Ears on the Board of Education: February 27, 2020

by Diane Payne

Board Rejects Three New Charter Applications

When we organize and fight, we can win.  By unanimous vote, the Board rejected applications from High School of Health Sciences Charter and String Theory/Joan Myers Brown. APPS wrote an analysis of the applications and the forces behind them, after attending all hearings and researching the corporate and political connections behind them. The Kensington Health Sciences Academy–principal, teachers, parents and students–wrote commentaries and showed up at Board meetings to urge the District to support their neighborhood school rather than cripple it with charter competition.

APPS  attends and reports on every meeting conducted by the Board of Education, as we did with the School Reform Commission before it.  Often, APPS members provide the only public eyes and ears witnessing and reporting on decisions and spending that affect our city’s schools.  This month, the outsourcing to unaccredited institutions and corporate edu-vendors continues the policies and practices of the SRC. The Board awarded contracts to Teach for America and Relay Graduate School of Education (not accredited in this state) for teacher recruitment, and the DMG group for administrative consulting.  These edu-vendors maintain a deep connection to charter schools and corporate disruptors of public education. Either blind to or unconcerned about that connection, the Board approved a total expenditure of $2,651,000 for these Items alone. The Board postponed the Action Item allotting $2 million to the edu-vendor SchoolKit.

(Read the reports by the late Ken Derstine, a founding APPS member, on billionaire Eli Broad’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle public education:  Who is Eli Broad? & More on Broad in Philadelphia)

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Ears on the Board of Education: December 12, 2019

by Diane Payne

Once again APPS members stood in unison and exercised our legal right to object to the Board’s violation of the PA Sunshine Act under Section 710 (c). The Board fails to post in advance or to read the full text into the record at the time of the vote, in effect voting in secret. The full text, although dated 12/12/19,  did not appear on the District website until 12/14/19. That is a falsification of the public record, as is reporting in the official Minutes that the Board voted on the full resolution at the meeting.

District counsel Lynn Rauch had consulted with APPS co-founder Lisa Haver before the meeting about whether APPS would be objecting again and how.  Lisa told her that, as we had in the previous two Action Meetings, we would be making one objection before the votes on charter Items, that it would take about one minute, and that the objection had to be noted for the record and reported in the Minutes. For some reason, Board member Chris McGinley began to speak over us, moving to approve the first Mastery charter. President Wilkerson said nothing, but Rauch interrupted him to explain the procedure. For the third month in a row, not one member of  the Board addressed the objection. McGinley again moved to approve Mastery Charter High School (aka Mastery Lenfest Charter).

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Ears on the Board of Education, November 21, 2019

by Diane Payne

The eight APPS members in attendance, along with our supporters, stood and read in unison our legal objection to the Board’s ongoing violations of the PA Sunshine Act–this month the secret vote on the Boys Latin Charter School renewal.  This Board votes on all charter school issues (and only charter school issues) without providing the text of the Action Item or reading the text of the Item into the record. This is tantamount to voting in secret because the public has no information on the details on this item at the time of the vote.  President Wilkerson attempted to gavel and talk over us, thus failing to acknowledge the Board’s obligation to listen to members of the public formally objecting under Section 710(c) of the PA Sunshine Act.

About a dozen school nurses showed up to protest the mismanagement of Health Services in the District.  The eloquent and comprehensive testimonies of the nurses showed once again that Philadelphia school nurses are highly professional, credentialed, and competent.

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Board of Education Public Hearing: September 26, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

The recently amended Philadelphia Home Rule Charter mandates that the Board of Education hold at least two public hearings each school year for the sole purpose of giving parents, students, teachers, and community members the right and opportunity to address the Board with concerns, suggestions, complaints and questions. One purpose of making these hearings part of the City Charter was to underline that the Board is a public body that needs to engage with and be responsive to the public will. The Board may not always agree with members of the public, but they do have to consider the wishes of the people as they make decisions about spending tax dollars and formulating educational policy. The city’s populace successfully fought to have the School Reform Commission replaced with a Board precisely because the SRC ignored the people’s interests and inclusion in the process of running public schools for our city’s children. That this Board is appointed by the mayor and not elected by voters in no way diminishes the fact that its members are expected to be working on behalf of the public–that is, their constituents.

In light of that, it is inexplicable that the Board did not publicized this meeting commensurate with its importance, resulting in a disappointingly under-attended meeting. Board members were informed by staff that robo-calls were made to parents, and that notice was posted on the District’s website. But this notice  required a more descriptive and inviting name than the two-word “Public Hearing” in a small box in the Board calendar, which requires several page clicks to find. As community activist Mama Gail Clouden pointed out in her testimony, students’ home and cell phone numbers are changed too often to be a reliable means of contact. At the very least, a banner with the meeting information should have been prominently placed on the Home Page of the District’s website where anyone who goes to the website for any reason will see it. The Board should explore such ideas as using PSAs (Public Service Announcements) on TV and radio stations which are often provided free as a service to public schools.

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