Ears on the SRC: April 26, 2018

SRC 4-26-18 #2

by Diane Payne
May 3, 2018

Interim SRC, Part-Time Commissioner

The SRC, as it limps toward its demise on June 30th, is conducting the people’s business with only four commissioners. For other bodies, this might present a problem, but the SRC is infamous for its lockstep voting. Present at this meeting were Chairwoman Estelle Richman, Commissioners Marge Neff and Fran Burns.  Notably absent again, for most of the meeting, was Part Time Commissioner Bill Green.  Those in attendance only knew that he would arrive at some point because General Counsel Lynn Rauch suggested delaying the vote on approving the minutes until whenever that would be.  The meeting began at 4:30 p.m.; Green made his appearance at 6:09.  He gave no explanation for having missed both of the staff presentations and almost all of the public testimony.

When APPS co-founder Lisa Haver called out her question (go to timestamp 42:11 in the video link) as voting on resolutions began–Do SRC by-laws allow Commissioner Green to vote when he hasn’t been present for most of the meeting?–Ms. Rauch answered that it was legal. Haver then asked Chair Richman whether it was ethical.  Richman, who never asked Green to explain his late arrival, would only say that she would follow the advice of Counsel. Thus Green was able to vote on charter issues and major expenditures that will affect the district long after the SRC is gone. If the SRC’s position is that there is no problem with commissioners missing staff presentations before votes, that lends credence to what many have believed for years: that the reason we see almost no deliberation during public meetings is that decisions are made beforehand, out of the public eye.

 As the commissioners were poised to vote on the March 15 and March 22 minutes after he arrived at the meeting, Commissioner Green stated he hadn’t had a chance to review them and made a motion to table the minutes, which indicates that Green was also absent for the Executive Session of the SRC held just prior to the public meeting. The commissioners passed this motion unanimously.  If Green were to show up on time, and attend all sessions of the SRC, they would not need to table procedures. The fact that the public will now have to wait at least another month to see the minutes didn’t even come up.

 Seven members of APPS testified on behalf of public education.  An additional seven members of the public testified on the issue of saving Strawberry Mansion High School from closure, or as Dr. Hite has referred to it, “phasing it out”.

 The Franklin Towne Charter Scam

In February, the SRC voted to deny the application of Franklin Towne Charter (FTC) to establish a new school.  The company was seeking to expand its portfolio of schools to include a stand-alone middle school.  FTC currently operates a K-8 elementary and a 9-12 high school. The Charter Schools Office (CSO) issued a report at that time citing several operational, academic, and financial concerns.  FTC re-submitted the application the following month; by law, according to CSO, the SRC had to vote on it at this meeting. There were no public hearings on the resubmitted application. They did not have to approve it, but they did, in what many observers considered a stunning dereliction of duty.

 In a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act, the SRC did not post the resolution in full before the meeting, and it was not read aloud at the meeting. Chair Richman read a statement before the vote in which she stated that the revised application addressed some of the academic plan and curricular material deficiencies found in the original plan.  However, she went on to note that there were still “serious concerns” regarding enrollment practices at the existing schools, financial issues, services to English Language Learners, lack of racial diversity, issues of governance and relationship with its management company, overlap between board members of the different FTC schools, and insufficient performance component with the management company.

 Despite the fact that Franklin Towne applicants failed to address most of the concerns raised by in the CSO evaluation, the SRC voted 3-1 to approve the new middle school.  The dissenting vote came from Marge Neff, who stated there is a lack of demonstrated “need” for this school as well as ongoing concerns about diversity.

 Many of the public speakers read excerpts from reporter Greg Windle’s April 25th article in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook: In the convoluted world of charter school real estate, Franklin Towne is both landlord and tenant, Windle delved into the murky waters of this charter’s  opaque, circular relationships among charter operator, charter management company, and related construction company, along with weighty political connections and overlapping boards–not to mentions its $30 million debt. Some APPS members asked whether it was the duty of the SRC to continue to prop up the pyramid scheme that is the Franklin Towne business model.  Diane Payne reiterated the many disturbing aspects of FTC’s history and business practices. Lisa Haver, in her testimony, referred to the school as “The Northeast Democratic Ward Leaders Real Estate/Bank and Charter School Company”.
In fact, letters of support for FTC Middle School were sent to the SRC from Congressman Bob Brady, City Councilman Bobby Henon, PA State Senator John Sabatina (who supported Bill Green’s failed Congressional campaign), and PA State Representative John Taylor.

 The question remains as to WHY this new charter was granted, as none of the commissioners felt the need to explain before or after the vote. CSO Director DawnLynn Kacer stated in her presentation that, according to the charter school law, “charters should serve as a model to other public schools”.  How can Franklin Towne be considered a model when it manages to game the system with its lack of diversity in economic, racial, and ELL categories?  If we are entrusting public funds to this school, funds that are being diverted from neighborhood schools, shouldn’t the applicant independently exhibit the highest possible standards in their existing schools and in their new application? If there is any question about operational and financial arrangements that exist for the benefit of the company or for the benefit of individuals, shouldn’t that be fully investigated and publicly disclosed?  Were taxpayers informed of the $233,000 salary of Joseph Venditti, the CEO of these two schools (rivaling Dr. Hite’s $300,000 salary for managing 214 schools)? When a school is so politically connected through both its board members and supporters, as shown in the the Notebook article, shouldn’t there be some disclosure about these connections?  Fran Burns, a substitute commissioner through June 30th, was not present for the initial application, presentations, or public testimonies in February, and she did not ask one question at this meeting.  She voted in support of a taxpayer give-away without so much as a peep. Was she fully informed?  Did she read any of the transcripts of the hearings?

 This SRC continues to categorize all charter school resolutions as “quasi-judicial.”  This gives them the cover to write only a title on the resolution summary with no accompanying text.  They then vote on a resolution by name and number only, then later include pages of description of what they allege to have voted on at that meeting. This is a falsification of the public record and a violation of the Sunshine Act.  In the case of SRC-4, the pages of conditions appeared the following day on the district website.  The public did not see it at the meeting, hear it read at the meeting, nor had an opportunity to speak on it at the meeting.  Flagrant disregard for the law, for public involvement, and for taxpayer money.

 Revocation of Eastern University Academy Charter School

After voting last year not to renew, the SRC conducted an extensive revocation process for Eastern University Charter (EU).  The CSO provided evidence of academic deficiencies, along with over a dozen failures to follow charter school law. Those hearings, which lasted over three weeks, were overseen by Hearing Officer Rudolf Garcia, Esq, who presented his findings at this meeting. The SRC voted unanimously to revoke this charter.  Commissioner Neff commented before the vote that EU has not done its students a service based on the data both in the hearing testimonies and on the PA Department of Education website.  The school brought a large and vocal contingent fighting for the school to stay open.  Of course, the PA Charter allows any charter facing revocation to appeal to the state and to Commonwealth Court.

 Battle for Strawberry Mansion High  

Seven members of the Strawberry Mansion High School (SMHS) community testified before the SRC pleading to keep their neighborhood school open as a comprehensive high school.  These parents, students and alumni rejected claims by the Hite administration that over 2,000 students live in the Mansion catchment area but only 292 students attend SMHS.  They repeatedly called out the district for its years-long starving the school of resources, filling the area with charter feeder schools, then claiming low enrollment as justification for “phasing out” the school.  Retired long-time Mansion principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who was lauded last year in Philadelphia City Council, listed the many  programs and resources that have disappeared from the school.  Hite’s plan seems to be to continue the corporate model and place vendor programs in the building, claiming that the school will be open when it is only the building that will be open—not the high school.  Community members have had a difficult time getting a straight story from district officials. This represents a new variation of closing a neighborhood comprehensive high school, against the community’s wishes, and without the community’s input.  The district already has its plans for Mansion; the question remains whether the district will give stakeholders an honest accounting of those plans. To support the preservation of Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive high school, and to demand the school receive resources and support which will draw in students from the catchment area, we must continue to email, call, write, and testify at the SRC and in City Council.

 Block Voting and Money Spent

The SRC spent $181,173,483 in taxpayer funds at this meeting.  They did so in SIX blocks of votes on a total of 97 resolutions.  Other than commissioner comments on the two charter school votes, there was no discussion, question, or comment on any of the remaining 95 resolutions.  It is laughable that Chair Richman began this portion of the meeting with the statement: it is now time to discuss and vote on the resolutions.  What discussion?

Supporters of public education speak before the School Reform Commission April 26, 2018

SRC testimony pic

Click on the picture above to view all supporters of public education speaking before the SRC meeting of April 26, 2018. (Click on the arrowed square in the bottom right of the viewing window for full screen view.)

Click on the timestamp under the video or move the slider to the timestamps indicated below to view individual speakers.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman, former principal Strawberry Mansion High School   0:00
Melvin Sharpe, Strawberry Mansion community member   3:18
Ameera Sullivan, Strawberry Mansion counselor   6:30
Ruth Birchett, Strawberry Mansion community member   9:48
Lisa Haver, Alliance for Philadelphia public schools   12:53
Alison McDowell, community member
Tue Ho, Strawberry Mansion community member   19:45
Shirley Hooks, Strawberry Mansion community member   22:46
Diane Payne, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools   25:05
Julie Nichols, teacher, Strawberry Mansion High School   28:02
Cheri Michael, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools   30:39
Lynda Rubin, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools   34:06
Karel Kilimnik, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools   37:14
Barbara Dowdall, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools   40:12
Objection to Commissioner Green voting   42:11
Vote on renewal of Eastern University Academy Charter School   42:40
Vote on Revised Charter Application for Franklin Towne Charter Middle School   45:19
Closing remarks by Superintendent Hite regarding Strawberry Mansion High School   50:57

Note: The SRC places media on row 2 in the auditorium which allows only filming speakers from the side and frequent visual interruption from the audience. We have protested these filming conditions to no avail.

Click here to read transcripts of the testimony
of many of the speakers.


Supporters of Strawberry Mansion High School speak before the School Reform Commission April 19, 2018

Click on the picture above to view all supporters of Strawberry Mansion High School speaking before the SRC meeting of April 19, 2018. (Click on the arrowed square in the bottom right of the viewing window for full screen view.)

Move the slider to timestamps to view individual speakers.
Shyele Jones, student, Strawberry-Mansion  0:10
Tanya Parker, head of Strawberry-Mansion Home and School  3:15
Ruth Birchett, Heritage CDC and Strawberry Mansion  5:11
James Strong, community member, Strawberry Mansion  8:42
Pearline Sturdivant, community member, Strawberry Mansion  11:35
Ken Derstine, APPS  15:35
Sherry Brown, community member, Strawberry Mansion and Hite comment  18:42
Deborah Grill, APPS  26:15
Lynda Rubin, APPS  29:40
Barbara Dowdall, APPS  32:58
Novilette Jones, community member, Strawberry Mansion and school translation services    36:40
Karel Kilimnik, APPS  40:29
Ilene Poses, APPS  43:58

Note: The SRC places media on row 2 in the auditorium which allows only filming speakers from the side and frequent visual interruption from the audience. We have protested these filming conditions to no avail.

These are transcripts of some of the testimony to the SRC. Be sure to look at all testimony in the video above. Transcripts are listed in the order testimony was given at the SRC meeting.

Tanya Parker

Click the picture to read the transcript of Tanya Parker’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to 3:15.

Ruth Birchett

Click the picture to read the transcript of Ruth Birchett’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to 5:11.

Ken Derstine

Click the picture to read the transcript of Ken Derstine’s testimony. To watch his testimony move the slider the video at the top of the page to 15:35.

Debbie grill

Click the picture to read the transcript of Deborah Grill’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in to video at to top of the page to 26:15.

Lynda Rubin

Click the picture to read the transcript of Lynda Rubin’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to 29:40.

Barbara Dowdall

Click the picture to read the transcript of  Barbara Dowdall’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to  32:58.

.Karel Kilimnik

Click the picture to read the transcript of Karel Kilimnik’s testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to 40:29.


Click the picture to read the transcript of Ilene Poses’ testimony. To watch her testimony move the slider in the video at the top of the page to 43:38.

Also see:
Eyes on the SRC: April 26, 2018 | Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools
Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education? | Defend Public Education
More on Broad in Philadelphia  |Defend Public Education

Community Fights Closing of Strawberry Mansion High

strawberry mansion

by Lynda Rubin
April 9, 2018

 Several APPS members, in response to requests from community members, attended a meeting at Strawberry Mansion High School  (SMHS) on Wednesday, March 28. About fifty people—including parents, educators and alumni—attended the meeting, facilitated by Eric Becoats, Assistant Superintendent in charge of the district’s Turnaround Network. Like many of those in attendance, APPS members found out about the meeting from a notice posted on social media two days before. The district posted no banner about the meeting on its website, nor was there was any mention of possible change at SMHS at recent SRC meetings. Rumors had spread, in the absence of definitive information from the school district, that Strawberry Mansion, as a comprehensive high school, would be closing at the end of this school year. Some had heard that other programs, possibly twilight school or alternative education programs for students with academic and/or behavioral issues, would be housed in the building.

Using barely readable power-points, Becoats read through some possible changes and the reasons the district is “phasing out” the existing educational program at SMHS. There will be no 9thgraders admitted in September 2018. The remaining students will complete their years and graduate from Mansion.  Starting in September 2018, Becoats said, neighborhood students could attend a newly added accelerated school in the building, but he gave no details about the program or who would oversee it. An evening program for overage students and adults may be added later. In September 2019, 9thgraders could then be admitted to a new “skills-based” high school in the building.  Becoats said that was only “under consideration”, to which a community member responded, “So new students will evict existing students.” Becoats claimed that there would be full staffing until the last class graduates, and that the remaining students would complete their years and graduate from Mansion, but did not specify how the school could maintain sufficient staff for a variety of programs with declining enrollment. Nor did he seem to have any idea how the students in the remaining grades would deal with decreases in student body and staff.  Becoats continued to deny that Strawberry Mansion High School is being closed, as if the existence of the building constitutes the essence of the actual high school.

Parents, community and neighborhood leaders expressed their frustration at both Becoats’ dismissive attitude and the district’s lack of community outreach prior to making their decision.  One community member asked: Are we in the planning stage or the implementation stage? Becoats admitted that the district is now in the implementation stage.

Click here to read the entire post.