Secret Deals and Speaker Suppression

Ears on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board practices speaker suppression in many ways. They abolished the committees that offered the school community a way to engage in real dialogue and deliberation. They gutted the official speaker policy, changing the rules from month to month and meeting to meeting. Those are obvious methods. But there are other ways to silence people. One is to add official items to the agenda after the sign-up window has closed, such as the charter renewals, so that only charter company representatives have a chance to be heard. Another is to add staff presentations to the agenda the day of the meeting, making it impossible for people to have a chance to comment or question. The Board does not post staff presentations before or even during the meeting, with the same results. And with only two minutes to speak, it is difficult if not impossible for people to address their issue and also ask a question about information presented during the meeting.  Of the thirty speakers allowed to sign up, eleven did not show up. That meant the Board only had to listen to nineteen adult speakers, silencing an unknown number of speakers (including three APPS members who were barred this month), disenfranchising the public, undermining democracy, and shielding themselves from accountability.  

Continue reading

Board Fails to Respond to Crises

Ears on the Board of Education: October 28, 2021

by Diane Payne

Three days before a possible SEPTA strike, Superintendent Hite announced that schools would be open as they have been this year — that is, there would be no alternative virtual instruction. Hite presented no plan to help parents get students to school. Fortunately, SEPTA operators have tentatively agreed to a new contract, and a strike has been averted. Was Hite’s non-plan designed to put more pressure on SEPTA or its unions to settle? Fortunately, we don’t have to find out — this time. But the Board and  Hite must develop a plan for alternative education in the case of transportation strikes, natural disasters, weather emergencies, and of course, a spike in COVID cases. 

President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice-president Leticia Egea-Hinton, Board Members Mallory Fix Lopez and Lisa Salley attended in person.  Attending virtually were Julia Danzy, Reginald Streater, Cecelia Thompson and Maria McColgan — who, despite being an outspoken advocate since last year for a return to in-person learning for students and staff, has yet to attend a hybrid Board meeting in person.   (Mayor Kenney has not begun the process of filling the seat left vacant when Angela McIver resigned in July.) 

Continue reading

Board Withholds Information About $375 Million Bond Deal

by Diane Payne and Lisa Haver

The Board of Education held two meetings on the afternoon of October 7: one to consider a bond issuance of approximately $400 million and the other to allow members of the public to address their concerns about the District.  

The Board followed the letter of the law by posting a small notice about this special meeting in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. They also entered the time of the meeting, with no details, in their online calendar.  The Board held this meeting at 1 PM, knowing that most stakeholders could not attend, with teachers and students  in school and most parents at work. When the Board finally posted the Action Item, just days before the meeting, it gave nothing but the title–not even the amount.  The legal notice had more information than the agenda posted online and in the copy distributed at the meeting. The Board clearly wanted to vote on this $375 bond issue after a minimum of public disclosure. 

Continue reading

Board Finds New Ways to Disrespect Community

Ears On The Board of Education: September 23, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board’s deliberate and mean-spirited disrespect for the students, parents, educators, and community members  was the lowlight of this meeting. Board President Wilkerson moved speakers way down the agenda, calling on them after a lengthy presentation. At this “hybrid meeting”, the Board allowed into the auditorium only those who signed up to speak in person. With about 80% of the room empty,  at least 50 people could fit with more than adequate distancing.  After all, the Board has no problem with filling classrooms  with little ventilation to capacity or having students, in the words of Student Representative Rebecca Allen,  “packed like sardines” in hallways.  In fact, half of the Board members attended virtually, including Julia Danzy and Marie McColgan, who have supported all of the administration’s plans for full return to school buildings since last year, falsely claiming that most parents supported the administration’s plan.  Once again, there was a persistent echo in the auditorium, making it difficult for attendees to hear. The camera was positioned so far back that those viewing at home could not see the faces of the Board members or tell who was speaking. 

Continue reading