Ears on the Board of Education: July 23, 2020 (Part 1)

By Diane Payne

In the first week of July, the Board placed a notice of an Action Meeting in its online calendar. The Board placed no banner on the District homepage, and the agenda was not posted until 72 hours before the meeting.  The obvious reason to add a special meeting was to discuss the District’s fall reopening plan, but the Agenda contained twenty-six Items.  All eight Board members were present.  Mayor Kenney has taken no steps to fill the ninth seat, vacant since Chris McGinley resigned in April. The Mayor’s Nominating Panel, which met earlier this year to fill Wayne Walker’s seat, could easily be reconvened to fill this one, and the Mayor could choose from the list of candidates already compiled. In both 2018 and 2020, the Mayor ordered the Panel to meet only in Executive Session, thus violating the state’s Sunshine Act and shutting out the public from the entire process.  The abolition of the state-controlled SRC did not result in true local control but in mayoral control.  

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Ears on the Board of Education: May 28, 2020

By Diane Payne

The Board held its sixth remote Action meeting on May 28 as the Covid-19 crisis continues to necessitate quarantine. The Board has taken a Shock Doctrine approach to leadership by arbitrarily, without explanation, changing the procedures for public speaking. These changes, obviously,  have no bearing on public safety.  In violation of its own policy, one approved by unanimous vote only 6 months ago, the Board has whittled down the public’s three minutes of speaking time to two. In another violation, the Board allowed only three speakers on a topic. The policy allows for four.  At the November 2019 Policy Committee meeting,  APPS co-founder Lisa Haver objected to the Board’s proposal to eliminate the public speakers’ provision of the meeting policy.  Her concern was that it would leave this important public process subject to capricious changes at the whim of the Board. Unfortunately,  Haver’s fears were prescient.  Again, there is no health and safety reason for reducing the number of public speakers.  APPS calls on the Board to cease violating its own policy and reinstate the public’s full three minutes to speak and the number of speakers on topics back to four.  

Board Officers Elected

The Board is operating with only eight members as Mayor Kenney has not replaced Chris McGinley.  For some reason, Mayor Kenney has said that his Nominating Panel must reconvene even though this panel submitted names of 27 candidates just months ago.  It is unclear why the panel must start all over.  The Board elected officers at this first meeting of the new term. Joyce Wilkerson was re-elected President, Leticia Egea-Hinton elected Vice-President.  The Mayor’s replacement for Wayne Walker, Akeem Akbar, participated in his first full Action Meeting.  The remaining Board members: Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, and Angela McIver were also all present for this remote platform meeting. Student representatives Imere Williamson and Doha Abrahim also attended. 

Minutes of the April meeting were approved.  

Seven APPS members spoke in defense of public education at this meeting; one member submitted written testimony.  This testimony can be viewed on the APPS website  

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Ears on the Board of Education: April 30, 2020

by Diane Payne

April brought the Board’s second remote Action Meeting.  There were moments of technical difficulty which took several tries to fix–a reminder of how difficult online learning is for everyone involved.  Online learning is the mask we need during this crisis. It is not the cure.

Tributes to Resigning Board Members

All nine Board members attended, as did the two student representatives and Superintendent Hite.  Minutes of the March Action Meeting were approved. President Joyce Wilkerson opened her remarks with a notice that Action Item 62 had been added to the agenda the day before. This Item calls on the state and federal governments to maintain school funding and not to use the Covid-19 crisis as justification for slashing funding to schools that have suffered for years from inadequate funding.  Per the 2016 legal settlement between APPS and the District regarding walk-on Items, anyone who wished to speak was invited to sign up before the voting began via email or phone. Wilkerson thanked the District’s principals in recognition of the May 1 Principal Appreciation Day, and she thanked teachers in anticipation of Teacher Appreciation Day the following week.  She noted the Board would appear at City Council hearings as Board of Education candidates on Friday, May 1. Wilkerson bid farewell to Wayne Walker and Chris McGinley, both attending their last meeting as Board members. Maria McColgan read a tribute to Walker, and Angela McIver read one to McGinley.  Both Walker and McGinley thanked the Board members and the public they served.   Wilkerson concluded her remarks by urging members of  the public to join the Board in advocating for all levels of government to maintain school funding.

[Video of this meeting can be viewed on the District website.  Agendas and PowerPoints can also be viewed by going to the Board’s meeting materials page.]

Seven members of APPS spoke in defense of public education.  Remarks can be viewed on the APPS website.   Several members of the East Falls community returned to testify against a proposal to allow Laboratory Charter School to move into that neighborhood.

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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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