Ears on the SRC: September 14, 2017

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by Diane Payne
September 25, 2017

Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Farah Jimenez, Chris McGinley and Estelle Richman were present for the entire meeting.  Commissioner Green was absent for the first two hours; he arrived at 6:45 for a meeting that started at 4:30, without explanation, when there were four speakers left. Green was absent during the testimony of forty-two speakers,  Superintendent Hite’s remarks,  the Policy Committee report from Dr. McGinley, and the presentation from Student Services Director Karen Lynch on the school selection process. He did, however, vote on all of the resolutions.

Before the vote on resolutions, APPS’ Lisa Haver stood and approached the front table, asking Chair Wilkerson:  Can you please read the rules concerning Commissioners voting after missing most of the meeting?  How can Commissioner Green miss the entire proceeding, arrive at the conclusion of the meeting, and be allowed to vote?  Although those questions were addressed to the Chair,  Green asked Miles Shore, Interim Chief of the district’s Office of General Counsel, to cite the rules about when Commissioners can vote on resolutions.  Shore stated that since Green was present he was entitled to vote.  Shore did not cite any policy number when giving this opinion.

Green also missed most of the SRC Action Meetings on April 20 and May 1 of this year.  He did not hear the majority of the public speakers, the staff presentations or Superintendent Hite’s remarks–yet he still voted.  As Haver said, Green personifies the SRC’s disregard for the public they are entrusted to serve. Green missed most of the April 27 2017 and May 1 2017 meetings also.

APPS again calls on Chair Wilkerson to address this issue. (See timestamp 1:58:00 in this link.) If Green cannot serve in a responsible manner, he should resign.

Sixteen members of APPS were present for this meeting; fourteen testified.

[To view their testimony, please go to APPSphilly.net.]

Our City Our Schools: SRC Must Go

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Ears on the SRC: August 17, 2017

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by Diane Payne
August 24, 2017

Commissioners Bill Green, Estelle Richman, Chris McGinley and Farah Jimenez were present; Chair Joyce Wilkerson was absent, so Jimenez acted as Interim Chair. Eight members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) were present; six testified in defense of public education. [See APPSPhilly.net to view their testimony and read their transcripts.]   APPS members continue to call out the waste of public tax dollars, the ongoing privatization of district resources and services, and the corporate policy agenda reflected in numerous resolutions that appear monthly on the SRC agenda.

Block Voting

The SRC voted on a total of 83 resolutions that set the priorities of the Hite administration. The commissioners spent money on district needs, much of that to private contractors. The 83 resolutions were voted on in only 4 blocks; one vote by Commissioners approved 42 resolutions. There was no discussion about the merits or worth of even a single resolution. All but two passed unanimously. This governmental body spends millions of tax dollars every month even though it is not accountable to the taxpayers of the city or the state. As a state-controlled body, it operates outside the system of checks and balances that is basic to our democratic system.

Our City Our Schools (OCOS): SRC Must Go

The OCOS coalition, of which APPS is a member, is publicly advocating for a return to local control of the School District of Philadelphia. In 2001, Harrisburg imposed the SRC governance structure on Philadelphia, stripping the city of local control of the city’s schools. The justification for this was the promise of increased financial stability and improved academics. Not only has the district achieved neither of these goals, it has been forced to operate under a “Doomsday Budget” as a result of budget cuts from Harrisburg. In the Trump/DeVos education agenda, public schools continue to find themselves under siege. Looming elections in 2020 create an uncertain future at both the state and city level.

The SRC can only be dissolved by our state legislature voting to abolish or the SRC commissioners voting at an SRC meeting to abolish. Should either of those things happen, it would still take another 180 days before the Secretary of Education (Pedro Rivera under Governor Tom Wolf) can approve the vote. That timeline pushes us to just before the next election. There is a sense of urgency around abolishing the SRC before this next election. Our children are living every day with the fallout from SRC spending priorities; our tax dollars are spent on questionable and unnecessary programs. Yet, out of 499 school districts in the Commonwealth, Philadelphia is the only school district with no form of local control! In the birthplace of American democracy, our voice is silenced.

Deaf Ears

 

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Ears on the SRC: June 15, 2017

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by Diane Payne
June 24, 2017

AWOL Again

Four of the five commissioners were present for the entire meeting. Once again, Commissioner Bill Green was absent without explanation for most of the meeting, appearing near the end of the public speakers. He arrived at 8 PM for a meeting that began at 4:30. The fact that he missed all of the staff presentations, including those on charter renewal and amendments, did not stop him from voting on all resolutions. This same kind of unexplained absence occurred at the meetings of April 27th and May 1st when he again missed most of the meeting arriving in time to vote on resolutions.

The SRC by-laws do not specify the consequences of a commissioner missing most of an Action Meeting, then voting on resolutions. SRC Policy 006.1 states:

To attend a SRC meeting through electronic communications, a Commissioner shall comply with the following:

a. Submit such request to the SRC Chairperson or designee at least three (3) days prior to the meeting.

b. Ensure that the remote location is quiet and free from background noise and interruptions.

c. Participate in the entire SRC meeting

The question that must be addressed by Chair Wilkerson: should a commissioner who misses most of the meeting, who has little knowledge of the issues on the table, be permitted to vote?

 Defenders of Public Education

APPS members held a Requiem for Shuttered Schools at 440 before the SRC meeting. Malcolm Kenyatta spoke on behalf of State Rep. Curtis Thomas, who fought to save William Penn High School and Harrison Elementary. Members of Parents United for Public Education, Our City Our Schools, Save Smith School and a number of other community groups spoke against Hite’s plan to close three neighborhood schools each year for the next five years.

At the SRC meeting, in addition to ten APPS members, fourteen speakers including students, parents, district staff and community members from the Our City Our Schools Coalition (OCOS) called for the abolishment of the SRC in their testimonies. OCOS asked the SRC to commit to a timeline that would have them vote to abolish that body by Fall 2017. After a vote to abolish, it will take another 180 days before the PA Secretary of Education can approve this measure. There is a sense of urgency around this demand in light of the latest national election and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as head US Secretary of Education, in addition to fears of what the outcome of the next PA gubernatorial election might bring. Philadelphia is the only one of the state’s 499 districts that has imposed state control and which disenfranchises voters from choosing an elected school board.   We have had 16 years of SRC governance with nothing to show for it except a loss of democratic voice and services to our children.

SRC’s Willful, Continuous Violations of the Letter and Spirit of the Sunshine Act

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Ears on the SRC: May 25, 2017

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by Diane Payne
June 3, 2017

This regular Action Meeting of the SRC had been scheduled for the specific purpose of voting on the FY 2017-18 budget. In the three days before the meeting, however, several items were added, including the unannounced reconsideration of Deep Roots charter, whose application was rejected 3-1 in February. All five commissioners attended.

Eight APPS members gave testimony in defense of public education.

SRC’s Willful, Continuous Violations of the Letter and Spirit of the Sunshine Act

The 2016 Commonwealth Court-ordered settlement of the suit brought by APPS after SRC violations of the Sunshine Act stipulates that resolutions must be posted two weeks prior to each meeting.  Unfortunately, there have been repeated violations of this settlement agreement by the SRC. The resolution summary for May 18 was not posted in time. Some resolutions have only a title, but no description, which was the case for all of this meeting’s resolutions with one exception. In the case of the charter school resolutions, the SRC now designates every charter amendment—new applications, renewals, amendments—as “quasi-judicial’, then uses that unexplained designation as justification for 1) not providing full resolutions and 2) discussing charter business in executive session instead of in open meetings. APPS has repeatedly questioned the legality of hiding information from the public regarding the crucial actions on charter school applications, but the SRC continues to stonewall. This SRC changes policy on a whim (the number of speakers at the May 1st meeting was limited to 24 total, and half were from one school), breaks its own rules (conducting the April 27th and May 1st meetings after Commissioner Green left the meeting in violation of policy 006.1), and ignores the Sunshine Act—all the while paying lip service to transparency and community engagement.

The Deep Roots Charter Sham

This issue alone shows the depth of the corruption of the SRC. Their actions before and during the meeting on Deep Roots leave no doubt that it has, and will, put the interests of charter operators and investors before those of the students, parents and communities.

The SRC waited until three days before the meeting to post a resolution (with no text, just a title) to vote on a revised Deep Roots application—which has yet to be released by the district. There was no explanation of why this charter company was back only three months after it had been rejected. In fact, the Charter Office director acknowledged that there were “no substantive differences” between the first application and the revision.

APPS’ Deb Grill repeated many of the same points she made in February about the obvious inadequacy of Deep Roots’ curriculum, teacher recruitment, ELL resources, etc. She noted, again, that Logan Blyler, the school’s projected instructional leader, has only five years teaching experience, all in charters. He has no principal or administrative certification, although he is allegedly pursuing one at the “School Leader Fellow” program with Jounce Partners, a program comparable to that of Relay Graduate School. Jounce’s program is new, untried and lacks any evidence of success. Deb reminded the commissioners of the intense, scripted teacher coaching plan which can only result in high teacher attrition. Those teachers, in the revised application, would actually be paid less to work a 12-month year with only short breaks. Deep Roots’ mission statement says it will teach “motivated” students without addressing how to motivate the others.

The new proposal increases the allocation for nursing services by $30,000. Nursing services are outsourced with an unnamed health services provider to provide mandated health screening and other services in the Pennsylvania School Code. A nurse will be at the school several days a week. To pay for this, they reduced the salary of teachers from $50, 00 to $47,500. This includes an extended year for students and teachers of 188 days and 20 days of professional development for teachers.

The application actually invokes both Restorative Practices and No Excuses models without acknowledging that they are contradictory; this was cited by the hearing examiner in January as an indication that the application was a cut-and-paste from other charters, particularly KIPP. Deb asked whether those commissioners who had worked with Deep Roots board member Sophie Bryan would recuse themselves. Bryan served in several high-ranking positions in the district, including the Superintendent’s and Charter offices. She also served as Green’s chief of staff when he was in City Council. (No one abstained when the vote was taken.)

Karel Kilimnik told the SRC that Deep Roots’ application had “holes big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through”.

Click here to see the Charter Office’s reevaluation of Deep Roots.

SRC Perpetuates Expensive Farce

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