Ears on the SRC April 6th Policy Committee Meeting

Chris McGinley
SRC Commissioner Chris McGinley

by Lynda Rubin and Lisa Haver
April 13, 2017

On March 16, the SRC voted to approve Resolution SRC-4 which created a policy committee that will review policies that affect students and staff. SRC-4 was a walk-on resolution, posted just prior to the meeting. The district’s press release states that “…[T]he creation of this committee builds upon the work the SRC has done to increase the transparency and accessibility as a large number of policies are developed and reviewed…[T]he policy committee will create a space to hear from the public…”

Only those who attended this Action Meeting knew of its creation (and those who read very small legal notices in the classified section of the newspaper).  SRC Joyce Wilkerson appointed Commissioner Chris McGinley chair of the committee and announced that the meeting would take place at 9 AM on April 6.

The agenda and the policies to be considered, which constituted over 75 pages, were posted Friday afternoon, March 31. There was no banner, as there always is for announcement of special meetings, on the district homepage. Anyone who knew about the meeting would also have to know exactly where to go, and when, to find the information about it.

The Committee met in a small conference room on the first floor of 440. Of the approximately 35-40 people in attendance, about 90% were district staff.   APPS members Lynda Rubin, Lisa Haver, Diane Payne and Barbara Dowdall — in addition to Councilwoman Helen Gym and her Chief of Staff Jennifer Kates—appeared to be the only members of the public. Councilwoman Gym, Lynda and Lisa were the only public speakers. (SRC staff had called both Lynda and Lisa the day before the meeting to say they would not be able to speak as they had called after the deadline. They told the staff person that they would be attending and expected to be allowed to testify. Chair McGinley did circulate a sign-up sheet just prior to the meeting.)

Councilwoman Gym spoke about Policy 248, Unlawful Harassment of Students, a policy she helped to write as part of a civil rights agreement with the US Department of Justice after the highly publicized incidents of severe bullying and harassment of Asian students at South Philadelphia High School in 2010.

The testimony of both Lynda and Lisa focused on the purpose and publicizing of this “public” meeting. Lisa spoke of the district’s decision not to post a banner on the website, the fact that for some unexplained reason speakers must sign up two days before the meeting rather than the usual one day, and the difficulty in finding the materials to be reviewed at the meeting. She pointed out the obvious: that when the SRC schedules a meeting at 9 AM on a weekday, neither those who are affected by the policies nor those who must implement them are able to attend.

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Ears on the SRC: March 23, 2017

SRC 3-23-17 pic #1

by Diane Payne
March 30, 2017

This March 23rd meeting of the School Reform Commission had been posted on the School District (SD) website for months as a regularly scheduled Action Meeting. For some reason, many of those who called the district to sign up to speak were told they had to speak on the topic of next year’s budget. APPS sent an email to the SRC requesting that they inform the district employees who take registration information that the district had never posted this as a budget meeting and that the public cannot be barred from speaking on general topics at any SRC Action Meeting.

Before we begin to look at the only topic on the meeting agenda—the adoption of the $2.8 billion lump sum budget—we should examine the ways in which the SRC continues to shut the public out of the process, withhold information that should be readily available, and violate 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. However, there was no text or description of the resolution listed posted prior to this meeting. APPS sent an email to Chair Joyce Wilkerson asking why the SRC neglected to post the resolution summary. Ms. Wilkerson replied that the budget was not ready for posting and that the resolution could not be posted until a day or two before the meeting. Thus, the resolution would be treated as a “walk-on”; members of the public could sign up to speak on it at the beginning of the meeting.

We are talking about a $2.8 billion dollar budget here. The city’s budget is approximately $4 billion. Of course, the city posts its budget about a month before their months-long committee process begins, during which the public has at least two opportunities to speak to City Council on it. The SRC voted on this budget BEFORE the public was able to read it. There was a quick power-point presentation on the major points presented by Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson before the SRC voted to approve. This episode carries on the tradition of the SRC’s treating the public’s right to know as a minor point.

Harrisburg Holdup

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Ears on the SRC – March 16, 2017

SRC #3 #2

by Diane Payne
March 20, 2017

All four appointed commissioners—Chair Joyce Wilkerson, Dr. Christopher McGinley, Farah Jimenez, and Bill Green—were present at this regular action meeting of the SRC. Governor Wolf’s appointee for the fifth seat, Estelle Richman, attended as a member of the public. The same Harrisburg legislators who continue to impose this state-controlled system on the people of Philadelphia have held up Richman’s confirmation for several months. But they have no problem rushing through bills to restrict abortion (SB-3), to weaken union protections (SB-166), and to punish Philadelphia for being a sanctuary city ( SD-10).

There were 32 pre-registered speakers and two speakers for the two walk-on resolutions which were not posted before the meeting. The 2016 Commonwealth Court-ordered settlement between APPS and the SRC stipulates that resolutions must be posted two weeks prior to each meeting. The SRC must allow members of the public to sign up, at the meeting, for any resolution posted just before or during the meeting. These stipulations, which were adopted as official rules of the SRC, insure that the letter and the spirit of the PA Sunshine Act are honored.

Eight members of the Alliance spoke at this SRC meeting. APPS members continue to question the priorities of the SRC, bring to light district policies that further privatization, and expose the wasteful spending of scarce dollars on “initiatives” that fail to fulfill the district’s mission of making every school a quality school.

Of the 30 resolutions proposed, one was withdrawn and one passed 3-1. The remaining 28 passed unanimously.

Walk-on Resolutions
Chair Wilkerson opened the meeting by introducing the two walk-on resolutions. Resolution SRC-4 established an advisory committee, which will meet four times a year, on school policy, to be chaired by Commissioner McGinley. Dr. Hite and two other members of the SRC will sit on the committee. Wilkerson stated that it was being established to further “transparency and accessibility”. Committee members will review policies before taking actions and hear presentations by experts before voting on resolutions. The first meeting is scheduled for April 6th at 9:00 a.m. at 440 N. Broad Street.

Once again, this SRC gives lip service to transparency and accessibility. Which teacher, student, working parent or working community member can be present at a 9:00 a.m. weekday meeting? How accessible and how transparent can this really be? APPS members will attend this meeting, and we will see whether its true purpose is to have those representatives of corporations and foundations, already influential in issues of ideology and privatization, in the room.

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Ears on the SRC – February 16, 2017

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by Diane Payne
February 25, 2017

Speaking Out for Public Education

All four appointed commissioners were present. The as-yet-to-be-PA Senate-confirmed Estelle Richman attended as a member of the public, as she did at the last meeting. Members of Youth United for Change (YUC) spoke in support of Kensington Health Sciences Academy and against any staff turnover that might occur as a result of being targeted as a Priority School. Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACT) supporters spoke in favor of SRC-7 which approved their application to expand.

Note: in place of a complete resolution, the SRC posted a comment that SRC-7 is a “quasi-judicial” resolution and that more information could be found on the Charter School Office page of the district website. It is a violation of the PA Sunshine Act for any governmental body to vote on any motion or resolution without posting publicly or reading it in its entirety at the meeting—and without giving the public an opportunity to speak on it. In a move that we would consider a possible falsification of the public record, the SRC posted a full resolution, which is NOT the one they voted on, two days AFTER the meeting.

Seven APPS members spoke at this meeting. The actions of the SRC continue to tear at the fabric of our PUBLIC education system through resolutions that are passed each month which give away schools, approves more charters, forces out staff, accepts grants with privatizing conditions, and continues to outsource district jobs. If we believe in public education as a cornerstone of our democracy, then confronting this Commission remains crucial.

Victory for Innocent Teacher!

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