Ears on the Board of Education: November 15, 2018

by Diane Payne

Eight of the nine Board members were present as were the two student representatives.  Member Chris McGinley was absent. Once again, the Board failed to provide adequate copies of written materials including the Action Items to be voted on;  a few copies were available at the back of the room, on a separate table, in binders. Board President Wilkerson displayed on the large screen how members of the public can view meeting information on their smartphones or tablets. Even if community members have the technology, which many do not,  attempting to view pages of material and attachments is close to impossible on a small screen. When the Board is spending millions and making decisions affecting students and staff, all members of the public should be able to have easy access to all meeting materials. APPS members sent a letter to the Board after the October meeting asking the Board to address these and other issues.

The Board approved minutes from the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.

The meeting opened with a lovely student performance from a Frankford High School musical group.  Six student musicians and their teacher went to considerable effort to perform at this meeting which took place during the first snowstorm of the season.  Most surrounding public school districts dismissed early in order to ensure the safety of students and staff in treacherous conditions. Not only did the District fail to dismiss students early but made the questionable decision not to postpone this meeting, despite dangerous travel conditions being reported on TV and radio. Even more disturbing was the Board’s decision not to send the student musicians home. Couldn’t they have been rescheduled for the December meeting?  President Wilkerson’s attempt at humor fell flat when she commented about getting the meeting started so that everyone could “begin their 3-hour commute home”.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Hite’s remarks began with extolling the expansion of the arts programs in schools. Since 2013, he said, there have been steady increases in arts programs in the schools; there are  450 art teachers, and every K-8 school now has instrumental music. Hite stated that all students now have access to “the arts” and that research supports the importance of this to student achievement.  Remember that 2013 was the year of the “Doomsday Budget” when the Hite administration cut art and music, librarians, counselors, secretaries, NTAs, and foreign languages from schools across the district. Is it really an accomplishment that 5 years later some of that was given back to our students?

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Ears on the Board of Education: October 18, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Lynda Rubin

Eight of the nine Board members and the two student Board representatives were present. Leticia Egea-Hinton was absent. The meeting began with a beautiful performance by the Central High School String Quartet, with string specialist Matt Roberts, under the direction of Ben Blazer.

General Counsel Lynn Rauch announced that the Board met in executive session on October16 and October18 to discuss the following: “personnel and employment matters, purchase or lease of real property, investigations, quasi-judicial proceedings, privileged and confidential matters and information and strategy about litigations”.  She then cited the legal matters by name and docket number.

Superintendent’s Report Addresses Community Concerns

Superintendent William Hite’s report indirectly addressed concerns about barriers to parental involvement raised prior to the meeting by email and phone call and reflected in the number of speakers on the issue. He encouraged parents to join SACs but did not directly address parents’ specific concerns until later in the meeting. There is some contradictory and confusing language on the District website that implies that parents and community members have to provide clearance information in order to attend meetings at their schools.

Dr. Hite also addressed the District’s solution to the lack of full-time nurses and substitute nurses. He stated that three of the four vacancies had been filled and that the District was now using Kelly Services, the same company the District contracted with two years ago when it outsourced substitute teacher services. Dr. Hite said that his administration intended to hire additional companies to find substitute nurses. In fact, Action Item 16, later passed by the Board, contracts with Bayada Services to fill per diem and long-term nursing substitutes. In response to strong lobbying by nurses and parents, the District will now give access to the medical information of the students they are serving on any day, whether permanently appointed to one school or not.

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Ears on the Board of Education: September 20, 2019

SB 7-9-18

by Diane Payne

Present

All nine members of the Board of Education (BOE) were present.  Eight members of APPS attended; five testified on behalf of public education.  Mayor Kenney came to welcome the students who were chosen as non-voting BOE representatives.  Of 54 applicants, two students were selected by a Board committee to serve as non-voting student representatives.  Julia Frank of Northeast High School and Alfredo Pratico of J.R. of Masterman High School were sworn in and seated.  They will alternate attendance at future meetings and will bring student voice to issues before the Board.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown spoke to welcome the Board and to advise them that City Council was there to support and monitor district operations.  She noted three main areas of concern: school health and safety, suspensions, and African-American studies in the district’s high school curriculum. Also in attendance for part of the meeting was Councilwoman Helen Gym.   Gym has been outspoken against the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) and was the only No vote on the issue earlier that day in Council. The Board’s agenda included a vote on the current list of KOZ properties (more on this below).

The meeting began with a  lovely musical performance by Universal Language, a group of Franklin Learning Center students.  It was inspiring to hear the beautiful voice and stellar musical accompaniment of these student musicians.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Superintendent William Hite addressed the District’s upcoming open enrollment process.  The timeline has been moved, but the total number of days to complete the application process is the same.  Applications can be submitted from September 21st through November 2nd. There was a question about counselors having a difficult time due to the new timeline conflicting with Early Admission College Applications (EACA).  Dr. Hite said that only 5 high schools were possibly affected but research indicated really only one school would be affected. They were assured by that school there was no problem with conflicts impacting the EACAs.

Board Reverts to Business as Usual                                                    

The official BOE agenda included an extensive visual presentation on the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties from First Deputy Director Sylvie Gallier Howard and Senior Deputy Director Duane Bumb of the City’s Commerce Department.  (The power-point can be viewed here.)  The PA General Assembly created KOZs in 1998 as a program designed to spark development in blighted, vacant, or underutilized properties that might not otherwise be developed. This program abates a long list of both state and city taxes as the lure for investment and the projected economic improvement, particularly job creation. The hook for the School District is that by law these properties must make Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) that amount to 110% of the 55% that would come to the District in real estate taxes.  These PILOTS are paid annually and are based on the previous year’s property assessment. By law, both City Council and the BOE must approve the list of properties submitted by the Commerce Department before the applications can proceed to the state.  (These properties can be viewed on the above mentioned powerpoint.)

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Ears on the Board of Education: August 16, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Diane Payne

Present

All nine board members were present for the second meeting of the new Board of Education (BOE). The Board consists of President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice-President Wayne Walker, Members Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix-Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, Chris McGinley, and Angela McIver. Six members of APPS were present, four of whom testified in support of public education. (To see the APPS members’ testimony, click here.)

This meeting began with a musical presentation by the Rush Arts Remixers Vocal Ensemble from the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School. Their talent and presence were amazing and it was a delightful way to begin this meeting. Especially moving was their tribute to Aretha Franklin, who died earlier that day.

The Board has established four committees to guide their decision-making at monthly action meetings: Finance and Facilities (meeting monthly), Student Achievement and Support (meeting monthly), Policy (meeting quarterly), and District Partnerships and Community Engagement (meeting quarterly). President Wilkerson announced that the Finance and Facilities Committee will meet on September 6th, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at 440 N. Broad Street in the BOE offices; this committee will meet the first Thursday of each month. The Student Achievement and Support Committee will meet on the second Thursday of each month; the first meeting will be held on September 13th, 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the BOE offices. President Wilkerson encouraged public participation at these meetings. (All BOE information can be found on the SDP website at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/.)

Superintendent’s Remarks

Superintendent Hite’s remarks were characteristically upbeat and optimistic. He cited facility readiness, 600 newly hired teachers, and improved academic prognosis for this school year. BOE members must hold Dr. Hite to his promises as the SRC did not, and students, families, and community members must make sure the BOE knows about what is and is not happening at their schools. New teachers stay, and students succeed, when facilities are safe and healthy and when supports, services, and supplies are available and consistent. What Dr. Hite touts has not been the reality in many buildings, Mayfair and Strawberry Mansion being the most recent examples.

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