goes to non-public schools). One fear is that the state will reduce its subsidy based on that stimulus money. The deficit in FY 21 is going to require immediate cuts; the District projects a $1 billion deficit by FY 25. Monson explained that even if we were able to fix this year’s gap, it will not affect the-5 year outcome because of the structural deficit that exists from year to year.
Monson’s presentation stated, “Continued opportunities to identify additional savings would increase the fund balance.” He said it is imperative that the District engage in “mission critical” business only. Despite this dire budget presentation and this call to identify mission critical business, the Board has failed to heed the warning, as seen on the 60-Item Action Meeting agenda for April 30. APPS members have asked last month and this month that the Board make a commitment to conduct only essential business. Action Item 13 proposes a $600,000 three-year expense to pay administrative costs to The Fund for the School District, the non-profit that collects and distributes charitable donations to the District. APPS has raised objections to the District’s paying $200,000/year to an organization that bans the public from its meetings, in which the Fund’s board decides which schools and which programs should be funded. Chris McGinley stated that “now is not the time to commit $600,000 to the Fund.” Action Item 18 proposes a $90,000 headhunter fee for the vacant Chief Operations Chief position. Action Items 22 & 27 total $18,425,490 for classroom modernization. Is modernization still essential as we look down the barrel of financial privation? Action Item 33 presents a huge mystery: it asks for a sixfold increase for maintenance contracts. The original contract paid out $6,362,736 for 2 ½ years. This extension Item asks for $12,700,000 for one year–with no explanation for the sixfold increase. The Board needs to ask the obvious questions before approving any of these contracts.
From page 9 of Monson’s PowerPoint: “Mitigation Steps Currently Underway – Central Office Hiring Freeze ● Careful monitoring of School Budget Hiring trends ● Ongoing evaluation of current obligated funds in school and central office budgets for remainder of FY20 ● Reviewing past expenditure reduction decisions for lessons learned regarding relative impact of cuts ● Reviewing proposed new investment spending to determine what can be delayed ● Reviewing and prioritizing all Action Items and Contracts.”
Co-chair Lee Huang led the Finance and Facilities meeting. Interim Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects James Creedon presented his updates on current construction, including lead and asbestos abatement. [This PowerPoint can be found on the Board webpage under the “Meeting Materials” tab.] Creedon’s narrative began with this statement: “The goal is to balance improvement and progress with health and safety requirements.” This implies that only essential projects will continue during this time. Creedon listed five guidelines for environmental and construction projects:
- Mission Critical: Work must be complete by a certain date or impacts key functions of a building
- Environmental Improvement Opportunities: Vacant school offers opportunity to complete work more efficiently; work can be done in a safe and healthy manner; District can provide necessary oversight; testing can be provided and coordinated
- Controlled Progress: Benefit from work being completed by start of the school year (2020) but not critical; work requires smaller workforce; District supervision not required daily and can be virtual if needed; work can be done in a safe and healthy manner
- Design: Work is completed virtually, with District staff and professional firms, in order to maintain project schedule
- On-Hold/Action Required: Projects are on hold due to Covid-19, bid and waiting to start, bid and waiting award/approval, or waiting to be bid. These projects can start when safety and health conditions allow, workforce is available, District/JMT supervision is available, and health/safety requirements can be implemented on-project site.
Again, the Board must listen to recommendations from both the public and District staffI to conduct only essential business until a clearer economic picture emerges.
Joint Committee Meeting
Each committee meeting was conducted separately with its own agenda. All Board members attended both meetings. Registered public speakers were given two minutes each to voice their own testimony via phone. The committees acknowledged the written testimony submitted by members of the public. APPS appreciates the Board’s implementation of our suggestions on how to include more real-time public participation.
Prior to the first agenda item, the separate Committee meetings, members of the Board spoke about the current state of the District under the Covid-19 restrictions. Many thanked teachers and staff, parents and community members, and volunteers for all of the work they have done to help students and families during this crisis.
Finance and Facilities
District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt reported that the School District will remain closed for the rest of the school. Only buildings that can be accessed by essential staff will be involved in food distribution, capital projects or the environmental work being done. Grab-and-Go Meal distribution will continue through the remainder of the school year at the 80 designated sites. As of April 21, 40,000 new Chromebooks have been distributed to schools; 74,500 Chromebooks have been distributed to students/families. The District’s Continuity of Education Plan was submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on April 14 with these expected outcomes: “Students being provided with technology and instructional resources, digital or printed, to be continuously engaged in learning. Staff will receive virtual training. Students and families will receive tutorials to support learning. Students will engage in planned instruction to introduce and apply new content and skills, inclusive of assessment of learning, graded assignments and progress monitoring.”
Wyatt told the Board that Dr. Hite had not invoked any of the special powers the Board granted him last month and that the Board had no reason to renew that Item this month.
[More information is available here. Up-to-date general information can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions can be found here. Hotlines in 10 languages operate Monday – Thursday, 9:30-11:30 am. Questions can be emailed here and will receive replies. Facebook Live events with Superintendent Hite are held on Wednesdays @ 3:00.]
Julia Danzy reported hearing from families about faulty computers and online programs. Wyatt responded that the District has posted a hotline number for tech problems (215-400-4444) and established drop-in sites for bad equipment. Wyatt said that moving into the Planned Instruction phase in May will come with expectations for recording attendance, participation, etc. Mallory Fix Lopez asked why the Office of Student Services was violating District policy by not properly answering concerns from students and parents about titles/designations used for transgender and/or non-binary students. McGinley asked Wyatt to bring to the Action Meeting the log-in information along with the number of students who have not been able to access computers to do their work.
Student Achievement and Support
Conducted by Chris McGinley; present and participating were Angela McGiver, Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lettie Etea-Hinton, Joyce Wilkerson.
Minutes for the 2/20/20 Committee meeting passed and will be posted online.
Charter Renewals and Amendments
Charter Schools Chief Christina Grant began her power-point with a report on the CSO’s new information and communication hub with ongoing updates of guidance and resources for charter schools. All schools are required to post continuity of education plans online. Grant stated that the cancellation of 2019-20 standardized tests will affect CSO’s monitoring charter school accountability. Grant also stated that the period of time schools were closed will also affect attendance and graduation dates.
2019 Annual Charter Evaluations were released on April 1 and are available on CSO website. ACE-R reports on renewal recommendations for Round 2 are also on-line.
CSO key to charter evaluation results: 1) Academic Success relative to District and Similar Schools – at least 65% points possible (Approaches or Meets Standard): 2) Organizational Compliance/Viability – No more than 3 non-compliant ratings with none in consecutive years. 3) Financial Health & Sustainability – Financial Health – fewer than 4 Does Not Meet Standard Ratings; Fiscal Management – No major audit findings and no more than 1 minor audit finding
Charter Schools Renewals for Action on April 30 2020 agenda:
Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter, Imhotep Institute Charter HS, People for People Charter, Northwood Academy Charter, Universal Blueford Charter, and Universal Daroff Charter
Amendment Request: Laboratory Charter School – change in locations of 3 campuses into 2 new sites (raised at previous Board Action meeting and postponed.)
ITEM 5: Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School
Grades K-12; 1220 students; no Management organization Amendment
Request for increase in students included in Item, not listed separately
CSO recommends 5-year Renewal w/ Conditions & Amendment for 100 more students
- Academics K-8 -Approaches, Academics HS -Meets standard; Organization-Approaches, Financial Health – Approaches
- Condition: School required to submit lease for its facility that has been approved in compliance with law by charter’s Board of Trustees and its landlord’s Board of Directors
- Amendment for increase of 100 students to 1320 recommended by CSO
Item 57: Imhotep Charter High School
Grades 9-12; 575 students; Charter Management by Sankofa
CSO RecommendS 5-year Renewal w/ Conditions
- Approaches Standards (Academics – 62%, Organizational/Compliance – 80%, Financial Health -Approaches Standard.
- Conditions: Must provide all documents re refinancing of loans re charter school facility, including all mortgages and other dept obligations signed by charter school
Item 7: People for People
K-12; 540 students; No Management organization CSO Recommends 5-year Renewal with conditions
- Academics K-8 -Approaches -59%, Academics HS -Approaches 72%, Organizational (DOES NOT MEET (39%), Financial Health (DOES NOT MEET)
- Conditions: 1- Reduce grades from K-12 to K-8 by 20-22 school year, 2-Targets for academic improvement in math, ELA, and Science, 3-Strict requirements that charter can only operate at its authorized facility, 4- Required improvements to operational and safety system, 5) Required improvements to overall financial health and fiscal management of charter.
Item 6: Northwood Academy
Grades K-8, 788 students; no Management organization
CSO Recommends 5-year Renewal with conditions
- Academics – Meets Standards; Organizational -Approaches Standard; Financial Health -Approaches Standard
- Conditions: 1- Improve process for ensuring accurate records in District’s student info system; 2- Develop/Implement updated truancy elimination policy; 3- Ensure Board of Trustees updates policies to adhere to Sunshine Act re public participation in public meetings. (Grant stated that 2 of the 3 conditions have been met; did not specify which.)
Item 8: Universal Bluford
Grades K-8, 529 students, Charter Management by Universal Education Companies CSO Recommends Non-renewal
- Academics – Approaches (49%), Organizational- DOES NOT MEET (35%), Financial Health – DOES NOT MEET standard
- Inconsistent academic outcomes over term of charter; (Achievement below District and Similar Schools group in 8 of 12 instances; Growth standard not met in 6of 12 instances.
- Significant Organizational Compliance concerns (enrollment process, code of conduct, employee records, governance, timely audit)
- Significant Financial Health concerns (cash on hand, audit finding, oversight)
Item 9: Universal Daroff
Grades K-8, 735 students, Charter Management by Universal Education Companies
CSO Recommends Non-Renewal
- Academics – DOES NOT MEET Standard; Organizational – DOES NOT MEET Standard, Financial Health – DOES NOT MEET Standard
- Academic outcomes consistently below standard over term of charter; (Achievement below District and Similar Schools group rates in 9 of 12 instances; Growth standard not met in 9 of 16 instances.
- Significant Organizational Compliance concerns (mission and educational program, enrollment process, code of conduct, employee records, student health services, governance)
- Significant Financial Health and Fiscal Management concerns (cash on hand, internal controls, oversight)
Item 4: Laboratory Charter School Amendment Request: Change of locations
CSO recommends approval
- Laboratory Charter has 3 “campuses” for the same school in 3 different neighborhoods, but it is considered 1 school
- Current locations – 5901 Woodbine Ave 19131 (K-4); 5339 Lebanon Avenue, 19131 (K-4): 800 N. Orianna St. 19123.
- Requested Locations: K-5, 926 Sedgley Ave. 19140; 6-8, 3300 Henry Ave. 19129
- School’s Reason for request: Allows for streamlined, consistent implementation of program; three existing facilities have health and safety concerns, new ones move-in ready; Evidence of extended community engagement.
It appears that Laboratory Charter, for years, has been more interested in expanding its reach than meeting a need for a particular community. This one school currently has three locations: a 5-8 in Wynnefield, a K-4 in Overbrook and a K-8 in Northern Liberties
(in the public school world, that would add up to two elementary schools). Last year, the charter petitioned to move to all three locations to 3300 Henry Ave. in East Falls. The East Falls location would be in direct competition with neighborhood District-run Mifflin School. According to the testimony of several East Falls Neighborhood Association members and Mifflin parents, Laboratory Charter misrepresented its engagement with the East Falls neighbors to the CSO and to the Board. Last year the Board instructed the charter operator to go back and conduct that outreach. Laboratory Charter has resubmitted its request, claiming to have done “extended outreach.” However, the community has come out in force to testify about the lack of outreach. Among those testifying both a year ago and at this meeting were East Falls neighbors and parents Dr. Carla Lewendowski, Mary Alice Duff, Katie Schank and Christopher Marston. Charter schools should not threaten the existence of quality neighborhood schools simply because they want to relocate for their own convenience. The fact that Laboratory Charter has misrepresented its intentions to the CSO and Board raises concerns about its willingness to submit to District oversight in the future. APPS stands with the East Falls neighborhood and the Mifflin school community in urging the Board, in the interest of protecting neighborhood public schools, to deny this amendment.
APPS objects to the recommendation for renewal by the CSO for People for People Charter. The CSO recommends eliminating the People for People of its high school grades, while also recommending the renewal of the K-8 grades. The academic ratings for the K-8 grades are slightly higher than those of the high school. But People for People charter DOES NOT MEET either Organizational Compliance and Viability OR Financial Health and Sustainability–that applies to the entire school. Last fall People for People applied for a second high school, but was denied on academic, organizational and financial grounds. APPS co-founder Lisa Haver said in her report on this application, “The [People For People] charter school does not fully adhere to generally accepted standards of fiscal management, as indicated by failure to meet any one of the criteria.”
The District is facing enormous financial pressures from fall-out of Covid-19 expenses and lack of incoming revenue. APPS calls upon the Board of Education to stand up for its existing public schools and the children they serve and deny any expansion of charter schools or the renewal of any charter schools that are deficient either academically or financially. APPS has raised questions at Board meetings about charter CEO salaries and other questionable charter spending for over a year. The Board has an obligation to answer them.