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: September 17, 2020

by Diane Payne

The Board managed to hit many lows during this September remote Action Meeting. Just hours before the meeting started, registered public speakers on action items received an email message with their zoom confirmation that stated “…the Board President will be interrupting the testimony of those individuals not speaking on the topic under which they registered and directing the host to mute their lines.”  [Bold added] The absolute control the Board has over the public process during the quarantine took a chilling turn with this threat. Board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Angela McIver spoke against the directive during the meeting, and Wilkerson seemed to relent; but several speakers were cut off when they attempted to speak on more than one topic. APPS members pointed out in their testimonies that this comes on the heels of the Board’s allowing unlimited time in several consecutive meetings to the Hilco, Inc. officials who lobbied the Board–successfully, as it turns out–for a major tax break.   

During Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson’s presentation on projected budget shortfalls, Lee Huang dropped his own bomb: suggesting the closure of public schools as a solution to a financial crisis. Several Board members spoke in agreement, using familiar buzz phrases like “tough decisions” and “difficult move”, forcing us to relive the trauma of 2013 when the SRC approved the Hite administration’s permanent closure of  23 neighborhood schools. This is disaster capitalism in action. Communities have not recovered from losing those schools, and this Board wants to impose more? If Black Lives really do matter in Philadelphia, the community needs to organize now to stop this.   

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Ears on the Board of Education: August 20, 2020

by Diane Payne

The Office of the Inspector General, a purportedly independent office within the District, issued its final report on the botched construction project at Benjamin Franklin High School undertaken for the purpose of co-locating Science Leadership Academy (SLA).  

The OIG report paints a picture of the incompetence of Superintendent Hite and his staff from the planning of the project to its completion. It reveals the shocking disregard for the health and safety of the students and staff at Ben Franklin. It shows how the Hite administration ignored the fears of parents and educators. The Board’s response to the scandal?  Expressions of concern and disappointment, but not one word about accountability. 

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