Ears on the SRC: February 15, 2018

SRC 1

by Diane Payne
February 26, 2018

 All Present

All five commissioners were present for this action meeting. Eight members of APPS spoke on behalf of public education at this meeting; to view their testimony, go to APPSPhilly.net.

Four additional community members spoke in opposition to resolutions A-7 and B-12. Resolution A-7 proposed a $9,549,665 contract with NCS Pearson for “integrated web access. Resolution B-12 spent a whopping $10 million for various vendors providing online courses and adaptive software. (This is in addition to the $10 million the SRC set aside for blended learning last year).

There were two wonderful performances by students from Franklin Learning Center High School (FLC). Two students (piano and voice) beautifully performed the moving song, Strange Fruit, and another student gave a “Little Black Girl” spoken word performance.

SRC Staff Answers Questions

In his remarks, Dr. Hite addressed the millions going to web access and blended learning in Resolutions A-7 and B-12. He assured the audience of privacy protections and gave what some interpreted as lip service to teachers being primary to children’s education.

Teacher Vanessa Baker, in speaking against Resolutions A-7 and B-12, reported on recent events around the city in which business leaders and social impact investors have met behind closed doors–leaving out students, parents or educators– to discuss the direction of education. On January 29th, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce held a ticketed, closed-door event for members of the business community on Roadmap for Growth: Exploring Business Engagement in Philadelphia’s Schools. On February 7th, Comcast sent a busload of “Impact Investors” to Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Hite addressed Baker after her remarks to assure her that the attendees at Feltonville were only there to observe and see what is happening at the school. So, when the fox circles the henhouse during the day to see what is happening, does the farmer feel secure going to bed that night that his chicks will be safe?

Another recent exercise in exclusion of community stakeholders is that of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF), whose CEO is SRC Commissioner Farah Jimenez. (Yes, APPS has asked why this isn’t considered a conflict of interest, to no avail.)   Since Commissioner Jimenez has taken the helm at PEF, meetings about public education that were always open to the public have become closed-door events with preference to PEF donors. Jimenez has banned some individuals, including APPS co-founder Lisa Haver, from PEF meetings, and has refused to give any reason despite several communications with her and the PEF board. Discussions among business and nonprofits about the future of our schools now shut out the very people whose lives are most affected by them.

APPS members (and apparently some other members of the community) had submitted written questions to the SRC prior to this meeting about the ongoing approval of expenditures with no supporting evidence or explanation of their benefit. Interestingly, the staff presentations and Superintendent Hite’s remarks addressed some of these questions. Coincidence or public pressure forcing the minimum of explanation? In addition, the SRC staff provided written answers to questions which was made available to the public just prior to the meeting.

Click here to read the SRC responses to APPS and community members

Ears on the SRC: January 18, 2018

SRC 1-18-18

by Diane Payne
February 3, 2018

Ringing in 2018

Only four commissioners were present at this meeting: Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Estelle Richman, Christopher McGinley and Farah Jimenez.  Absent again, without explanation or apology, was Commissioner Bill Green.  It has become increasingly clear that Commissioner Green does not take his responsibility to the public seriously.  This is now the sixth time he has been absent since April 2017.  He has come in at the tail end of meetings only to vote; he has left meetings early to call in and vote.

Ten APPS members testified on behalf of public education.  [To see their testimony and the testimony of other defenders of public education, please go to the APPS website.]

Remarks and Presentations

Superintendent William Hite, in his official remarks, stated that the district has greater stability in job placement.  However, the testimony of teacher Robin Lowry painted a different picture for her school.  [To see and view Robin’s testimony about the vacancies at Edison H.S., go to the SRC testimony video and click on the 22:45 minute time stamp.]

The one staff presentation concerned changes in the district’s food program.  It is heartening to hear that the district is trying different means of increasing participation in the food program, but the issue of the quality of the food remains unaddressed.  Children still receive unappetizing pre-packaged items, not the meals many of us remember that were prepared in school kitchens.

Commissioner McGinley, chair of the SRC’s Policy Committee, noted that Resolution SRC-1 was a policy resolution that will be voted on at this meeting and that SRC-2 is on the agenda for public review and comment only.  SRC-2 will be considered at the February SRC Action Meeting.  The next policy meeting will be [was]at 440 N. Broad Street at 10:00 a.m. on February 1, 2018.  Dr. McGinley also noted that the discussion of the charter school policy will continue at that meeting.

Sunshine Act Violation

The SRC continues to thumb its nose at the Sunshine Act and the Commonwealth Court Settlement that resulted from an APPS lawsuit over SRC violations of that law.  Part of that court-ordered settlement stipulated that the SRC would post resolutions two weeks prior to all Action Meetings. Almost every month, however, the SRC adds resolutions in the week before the meeting.  Charter school resolutions are posted as “quasi-judicial” and lack any text; thus, the public has no information available to them when the SRC votes on them.  Subsequent to the meeting (and their vote), they fill in the text of the resolution–which is not what the SRC voted on.  That is a falsification of the public record, and it is a violation of the Sunshine Act and of the settlement.  We have repeatedly called on Chair Wilkerson and the legal department (now headed by Lynn Rauch) to address these violations. The SRC is a public body. Its members should respect the rule of law.

Charter Sham Continues–on Taxpayers’ Dime

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Ears on the SRC – December 14, 2017

SRC 12-14-17

by Diane Payne
January 4, 2018

Ringing Out 2017

All five members of the School Reform Commission were present.  The Head of the Office of General Counsel, Lynn Rauch, was introduced at this meeting; she replaces Interim Director Miles Shorr.  Five members of APPS spoke in defense of public education.  To view their testimony, please go to APPSPhilly.net.  APPS members attend every SRC meeting to monitor and report on questionable, often destructive, SRC decisions that undermine public education–actions that otherwise would go unreported and undetected.

Sunshine Act Again Behind the Clouds

The SRC continues to violate the PA Sunshine Act, even after the 2015 court-ordered settlement between the district and APPS.  The SRC agreed to post resolutions two weeks prior to every meeting to give the public ample opportunity to review them.  However, just one week before this meeting, resolutions were posted on the non-renewal of Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson, and on the revocation of Khepera Charter.  These resolutions did not just pop up unexpectedly.  These charter renewals had been tabled for over a year and a half.  It is amazing that this body continues to flaunt the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Act as well as the stipulations of the APPS court settlement.

Walk-on Resolution

Commissioner Bill Green made a motion to add a walk-on resolution (SRC-10) to increase the seat enrollment of Independence Charter school by 25 seats.   Because of the APPS Sunshine Act agreement, audience members were permitted to sign up to speak for or against the resolution, but there was no explanation or context given for the action.  Regular attendees were not surprised to see Green once again going above and beyond for charter investors.

Superintendent’s Remarks

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Ears on the SRC: October 19, 2017

Ocy 19 2017 src

by Diane Payne

 Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Estelle Richmond, Chris McGinley and Farah Jimenez were present for the entire meeting. Missing in action once again was Commissioner Bill Green. Green has been exhibiting a disdain for his position by failing to be present for part or all of five meetings since April. No other commissioner has had such an abysmal attendance record. Green has come in at the tail end of two meetings this year, after staff presentations and public speakers, but was still permitted to vote. He has left two other meetings early only to call in by phone much later, again, just in time to vote. This time he never showed, and no explanation was given by the Chair.   Resolution B-1 Donation: $2,700,000 Ratification of Acceptance of Donation of Services and Resources from Temple University had to be withdrawn by staff because McGinley and Wilkerson abstained due to their Temple employment. That left the vote an unpassable tie of 2-2. This resolution was to accept “the donation of professional development services from Temple University to improve leadership, instruction and parent engagement of English Learners valued at $2,700,000 for the period commencing September 1, 2016 through August 31, 2021

APPS once again calls on Chair Wilkerson to address the issue of the disappearing commissioner. If Green cannot or will not perform his duties, he should resign.

Eleven members of APPS attended the October meeting; two addressed the Commission on matters of defending public education. A number of other speakers called on the SRC to vote to dissolve itself now. When the first speaker, student speaker Samuel Dennis, requested the SRC introduce a resolution to abolish, Chair Wilkerson denied his request. The Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalition members, bearing signs, stood in solidarity. When Wilkerson refused, the members of OCOS loudly chanted “tick – tick – tick…” for the remainder of Samuel’s three allotted minutes, (during which Wilkerson tried to bring up the next speaker) symbolizing time running out for the undemocratic, unelected SRC.

Conduct Unbecoming to a Public Figure

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