APPS News: July 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
July 5, 2017

SRC’s Tsunami of Resolutions

The SRC loaded over 140 resolutions onto its June 15 Action Meeting agenda. Commissioner Green voted No on the new PFT contract at the June 20 SRC meeting because he deemed it “fiscally irresponsible”, but he did not raise that concern about any of the programs or contracts, many to private businesses, which totaled over $200 million in one sitting. Familiar corporate education vendors Mindset Works, back selling more “leadership kits” (A-82); Catapault Inc., possible recipient of a 5-year, $54 million contract for a controversial facility for special-needs students (B-8 ); along with Teach for America, Relay Graduate training, and Foundations, Inc and Jounce Partners (B23) continue feeding at the trough of education dollars. The District’s overdrive to outsource jobs and services races along with far too many resolutions to list here. As usual, the SRC provides scant information, leaving out descriptions altogether for many items, then vote the resolutions in blocks of twenty or thirty at the meeting’s end with no discussion or questions raised. APPS continues to point out that the SRC prioritizes charter operators at closed door meetings.

The district continues to funnel money to private law firms—this time another $8.5 million (Resolution A-71, which passed 4-1, Estelle Richman voting against). The SRC spent millions with these private law firms to fight the PFT after illegally cancelling that contract, appealing at every opportunity. The district has its own Office of General Counsel with twenty-one attorneys plus support staff. How many librarians, art teachers, and music teachers could that $8.5 million buy?

Solution for Special Needs Students—or Bonanza for Private Company?

 Resolution IU-7 was posted just three days before the June 15 meeting, then was “withdrawn by staff” at the last minute. This original resolution proposed entering into a 3-year, $36 million with the for-profit Catapault Learning Company to create a segregated K to 12 school for special needs students due to open in September 2017 (with a possible extension to a 5-year, $54 million contract). Barely two months to find a location, hire staff, and have an operational school for 100 students in kindergarten through twelfth grades. This resolution came as a surprise to parents of special-needs children and the community; as a result, there has been tremendous pushback, including letters from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center on behalf of a coalition of advocacy organizations including APPS. IU-7 has a twisted tale of resurrection as Diane Payne documents in the June 15 Ears on the SRC. At the City Council meeting held earlier that same day Councilman Derek Green introduced a resolution for the SRC to reject I-U7. It passed unaminously.

Although he did not address the issues of the secrecy and hurriedness of his actions around IU-7, Dr. Hite’s explanation was that the district needed to find 100 placements for former Wordsworth Academy students. After the homicide of a student at Wordsworth last October, the District was pressured to terminate its contract. There have been persistent complaints of physical and sexual abuse of children placed at Wordsworth’s residential treatment center since it opened. However, the resolution also included space for special needs students who were not residents of Wordsworth. Rather than use the better part of a year planning how best to serve this vulnerable student population, the Hite administration is attempting to present a fait accompli to parents who should not be rushed into making this kind of decisions about their children’s futures.

Requiem for Closed Philly Schools Vigil

We have listened to Dr Hite repeatedly state that he wants to close three schools a year over the next five years. We attended the neighborhood meetings in 2012 to allow public comment. We heard the anguish of students, parents, teachers, and community members as they desperately tried to save their schools from closure. We sat through numerous SRC meetings and listened to similar groups plead for their schools to remain open. Having heard the heartbreak of school closures and witnessed the devastation wrought upon those neighborhoods, we decided it was time to honor the closed schools as well as draw attention to Dr. Hite’s intentionsAPPS’ Requiem for Philly’s Closed Schools presented a beautiful yet mournful presence in the 29 tombstones created for each of the schools closed since 2011. We created three additional tombstones with a question mark as to who is next on the chopping block. Along with this video of the event there is an Action Sheet with ideas to help school communities organize.

Defenders of Public Education

 There were over 50 speakers on the June 15 list; several people whose names did not appear were allowed, without explanation, to speak during the meeting. One man, who did sign up to speak in advance, was omitted from the list. He sat through hours of testimony, then approached district and SRC staff requesting that they correct their admitted mistake and allow him to speak. Two APPS members approached both District and SRC staff requesting that he be allowed to speak. He even rose after the last speaker to request his turn only to be refused by Chair Wilkerson. The SRC’s capricious speakers policy was on full display at this meeting as some people were added to the list and others excluded.

The Our Cities Our Schools organization has developed a timeline that shows why the present commissioners must vote soon in order to return local control of the district to the people of Philadelphia. Several OCOS members spoke on this issue.

Also see:
SRC to vote Thursday on downsized proposal for new special education program | The Notebook – July 5. 2017

New, $10M special-ed school for Philly kids draws fire | Philadelphia Inquirer = July 5, 2017

Over objections, SRC authorizes$10M new special ed program for Philly kids | Inquirer – Juyly 6, 2017

School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program | The Notebook – July 6, 2017

 

APPS News: June 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
June 7, 2017

Fighting the Normalization of Turmoil

 Every year, Dr Hite introduces his latest “turnaround” plan. Over the past four years, we’ve seen the Transformation Plan, the Renaissance Plan, the Redesign Plan, the Innovation Plan. This year: Priority Schools. And with that the instability resulting from forcing the transfer, without cause or due process, of most teachers and some principals.

In addition, Dr Hite has said, in SRC meetings and before City Council, that he intends to close three schools a year for at least the next five years.

Fifteen more schools to be shuttered, thousands of students relocated, relationships disrupted, and vacant buildings becoming eyesores in our neighborhoods—or sold to developers to turn into private housing/commercial spaces or handed over to charter school operators.

We must stop the dismantling of public education in Philadelphia.

To that end, we want to honor the 29 schools closed since 2011. These neighborhoods are still reeling from the loss of long-established neighborhood schools. It’s time to stand up for our neighborhood schools. Linked is our flyer for the Requiem for Philly Schools Vigil to be held before the June 15 SRC meeting. We are ask people to wear black as we mourn these losses. There will be a display of tombstones (one for each school) displayed in front of the administration building. We are asking people to tell their stories at the SRC meeting about losing their neighborhood school. Call 215 400 4180 by 3 on Wednesday, June 14, to sign up to speak.

Changing Speaker Policies to Stifle Public Voices

 APPS members attended and testified at three SRC meetings in May: two regularly scheduled action meetings, plus one called with less than a week’s notice to rush through several charter renewals. At its April 27 meeting, the SRC passed a resolution to limit the number of speakers to 24 at its next meeting.

 Turns out that they meant 24 speakers from the community. A separate group of charter operators (no limit) was able to speak at the beginning of the meeting. The SRC also violated its own speakers policy by allowing one school, Laboratory Charter, to sign up for 14 of the 24 slots. Two of the five commissioners took pains to inform Laboratory Charter School supporters (recommended for non-renewal by the Charter School Office) of how they can get their charter renewed. Where was this support for Wister School parents faced with their school being turned over to Mastery Charter School last year?

New Idea for City Council

 APPS members Lynda Rubin, Barbara Dowdall and Lisa Haver testified at City Council’s May 17 hearing on the school district’s budget. Lynda urged Council members to pay closer attention to the questionable spending priorities of the SRC. APPS members will be urging every member of Council’s Education Committee to send a staffer to observe and report on all SRC meetings.

 District Losing More Qualified Teachers

 One thing we can count on at every SRC meeting? Funds will flow into the pockets of consultants, corporate non-profits, faux teacher training programs, and various other vendors. Dr. Hite has announced his intent to recruit 1,000 new teachers. District teachers have been working for over 1,300 days without a new contract. Several have testified that they simply can no longer afford to work in the district and have been forced to leave for economic reasons. Dr. Hite’s highly promoted campaign to recruit teachers reflects this exiting from the district. Meanwhile, professional development that was done in-house is now being outsourced for millions, and the unaccredited Relay School continues to win contracts from the District.

Speaking Out Sometimes Gets Results

 At the April 20 Budget Meeting APPS member Lisa Haver raised the issue of the public needing help understanding the district’s multi-page budget. CFO Uri Monson, after several conversations with Lisa, issued a “Budget 101” so that the layperson can understand where the money comes from and how it is spent. This multi-page, graphic tutorial is available on the district website.

The newest SRC Commissioner, Estelle Richman, attended this session sitting at the official table instead of watching from the audience.

APPS members continue to testify at all SRC meetings. We are joined by activist parents and community members who cannot remain silent during this assault on our public schools. See testimonies from May 18th and May 25th.

 Where Oh Where are the May 25 SRC Resolutions?

 For days the only thing to be found when looking for the resolutions was one word: PENDING. Two days before the meeting, only three budget items were posted. Wednesday morning (the day before the meeting) saw an additional seven items listed, including one to approve a revised application for Deep Roots Charter School. This application was denied at the February SRC special charter meeting, but not before the applicants were encouraged by commissioners to reapply. For the result, see APPS Ears on the SRC: May 25, 2017. You might ask yourself where this supportive advice is when neighborhood schools are slated to be “transformed” or shuttered.

Calendar

June 6: PSN fundraiser

June 7: Our Cities/Our Schools Forum on Abolishing the SRC
6 to 8 at Berean Institute 19th & Girard Avenue

June 15: Requiem for Philly Schools Vigil @ 3:30 PM before SRC meeting

June 30: SRC Action Meeting @ 4:30 PM

 

 

 

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

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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.