Eyes on the SRC – September 15, 2016


by Karel Kilimnik

September 13, 2016

As the school year begins, we witness another disappearing act by the SRC and the Hite administration. Now you see the resolutions, now you don’t. And when we asked for copies of resolutions already posted and distributed, but for some reason deleted from the district website, we were told by SRC staff that we had to file a Right to Know request. The SRC has made resolutions concerning ASPIRA, Olney High and Stetson Middle schools, along with Universal Audenreid High and Vare Middle schools, vanish into thin air—until they decided to make them reappear. The last time they were seen was at the April 28, 2016 SRC Action Meeting, when the Charter School Office strongly recommended non-renewal. Attorney and former mayoral candidate Kenneth Trujillo presented himself at the May 19 meeting as “Oversight Counsel” for ASPIRA, Inc; he admitted that ASPIRA had funneled money designated for Olney and Stetson into their other enterprises, but promised to correct that “cross-collateralization”. Trujillo told the SRC commissioners that ASPIRA Inc. had engaged William Blair and Company, one of the largest investment banks in the country. If ASPIRA wants to clean up its financial problems why are they spending money hiring William Blair & Company, “ a privately held financial services firm that provides investment bankingequity researchbrokerageasset management and private capital services.” What does this have to do with getting Aspira’s finances in order? Commissioner Bill Green made it clear that the SRC would be meeting with Aspira representatives to ensure that the company maintained control of these two schools.

APPS has been active in the five months since April to ensure that the public knows how the SRC is spending public money. We have written to the Mayor and the city’s Chief Integrity Officer, along with the Inspector General appointed to oversee the district. Negotiations with charter companies should not take place in private.

Also pulled from the bag of tricks is the reappearance of renewal resolutions for three Mastery charters—Clymer, Gratz Middle and High, and Shoemaker middle—also originally posted April 28. Despite low test scores, the Charter office recommended renewal. Why did the SRC postpone these for five months? Have SRC commissioners also been negotiating with Mastery? Originally they were posted but then they disappeared from the website. There is also a proposed charter amendment for KIPP Philadelphia Charter. This proposal was denied twice before. Why is the SRC allowing KIPP to submit the same amendment? Why so many do-overs for charters but none for public schools like Wister?

In April 2013, the SRC voted to close Vaux High School as part of the Hite administration’s massive closure campaign. The reason: under-enrollment. Fast forward to the present: the SRC, with no presentation or discussion, will vote to re-open Vaux—not as the public school it was, but as something called a “contract school”. The district, apparently, has been in negotiations with a company called Big Picture. Instead of supporting the school community to provide resources for all of their students, the district chose to scatter those students, disperse the staff, and leave a hole in the neighborhood. Is this the beginning of a new pattern, as more and more people see what a disaster charters have become? Close a school for a couple of years and then allow a non-profit to open it as a “contract” school? Public education dollars are the modern day gold rush for carpetbagger corporations.

Past practice shows us that these charter school operators will be out in full force at the September 15th SRC Meeting. We need for everyone to show up, ask questions either through testimony or by holding signs. We need to show that the community has questions and concerns about the direction the unelected SRC commissioners are taking.

The School Reform Commission is a governmental body. They control the over $2 billion dollar budget for the District and as public officials they must include public input. It’s difficult to comment on issues when Resolutions pop up and then disappear until a Resolution announcing the decision appears.

WE REALLY NEED YOU TO JOIN US AT THE SRC MEETING ON THURSDAY SEPTEMEBER 15th. Judging from the nature of the Resolutions and past practice, the charter operators will be out in full force. In order to get upstairs and into the auditorium call to register to speak by Wednesday September 14 at 4:00 p.m. The phone is 215 400 4180. The meeting starts at 4:30.

Click here to read APPS Analysis of selected resolutions on which the SRC will vote on September 15th.


Green’s role as a public advocate is dubious


by Lisa Haver
published in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook

August 22, 2016

School Reform Commissioner Bill Green has been making the rounds lately, along with fellow Commissioner Sylvia Simms, at events sponsored by the Parent Congress and the Education Opportunities for Families, presenting himself as an advocate for poor and working-class Philadelphians, expressing outrage and disdain at what he portrays as a lack of dedication and compassion from teachers and other school professionals.

His goal seems to be the sowing of divisions between parents and teachers, and between different demographics of parents. He recounts the old story, an urban legend at this point, of the new starry-eyed teacher, whose love of teaching and children has not yet been beaten out of her by the big bad union, who stays until 4 p.m. each day until the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers rep knocks on her door one day at 3:15, demanding that she leave because “you’re making the rest of us look bad.” That, he tells the parents, is “the culture of our school district.”

For a person in a position of power to mislead one group by demonizing another is nothing new. Green’s railing against union members — blaming them for the District’s shortcomings instead of those actually responsible for years of devastating spending and policy decisions — has become a regular feature of School Reform Commission meetings. Rather than spend money to lower class sizes or bring back school librarians, the SRC has funneled millions to vendors for questionable programs like blended learning, to testing and test-prep companies, to unnecessary training programs for teachers and administrators, to outside legal firms, and for ongoing charter expansion.

But let’s look at the culture of the SRC, especially in the last three years. Has it been a culture of openness and transparency, or one of secrecy and contempt for the public?

The record shows that Green, as both chair and commissioner, has used his position of power to thwart the will of the community, even violating the law to silence them. In October 2014, then-Chairman Green convened a meeting with no notice on the District’s website and with no public comment permitted in which the SRC voted unanimously to cancel the contract that it had negotiated with the PFT. Commonwealth Court’s unanimous ruling that the SRC acted illegally, that it has no “special powers” to unilaterally terminate a contract, was upheld last week in a unanimous decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Green’s new role as champion of parents can only be met with skepticism by those who have been the victims of his actions. In February 2015, Green used his position as chair to make a unilateral decision, again with no public notification, to have police search the bags and confiscate the signs of parents and community members who came to be heard on the issue of an alarming impending charter expansion. Green never apologized or made a commitment to respect the rights of the public, even after the District was sued in federal court and agreed to a financial settlement with the members of the public whose First Amendment rights he trampled.

More recently, Green was exposed in the press for having lied about his role in turning over Wister Elementary to Mastery Charters after stating publicly that he had no previous knowledge that Commissioner Simms was going to introduce a resolution from the floor. Documents obtained through a Right To Know request showed that he had spoken to a representative of Philadelphia School Partnership about having PSP board members (most of whom do not live in the city) lobby for such a resolution — five days before the SRC meeting. Neither he nor Simms ever met with the Wister parents who were fighting to keep the school public.

In a recent article on the ASPIRA charter renewals, Green declared himself  a “shill for students and their parents.” But he has made sure that no parents or students would be present to witness the deal that he and Simms, who have both been consistently pro-charter and anti-union, are making behind closed doors with ASPIRA management.

Of course, it’s not just Green’s behavior that motivated Philadelphia voters to approve a non-binding referendum in May 2015 for the abolition of the SRC.

Commissioner Farah Jimenez must recuse herself from voting on an increasing number of crucial issues as the possible conflicts grow because of her husband’s connections to charters and her own role as director of an education advocacy organization. Simms has refused to answer questions from the public and the media about the nature of her connection to her sister’s activities as a paid consultant for a company that lobbies on education reform issues.

Members of the SRC who continually shut out the public, who fashion private deals with charter companies and lobbyists, who deny the public’s right to speak on resolutions that affect the future and mission of public schools and who trample on the First Amendment rights of the public can try to rebrand themselves as public advocates, but the record shows they have been anything but.

APPS Calls on Mayor Kenney to Investigate SRC Actions in Aspira Case

Full SRC 5-19-16

The SRC has been considering the status of the charters of two ASPIRA schools, Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, for almost two years. There have been several stories published in the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook about ASPIRA’s failure to provide sufficient educational services to its students, along with serious issues about its questionable managerial and financial practices.  In April, the Charter School Office, which is under the domain of the SRC, presented detailed reports on both schools and recommended non-renewal for both. Rather than accept the findings of the CSO, the SRC has voted several times to postpone the vote.  APPS is requesting that the Mayor have his Chief Integrity officer investigate the actions of the SRC in the ASPIRA matter, in particular the private negotiations being conducted by two SRC members designed to make sure that ASPIRA retains control of the schools.
Rather than honestly answer the questions when interviewed by City and State Pennsylvania about the APPS letter, SRC Commissioner Bill Green launched a personal attack on APPS Co-founder Lisa Haver and questioned APPS independence.
APPS has previously questioned possible ethics violations due to conflicts of interest by SRC members relations with charter companies such as this letter to SRC Commissioner Farah Jimenez on September 2, 2015. In the letter, APPS stated: 
You identified yourself in that article as “Chair of Terry Tracy for Council-at-Large”. Mr. Tracy is a Republican party-backed candidate for city office. Subsection 696 (b)(6) of the Pennsylvania School Code of 1949, as amended, states: “No commission member may, while in the service of the School Reform Commission, seek or hold a position as any other public official within this Commonwealth or as an officer of a political party.”

Although no resolution has been posted regarding ASPIRA for Thursday’s (August 19th) SRC meeting, it is possible that the SRC will add a resolution for renewal at the last minute.

Below are the intros to the City and State Pennsylvania article and the letter to Mayor Kenney with links to the full text.

Education advocates call for investigation of Philly charter schools
City and State Pennsylvania – August 12, 2016

by Ryan Briggs

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an educational advocacy group, has called for the city’s Inspector General and Chief Integrity Officer, Board of Ethics and the Mayor’s office to investigate the relationship between School Reform Commission members and the troubled ASPIRA charter school organization.

The charter operator has been flagged by the School District of Philadelphia’s charter office for repeated academic and financial failings, but has remained in operation for more than a year due to the repeated postponement of a charter renewal vote.

The letter accuses School Reform Commission members of engaging in a “private appeals process” to benefit the charter at the public’s expense.

APPS member Lisa Haver accused SRC members Bill Green and Sylvia Simms in particular  of colluding with school operators to keep the school in operation through “ex parte” negotiations held outside of SRC meetings

“The School District charter office’s own reports recommended nonrenewal,” she said. “They’re working it out behind closed doors. It’s a violation of public trust.”

Haver said that Green and Simms had formed “a voting bloc” bent on keeping ASPIRA running in spite of its failing record at Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, which the operator took over four and five years ago, respectively.

Click here to read the whole article published in City and State Pennsylvania

APPS letter to Mayor Kenney Calling for an Investigation into SRC Actions on Aspira

Dear Mayor Kenney,

On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, we are writing to request that the City’s Chief Integrity Officer, Ellen Kaplan, conduct a full investigation into the actions of the School Reform Commission during its current renewal procedure of the charters for Aspira Stetson School and Aspira Olney School. We have attended all of the SRC meetings in April and May of this year when these resolutions were considered, and we have serious concerns that the public has been denied the right to a fair and impartial process in these matters.

Click here to read the entire letter to Mayor Kenney

Eyes on the SRC – July 1, 2016


By Lisa Haver

At its June 16 meeting, SRC Chair Marge Neff announced that the June 30 meeting, posted for months on the district’s website, would be moved to July 1 at 10:00 AM—on the cusp of the July 4th holiday weekend. The last time the SRC held a morning meeting, it cancelled the PFT contract, so our antennae are up.

Responding to pressure from APPS, Ms. Neff promised last year to post resolutions at least two weeks before the meeting. But a promise is not a law, so it can be broken anytime—without any penalty—as it has for the last two meetings. In addition to the 130+ resolutions originally posted, the SRC added a significant number of resolutions in the days before the June 16 meeting. That makes it even more difficult to see how much corporate funding is influencing district priorities and how little is actually making it to classrooms. If a resolution is added the day before, there is no way to speak on it until the next meeting—after the resolution has been passed. As of this writing Tuesday, no resolutions have been posted for the Friday meeting.

Given the SRC’s recent action, or lack of action, on the Renaissance renewals, we believe that it is crucial for people to attend this meeting. The SRC has, in effect, rejected the reports presented by its own Charter School Office on the Aspira and Universal schools. The CSO recommended in April that the SRC vote not to renew charters for Aspira Olney High School, Aspira Stetson Middle School, Universal Vare and Universal Audenried. The CSO gave numerous reasons—academic, financial, managerial—why these schools should not be renewed. Rather than accept the CSO’s report, the SRC has entered into private negotiations with Aspira. The Universal renewals have not appeared on the list of the last two meetings, and the SRC has not said when it will vote on them.

We teach our children about democracy, but the SRC, once again, does not feel the need to practice it.

Note: Lisa’s commentary on the subject of the SRC and its failure to observe the rules of democracy is published in Tuesday’s Philadelphia Daily News:

Commentary: SRC is acting as if it’s above the law | Philadelphia Daily News – June 28, 2016

Resolutions were posted by the SRC on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. No mention of the Aspira and Universal charter reauthorization.