Ears on the Board of Education: December 10, 2020

By Diane Payne

The Board of Education held its final Action Meeting at the end of a year that upended the lives of every person in the world, including Philadelphia students and their families.  The suffering, isolation, and  fear felt by our most vulnerable citizens has been staggering–especially because so much of it was avoidable.  One thing that stood out in this last public meeting was the apparent absence of District administrations’ awareness of this fact. At the November Action Meeting, Superintendent Hite, in answer to concerns raised about students’  mental health,  promised to present this month the supports implemented by his administration.  Students heading into the holiday season with prolonged time off from school,  families whose breadwinners lost jobs and may not be able to afford to celebrate the holidays, some facing eviction–this would have been a perfect time to assure Board Members that our students have a safety net. But there was no presentation nor any question about it from any Board members.  

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Ears on the Board of Education: November 19, 2020

by Diane Payne

Board President Joyce Wilkerson opened this remote Action Meeting with praise and thanks to the University of Pennsylvania for its $100 million donation–$10 million over the next 10 years–toward the abatement of lead and asbestos in District schools.   

For years, public school advocates have fought to have Penn and other large non-profit institutions to pay at least part of their fair share of taxes on their profit-making properties through PILOTS (Payment in lieu of taxes). 

That fight has escalated as the District faces dire budget projections as a result of loss of tax revenues during the pandemic. Is there no other way for the District to pay for fixing toxic schools other than taking charity?  APPS’ recent report on Renaissance charter schools shows that the District spends hundreds of millions every year to sustain a program that has not, by any metric, been a success in improving schools.  (In just one example, the District allocated $30 million last year to Aspira, Inc. to operate two Renaissance charters–even after the Board voted not to renew after they failed to meet all standards.) Penn has a  $15 billion endowment.  Paying its full share of taxes would have Penn paying approximately $100 million per year.  Advocates have estimated that PILOTS would  produce 40% of that,  or close to $40 million per year.  The District and the media may paint Penn as generous, but the reality is they are getting off cheap.  Advocates vow to keep the pressure on Penn and the other mega nonprofits in the city to do their part and pay their fair share.

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Ears on the Board of Education: October 22, 2020

by Diane Payne

This month’s Board of Education Action Action Meeting featured administration PowerPoints that again failed to reflect the experiences and needs of those on the ground.  Many of the seventy-four registered speakers testified to this lack.  The Hite administration now requires Pre-K to Grade 2 staff to return to buildings on November 9th to prepare for the return of students on November 30th–in spite of still incomplete ventilation reports.  COVID’s main form of transmission is through the air.  People of color are statistically more likely to contract and to die from the illness.  Many older District buildings with asbestos, mold and lead were unsafe for children and adults  before COVID.  Now staff, students, families, and community members are being asked to trust that the District gets this right.  The neglect of the District has caused the illness and impending death of one teacher (that we know of) from mesothelioma.  Failure this time will have immediate and devastating consequences.

Present

The Board is down to six of the nine required members.  Chris McGinley resigned in April, 2020, but Mayor Kenney has yet to reconvene his Nominating Panel.

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Ears on the Board of Education, July 30, 2020 (Action Meeting, part 2)

by Diane Payne

When we organize and fight, we win. The students, parents, teachers, principals and community members told the Board on July 23 that Dr. Hite’s hybrid reopening plan would put children and adults in harm’s way. Hite and his staff presented an all-virtual plan to the Board one week later.

The Board reconvened the Action Meeting that they had recessed, after eight hours, on July 23.  All eight Board members were present.  [This meeting can be viewed on the Board website. Visit the APPS website to read our summary. Meeting materials can be viewed here]

Wilkerson Reiterates Plea for Fair Funding

Board President Joyce Wilkerson opened the meeting with another plea for funding advocacy.  Wilkerson noted that the state’s inequitable formula results in Philadelphia receiving the lowest per-pupil funding. The District webpage displays detailed information about how the public can engage their elected officials in demanding full and fair funding.  

Wilkerson then asked Superintendent Hite to present his revised reopening plan. She noted that there were working committees that assisted in this plan’s development, but she expressed no objection to the fact that the committees included administrators, principals, and parents–but no teachers.  

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