Ears on the Board of Education: March 26, 2020

by Diane Payne

The Board of Education conducted this Action Meeting following  a number of adaptations to pandemic restrictions. In times of crisis, we may lose sight of the importance of following long-established government rules and policies, but these are the very times that make that even more important. The PA Sunshine Act ensures that the public has the ability to observe and  participate in decisions made by their government. While adjusting to the needs of Governor Wolf’s public safety direction to not gather in groups, it is incumbent on the Board to facilitate Action Meetings with as much public participation as technology affords. The Board had initially allowed for no public participation, saying that people could send in testimony 24 hours before the meeting, summaries of which would be read by Board members.  No public voices would be heard during the meeting. APPS continued to point out–in public statements and in letters to the Board–that available technology allowed for them to take and respond to questions and comments in a number of ways. For example, if most of the Board members were participating by phone, then one phone line could be used to hear from the community. Comments and questions taken via twitter and email could be answered during the meeting–and when the meeting came, that is exactly what the Board did.  It was heartening to see APPS’ suggestions put into practice. Board members read public testimony in full, and they read and responded to messages sent via twitter and email. Superintendent Hite did try to answer some of those questions with promises to provide additional answers in the follow-up venues of FAQs on the District website and his weekly Facebook live meetings on Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. The Board has promised to improve on its efforts for April’s meeting by tapping into the technology options that offer live, interactive possibilities. Unfortunately, the Board’s introduction of two crucial items the day of the meeting has served to cast doubt on the Board’s promises of transparency.

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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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