APPS News: May 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
May 10, 2017

Spring is showering SRC meetings upon us: there are two meetings each month from March until June. We continue to inform supporters of public education in several ways: an overview of Resolutions to be voted on in our Eyes on the SRC, a report of these meetings in Ears on the SRC, video of testimonies from members and supporters, and a new section of Calendar Events. We appreciate any and all feedback on our writings. Please feel free to share additional information and resources or to ask questions. The next two SRC meetings for May are listed in the Calendar section.  We are happy to advise those who want to testify but have never done so. We urge all who want to fight for public schools to attend and bring a sign if possible.

New SRC Policy Committee Meets—When Those Affected by Policies Cannot Attend
In March the SRC passed a resolution creating “ a policy committee that will review policies that affect students and staff”.  They scheduled these meetings for 9 AM, when a when students, staff,  and working parents are unable to attend.  Thus, those who are responsible for implementing the policies, and those affected by them, are excluded. The first meeting of the SRC Policy Committee, Chaired by Commissioner McGinley and attended by SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Superintendent-designee Naomi Wyatt, met on April 6 in a small conference room at 440. About 80% of those present were district staff.  Four APPS members attended, along with Councilwoman Helen Gym and her chief of staff. Prior to this initial meeting over 75 pages of district policies were posted Friday afternoon March 31 for public perusal. Read the APPS Ears on this Meeting for a more detailed account.  If the intent was to enable the public, in particular those directly affected by these policies, to have some input, then these meetings need to be scheduled at a more convenient time.

Action Meeting Morphs into Budget Meeting

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APPS News: April 2017

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 We have entered the season of two SRC Action Meetings a month. It’s a grueling schedule, but we aim to cover it all and share our findings and analyses.

One trend continues in recent SRC Resolutions: the outsourcing of services and resources. At the March 16 meeting alone, over $18 million went into the pockets of outside vendors. Professional development continues to be turned over to contractors.  What could that money have purchased for the schools? Eighty counselors or nurses, 150 Assistant  Principals,  or 428 school aides.

Estelle Richman, Governor Wolf’s appointee to the SRC, still awaits confirmation by the State Senate. She has attended recent meetings as an observer.

SRC Spending Priorities
The  SRC approved yet another contract for the uncertified Relay School of Education, this time to train  highly qualified teachers”.  Relay is the creation of three charter school supporters who sought to create a pool of teachers for their no excuses” charter schools.  Philadelphia teachers entering this program will receive their graduate degree from a college in another state because Relay is not certified in Pennsylvania. For decades, students aspiring to become teachers have attended Cheyney, Temple, West Chester, Penn, or any of the many colleges and universities in the area.  Why is it now necessary for the district to spend money on a non-certified program?

 Freedom of Speech?
Videos of APPS members and allies testifying at recent SRC meetings show the result of SRC interference in our reporting. For the past several years, APPS’ videographer has filmed from a discrete space where there was little movement. A couple of months ago, with no explanation, he was told he had to move—to a place which has more noise and more traffic. Now the videos can show little more than the backs of  heads.  Last month, he was told to move to yet another space, even farther back.  It is hard to see this as anything other than harassment.  Why is the SRC against members of the public reporting what the public has to say at its meetings? Despite repeated requests to speak with the person forcing his relocation, no one has been identified as the decision maker.

 New SRC Committee
SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson announced a new SRC Policy Advisory Committee, to meet quarterly,  to be chaired by the lone educator on the Commission, Dr. Christopher McGinley. Wilkerson and Dr. Hite are also on the committee, but no announcement has been made about any other committee members. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday April 6 at 9 AM.  Several APPS members have objected to holding a public” meeting at a time that precludes attendance by the very people district policy affects—students, educators, and most parents.  Whose voices will be heard?  The history of the Strategy, Policy, and Procedure meetings, as a forum for stakeholders to address concerns,  was addressed in testimony by APPS’ Lynda Rubin. These meetings ended abruptly last year.

 Teacher Recruitment Drive, 2017
Dr Hite introduced this year’s exciting recruiting campaign to hire up to 1,000 new teachers.”  He didn’t explain why the district has to embark on yet another recruitment campaign, at a cost of $160,000,  after a major drive just last year, when the district claimed it had more than the number they had aimed for.  Part of the reason, obviously, is the lack of a PFT contract and no step increases or raises for the past four years.

 Charter Issues
Two teachers from Aspira Olney High School testified about their frustration over management’s failure to bargain in good faith with union members seeking a fair contract. It has been over two years since Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson came up for renewal. Despite a strong recommendation for non-renewal from the district’s Charter School Office, the SRC has taken no action. Thus, Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson continue to operate with taxpayer funds. In addition, the SRC has delayed action for over one year, on renewals of three Mastery Charters—Shoemaker, Clymer, and Gratz, and two Universal charters—Audenried and Vare.

 More Sunshine Act Violations
Last year, after a protracted negotiation process, the SRC and APPS settled the legal suit brought by APPS about a number of SRC violations of the PA Sunshine Act. However, the SRC has failed to honor the stipulation that it post official resolutions two weeks prior to each meeting.  February 16 resolutions were still posted under Current Resolution Summary” after that meeting.  There was no full resolution posted prior to the March 23 meeting. That means that the SRC voted to approve a $2.9 billion lump-sum budget about 45 minutes after the summary was distributed at the meeting.  The power-point presented by CFO Uri Monson was not posted prior to the meeting. The SRC is a governmental body responsible for a $2.9 billion budget. As such, they need to post a summary description for each resolution so that the public can make informed comments, ask questions, and raise any concerns. That is not only their obligation, it is the law.