Ears on the SRC: June 15, 2017

SRC -2

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

SRC 5-25-17 edited

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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Ears on the SRC: May 18, 2017

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by Diane Payne
May 25, 2017

Some Good News

For defenders of public education, finding good news is not easy, but it does happen.   At the April 20th SRC meeting, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver told the SRC that she, like many people, is not able to understand a complex budget without some explanation. After the meeting, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Uri Monson asked Lisa for ideas on this. After a number of conversations, Monson issued a “Budget 101” along with the full district budget. This multi-page, graphic tutorial is available on the district website. Sometimes they do listen!

More good news: after months of unnecessary delay, the PA Senate finally did its job and confirmed Estelle Richman, thus filling the fifth seat on the SRC. Richman had been attending SRC meetings as an observer since her nomination by Governor Wolf six months ago. It is not acceptable that we still have this Harrisburg-imposed governance of our school district. Fighting to regain local control of our schools should be a priority of the people of Philadelphia, but until that control is restored we should not have to wait for Harrisburg to do its job and confirm our full complement of commissioners.


Defenders of Public Education Testify

All five members of the commission were present and remained for the entire meeting; none of the commissioners left mid-meeting. At both April meetings, Commissioner Green left early in the meeting without notice or explanation, then called in—after the public speakers finished—to vote on the resolutions. APPS has called into question the legitimacy of the votes at both of those meetings, as Commissioner Green and the SRC failed to follow their own by-laws as stated in Policy No. 006.1

Lisa Haver and APPS Legislative Liaison Lynda Rubin sent Green a letter, asking that he consider resigning if he is not able to fulfill his duties. Green did not reply.

Of course, members of the public ask questions of the SRC in public testimony at every meeting, but rarely get a response. Being unelected means being unaccountable.

Nine members of APPS spoke in defense of public education at this meeting. Eleven other speakers, including members and supporters of the Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT, addressed the timely topic of immigrant student rights. These students, parents, teachers, attorneys and community advocates spoke about the realities of being an immigrant student and what the district needs to do to protect their rights. Dr. Hite was reminded of promises he made in January on this issue, questions were asked, demands were presented—but as usual not a peep from those at the front table, even to acknowledge this information was being heard, processed and/or addressed.


More Wasteful Spending

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Ears on the SRC Special Meeting – May 1, 2017

SRC pic May 1 2017 #2

by Diane Payne
May 9, 2017

This special meeting of the School Reform Commission was announced in a press release sent out Monday April 24. The school district’s official notice was not published in the newspaper until Wednesday April 26. Those who wished to speak had to sign up by Friday. The sole purpose of the meeting was to vote on charter renewals and amendments for 26 schools. The day after giving notice of this meeting, an article appeared in the Notebook giving the public some information on the schools up for renewal. Because of that article, the public did have some information on the performance of these schools.

For the past year, the district has violated the PA Sunshine Act by failing to post or distribute the full resolutions on charter applications, renewals and amendments. The SRC has given no explanation for this change in practice except to designate these actions “quasi-judicial”. APPS has asked for an official explanation of this legal term and why it now applies to all charter matters. The district has not provided this, despite their many promises to be transparent. District Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson has stated at every budget hearing that charters are the single biggest driver of increased district costs. The SRC has a legal obligation to inform the public of all matters, especially those that are diverting so much from funding public schools.

APPS continues to monitor the district’s adherence to the PA Sunshine Act, which was enacted in order to ensure that the public can know what its government is doing and have an opportunity to speak about it. The SRC violates not only the Sunshine Act, but the court-ordered settlement between the SRC and APPS. We are challenging their practice of only announcing the topic before the vote, then publishing a full resolution in a revised Resolution Summary after the meeting. No governmental body is permitted to report false information about its public proceedings.

SRC Position Remains Unfilled
Present for this meeting were Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Farah Jimenez, Bill Green and Chris McGinley. The State Senate still has not confirmed Governor Wolf appointee Estelle Richman. State legislators, most recently House Speaker Michael Turzai, are quick to meddle in the school district’s business, making false statements about legal conditions which charters must follow, yet they fail to do their own job of holding a senate confirmation hearing—as well as a failing to fully and fairly fund our district and others across the state.

Green Disappears–Again

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