Eyes on the Board of Education: November 19, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

”The movement is a testament to the fact that courage is contagious.”  Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter Organizer

The Board of Education has issued a brief agenda this month. APPS members again urge the Board to listen to teachers and parents, particularly in its compliance with the Hite administration on its proposed reopening plan. The Hite administration continues to implement corporate education practices, even more so behind the Covid Curtain.

As Covid cases surge in Philadelphia,  we see again the racial inequities inherent in our society. Unemployment, sickness and death have devastated Black and Brown communities. District leadership must be held accountable for decisions that affect those communities. Educators know that in-person learning works best for students, but the health and safety of students and staff are not negotiable. 

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Eyes on the Board of Education: October 22, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

With rage over the devaluing of Black lives still simmering in the city and across the country, we should  look at the continued underfunding of the city’s schools, whose students are primarily Black and Brown. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities our students have experienced when they walked into crumbling, dirty buildings often with mold and sometimes asbestos; no toilet paper or hand soap; teachers having to purchase basic supplies; limited after-school activities. Now those students experience inequalities in technology and internet access; availability of school supplies and food; evictions amid housing uncertainty; loss of jobs ; cutting off of healthcare at a time when covid-19 remains active in our communities; and a general escalation of trauma and anxiety on every level.

The Hite administration has created an Equity Coalition, yet when an opportunity arises to actually pay participants the District overlooks those who have worked on these issues in favor of awarding contracts to consultants (Item 29) such as Steppingstone or creating an Equity Partners Fellowship (Item 2).  Dr Hite, a 2005 Broad Fellow, has instituted a welfare system for private entities seeking business opportunities in public education. 

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Eyes on the Board of Education: September 17, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”  James Baldwin

As educators and students across the nation begin a new year, many enduring issues of inequity and racism generate discussion. We need to go beyond the clouds of words and promises of task forces and advisory committees. Educators, parents, students, advocates and school staff need a seat at the decision-making table. Better funded districts with newer facilities are able to provide both in-school and virtual instruction, while we in Philadelphia continue the fight to detoxify schools. The District’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a scathing report on the  Hite administration’s mishandling of the construction and the ensuing environmental crisis at Ben Franklin High School. Dr. Hite and his team, in hurrying the project so that Science Leadership Academy could relocate, endangered the health and safety of students and staff. The Board expressed its disappointment, then moved on with a shameful promise simply to include the years-long display of incompetence and malfeasance in Dr. Hite’s annual performance review.  

The OIG Report not only laid bare what happened during the eighteen months of construction at Ben Franklin (although omitting all names of those responsible seems designed to preclude accountability), it gave important insight into the policy and practice of the Hite administration on outsourcing and the resulting erosion of institutional memory at 440, an issue raised by APPS members for years:

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Eyes on the Board of Education: August 20, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

Reading Board of Education agendas invoke feelings similar to that of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day: will we be trapped in this cycle forever?  Is there a future in which we don’t see the same items for consulting contracts, outsourcing of professional services, and growing the legal firm slush fund? We have seen little independence from the Board, which conducts business in the same way the SRC did–rubber-stamping administrative requests. 

The COVID pandemic provides an opportunity to right the priorities for the district by involving stakeholders in decision making; eliminating outsourcing and rebuilding infrastructure; using the already existing resources of educators instead of hiring outside consultants who return like cicadas; supporting Black Lives Matter and  Student Voter Registration.

We need actions to back the speeches. We need equity to guide funding so that it gets to schools with the highest needs and fewest resources. The August Agenda Items in particular keep us in that Groundhog Day cycle of privatization, outsourcing, and sending precious dollars to out-of-town consultants: Item 1, $700, 000.00 Contract with KJR Consulting for Central Office Professional Development, Anti-racism training and Change Management Support;  Item 24, Contract with the Urban Affairs Coalition at Philadelphia High School for Girls, giving non-profits the power to decide on how project money is spent at a public high school; Item 10, Ratification of Supplemental Outside Counsel, growing stable of outside law firms; Item 13, Contract with Various Vendors for Furniture and Equipment at PSLAMS, a new public school configuration brought about by the private funding of the Philadelphia School Partnership. Extensive anti-Racist training had been conducted by District educators who were told that they must do so only as volunteers; the District would not pay them–but have found $700,000 to pay KJR.  District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt told the Board at last week’s Joint Committee meeting that the Hite administration’s central office staff had a good relationship with KJR, who had been the recipient of previous District contracts. Wyatt did not explain what “Change Management Support” is.  The criteria for choosing leaders of anti-racism should be who can provide the best education on the subject, not being on good terms with a consulting company that has no experience in the subject. 

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