APPS members have an Op Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer protesting lack of transparency in Mayoral selection of a new school board

clark and kenney 2

Integrity of Philly’s new school board needs protection | Philadelphia Inquirer – February 22, 2018

by Rich Migilore and Karel Kilimnik

Unlike those in every other school district in the state, and in almost every district in the nation, we the people of Philadelphia continue to be disenfranchised in the governance of our public schools. To make matters worse, the return to local control, after the 17-year reign of the state-imposed School Reform Commission, will devolve into one-person control unless our elected officials take steps to guarantee the independence of the new school board.

 Following the mandates of the current City Charter, Mayor Kenney appointed a 13-member nominating panel, which is scheduled to hold a public meeting Monday and vote on a list of names that Kenney will draw from to select a nine-person school board. The mayor had directed the panel to hold previous meetings in executive session, effectively barring members of the public from witnessing or taking part in the process in any way.

This absolute control by the mayor can be mitigated in several ways. First, the nominating panel, under the leadership of Chair Wendell Pritchett, should have opened all of its meetings to the public. As city officials, members of the panel are obligated to obey all laws, including the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which codifies the right of the people to witness the actions of all government officials, whether elected or appointed.

 Checks and balances must be instituted. City Council has proposed an amendment to the charter which, if approved by the voters in a referendum on the May ballot, will provide for Council confirmation of all future nominees. In addition, Council President Darrell Clarke has proposed language in the referendum to stipulate that members of the board of education can only be removed “for cause.” That is an essential provision to protect the independence and integrity of the board and should be adopted.

Kenney has voiced his opposition to the for-cause provision and wants board members to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. That is inconsistent with the principles of democracy that underpin the governance of our public school system.

Clarke explained in a response letter to Kenney that the board of education, under the Educational Home Rule Supplement to the City Charter, is a “separate and independent body” from the office of the mayor. State law makes school districts separate and distinct local educational agencies.

 Clarke is correct when he says, “The key idea here is independence: the for-cause requirement will provide some assurance that the members of the Board of Education can make independent decisions that they believe are in the best interests of our City’s children – even if the Mayor or Council disagree.” The for-cause provision protects school board members from being removed for political reasons or for speaking out in opposition to the Mayor or City Council.

Council should scrutinize every aspect of the appointment process and make every amendment necessary to protect the integrity of the democratic process. That includes the present lack of transparency and secrecy of the mayor’s nominating panel and its violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

 These are all constitutional issues as well as legislative issues.  The right to procedural due process is guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Democracy matters and our state and federal constitutions cannot be nullified at the schoolhouse door.

Rich Migliore, Esq. is a former Philadelphia teacher and administrator and the author of “Whose School Is It: the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools.”

Karel Kilimnik is a retired Philadelphia early childhood educator and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Email:

Community Organizations Demand Open Meetings for School Board Nominating Panel

phila city hall

Two weeks ago, APPS members sent a letter to the officers and members of the Nominating Panel appointed by Mayor Kenney to choose candidates for the new school board, demanding that the Panel open its meetings to the public.

The letter, reprinted in its entirety here, was signed by fourteen others representing student, labor and community organizations.

The Nominating Panel had announced that it would hold only two public meetings: its opening meeting and its second and final one, at which it would announce the names to be sent to Mayor Kenney. All other meetings would be closed to the public. No students, educators, parents or community members would have the opportunity to weigh in on any part of the process or to raise concerns about any candidate.

APPS sent the letter along with a press release to several news media outlets. None of them covered it.We were told that it wasn’t a significant event and didn’t rate a separate story. However, when the media covered the dispute between the Mayor and City Council over language in the resolution to change language in the City Charter amendment on selection of the new school board, the community’s demand for an open selection was ignored once again.

APPS continues the fight to make sure that the community has a say in who represents us in the governance of our schools.We will fight until the disenfranchisement of the people of Philadelphia ends and we have the same rights as every other Pennsylvanian to elect our school board.

APPS decries the lack of transparency in the appointment of a Philadelphia School Board

Phila city hall

from City and State
Philly School board appointment legislation stalls in City Council | City and State – January 25, 2018

Even traditional public school advocates, who had long sought to eliminate the SRC, expressed concerns about the transition process. Lisa Haver, of the Alliance For Philadelphia Public Schools, said her group had authored a recent op-ed expressing similar dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency within the nominating panel and issued a call for a directly elected school board.

“We’re calling for some transparency because there’s none right now. It’s a whole question of, why is the mayor being so secretive,” said Haver. “If someone ran a charter school that closed and they’re applying to be on the school board, I want to know about that. I think people who don’t believe in traditional public schools shouldn’t be on the new school board. And we really believe we should have a locally elected school board like every other county.”

One City Council staffer described the current situation as “a mess.” Others said that the Mayor’s Office and City Council were not on the same page regarding a timeline for the creation of the new local school board.

APPS Lisa Haver in the Inquirer: Without transparency, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about Philly’s new school board

Hite and Kenney
Philadelphia Public School Superintendent William R. Hite and Mayor Jim Kenney talking before a program at Hartranft Elementary School. (Photo by Raymond Holman, Jr/Philadelphia Inquirer

The nominating panel convened under the rules of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter for the purpose of selecting candidates for the new school board held its first meeting last week. That should have been cause for rejoicing, an event to usher in a new day for the city. After a 17-year reign, the state-imposed School Reform Commission voted last November to dissolve itself. A nine-person local school board, nominated by the panel and appointed by Mayor Kenney, will be seated July 1.

 But the manner in which the panel has conducted its business so far, including its announcement that it will conduct deliberations in private, left advocates wondering why we fought so hard to bring back local control of our public schools.

The panel turned its back to the public. No remarks were addressed to the public, and there were no introductions of the 13 panel members chosen by the mayor. The agenda included no time for public speakers. Chair Wendell Pritchett announced that there would be only one more public meeting, when the panel would vote on the final 27 names to be sent to the mayor, from which he would choose the final nine.

 Over the past couple of months, the Mayor’s Office has sent surveys to some residents, asking (via multiple-choice questions) which qualifications should be set for board candidates; applications were posted online. Staff members have hosted town hall meetings to explain the transition. But the mayor is trying to shut the public out of the decision-making process.

This is what pseudo-democracy looks like.

Why the secrecy?

The mayor should ensure that selection of a public school board is as open a process as the law allows, given that the people of Philadelphia are the only residents of Pennsylvania unable to vote for school board representatives.

Members of this panel, and members of the future school board, are city officials. The people of this city have a right to know who will be making decisions that will affect them and their children for years. Placing this public body under a cone of silence does not lead to a formation of trust, an essential element of leadership. It only raises suspicions. Any person who does not want to ask questions in public should not be on the nominating panel. Any candidate who objects to answering questions about his or her background, experience, political associations, and views on public education should not serve on a board overseeing a $3 billion budget and making decisions about our children’s future.

The Office of the Chief Integrity Officer instructed members of the panel that as city officials they must observe all ethical standards. That means obeying the law, not just declining lunch dates with potential candidates. It is the panel’s legal and ethical duty to comply with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which requires that all deliberations be conducted in open session.

The mayor’s staff has cited the “executive session” provision of the Sunshine Act to justify directing the panel to meet in private.

Section 708 of the act lists the only reasons for which executive session can be held, and “deliberation” is not one of them. Nor is the “nomination of candidates” for appointment to the position of school board members listed as a reason for executive session. School board members are public officials, not employees of the school district.

Trading in one unelected, unaccountable board for another is not a progressive solution to the problems facing the district.

The stakeholders of the system — students, parents, teachers, and community members — must be able to express any reservations about nominees and be assured that there are no conflicts of interest. They must be part of an open process. Or does the mayor expect us just to gather in the City Hall courtyard waiting for the puff of white smoke to rise up from the tower?

The article is located at:
Without transparency, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about Philly’s new school board | Opinion – Philadelphia Inquirer- January 23, 2018
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