Board Laments Deficit, Fails to Mention Its Own Spending Priorities

Ears on the Board of Education: July 14, 2022

by Diane Payne

With only one item on the agenda and six public speakers, this should have been a quick meeting. But the 2-hour Goals and Guardrails session took up almost half of this 4 ½ hour session.  Eight of the nine Board members attended in person; Cecelia Thompson again attended virtually. 

President Joyce Wilkerson thanked Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania legislative delegation for passing a state budget that contains historic education funding increases. Unfortunately, the charter reforms that had been hammered out in bipartisan negotiations for years were killed at the last minute. Board Member Mallory Fix Lopez reported that the state legislature has passed HB1642 which will increase recruitment opportunities for new teachers in Philadelphia and also creates opportunities for high school student graduates from the District to receive credits toward a teaching certificate.

BM Thompson gave the Parent and Community Advisory Council (PCAC) report (not on the agenda) with the usual lack of detail and with no indication of the actual impact of this Council.  She noted that PCAC members were on the Superintendent’s transition team, although she didn’t mention that only seven of the eight-seven members of the entire transition team are parents. Thompson also reported that one PCAC member has volunteered to help analyze the 11,000 work order backlog for Philadelphia school buildings.  Giving this kind of responsibility to a parent volunteer of unknown qualifications should have raised questions, but none of the other  Board members asked why this kind of work was not being done by a qualified District employee from the Office of Operations. 

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Watlington Launches Administration with Questionable Contract

Ears on the Board of Education: June 23, 2022

by Diane Payne

Dr. Tony Watlington’s tenure as superintendent got off to an inauspicious start with his request to the Board, made before he was sworn in and granted by the Board without deliberation at its last meeting, for a major contract with Tennessee-based Joseph and Associates that came with a $450,000 price tag. The three-phase consulting project begins with the firm focusing on the “development and execution of a 100-day entry plan” for the new superintendent.  When the Board conducted its months-long superintendent search, with members of the community devoting significant time and effort, did they make their final choice with a caveat from the Board that Dr. Watlington was not prepared to take on the job as soon as he got here? Is this the message the Board and Dr. Watlington want to send the school communities—that their priority is not funding classrooms but outside consultants?  That a new superintendent wants to conduct business as usual? 

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What Did Board Accomplish in Eight-hour Meeting?

Ears on the Board of Education: May 26, 2022

by Diane Payne

For Dr. Hite’s last meeting as superintendent, Board President Joyce Wilkerson introduced a slideshow of his accomplishments through the decade.  (Those viewing remotely couldn’t hear so it may have had an audio component.) Mayor Kenney appeared in person to honor Hite.  Going-away tributes accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Hite achieve some success on the surface, and in the interest of those holding the seats of political and financial power.   The budget, at least for now, is in  better shape.  But the people on the front lines can attest that those successes came at a price to students, staff, and families. 

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Parents, Educators and Students Should Shape District Policies

Policy Committee Meeting: April 28, 2022

by Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin

Exactly one week after this meeting, District parents received an email notifying them that the District would be carrying out weapons searches in middle schools.

The email, signed by “The School District of Philadelphia”, told parents that their children would be subject to “periodic weapons screenings”. The anonymous author of the email wrote, “The District understands that this level of screening may feel intrusive and inconvenient.” Although Board Member Reginald Streater defended the District’s decision in the Inquirer, neither he nor any other Board member brought it up for discussion at this Policy meeting or at the April 21 action meeting. Did the Board not know about the District’s impending action? The Board makes policy on student safety, not the administration.  Why did the Board not give parents an opportunity to weigh in–either for or against–the heightened security measures? 

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