Eyes on the Board of Education: September 19, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Years ago the garden of privatization seeds were sown, the garden well tended by corporate disruptors, and now in full bloom. The current administration, led by the Broad Academy-trained Superintendent William Hite, has been steadily outsourcing everything from school staff to special education services to support for central administration.

Crumbling and toxic buildings, along with past and future school closings, give lie to the District’s stated goal of having  “a great school close to where children live”. Not long ago children walked to their neighborhood school. Teachers spent their career teaching in one or two schools. That has all changed now as the winds of corporate reform continue to blow through the District.

Corporate education supporters hold Board and CEO positions at many of the vendors who are offered contracts before the Board this month.  Attuned Education Partners (Item 7) is rife with officials from TFA,  Broad Academy, Relay GSE, and McKinsey & Company. The Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education is on the Board of  Relay GSE Board.

Item 6-Amendments to Contracts with ACS Consultants, EBS Healthcare, and Progressus Therapy – Special Education Teachers diverts more taxpayer money into the pockets of outside vendors as the District continues to struggle to recruit and retain teachers.

An honest effort toward teacher retention includes examining working conditions. Teachers have been held accountable for the failures of No Child Left Behind and the testing culture that permeates school systems. Additional stressors here include incompetent school leadership and continual turmoil inflicted by the Acceleration Network and Priority Schools turnovers. Before the corporate “dump the losers” mentality took hold,  it was not uncommon for teachers to spend their professional life in one or two schools. That is true stability.

Items 41 through 47 (Mastery Charter School Renewals) present a list of seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools, most of whose new contracts have lingered unsigned for years. The Charter Schools Office (CSO)  now recommends what amounts to retroactive renewals–without calling them that–some as far back as 2016. Although 5 of these Renaissance schools were recommended for 5-year Renewals with Conditions by the CSO when they first came up for a vote, the conditions have now been disappeared by the CSO.  The renewals specify that they “ do not include any school-specific conditions”. What was removed that Mastery did not want to implement? The public was never told what the conditions were, so we have no way to know what was rejected by this charter operator. The District conducts all charter renewal agreements in secret.  The SRC treats charter schools as clients, not as public schools, and the Board is continuing that practice. Where is that data proving the success of the Renaissance Charter School Program in ensuring “that all students have a great school close to where they live”? The District website states:  “A Renaissance Charter School is a neighborhood school that is operated as a public charter school and can only enroll students from the neighborhood, also known as a catchment zone.” But Councilmember Helen Gym’s report provides data showing a rise in out-of-catchment students at several Renaissance charter schools.

Allowing negotiations between charter management companies and the District to be conducted behind closed doors, and allowing Charter operators to refuse to correct their academic and financial deficiencies, simply continues the SRC practice of providing cover for charter operators at the cost of actual public schools.  Based on the District’s 2019 Budget Vendor List, the projected cost for these seven Mastery Renaissance Charter Schools over their five-year contract is $$888, 494, 511. 

Charters grow like weeds as they regularly apply for amendments to increase school enrollment (Items 39 & 40 KIPP Charter School ). Inadequate public information is provided for these expensive Items; in fact, there is not even a cost posted.  The SRC actually provided far more details than the skimpy descriptions given by the Board. One of the four Board’s stated priorities is “Transparency”. Failing to provide adequate descriptions of what is being voted on does nothing to support that commitment.

What If…

….the Board refused to approve any more enrollment changes for charters until district-run schools were all housed in healthy buildings? 

October Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday October 17, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday October 16, or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

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Eyes on the Board of Education: August 15, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Welcome to the start of the 2019-29 school year. Judging from this month’s Action Items, the welcome mat has been rolled out for the many branches of the Broad Foundation. We need to understand the history of privatization in Philadelphia to see how the unaccredited Broad Academy has been able to bring the outsourcing of services and the subsequent depletion of union membership to this and other school districts across the country.

In 2002 the District recruited businessman and politician Paul Vallas, who took the title of CEO as a statement of the change of direction toward a business model–and because he had no qualifications to take the position of superintendent. Vallas left just a few years later, leaving a $73 million deficit. Vallas opened the door for the tsunami of privatization to come, much of it carried out by administrators trained at the Broad Superintendents Academy.

In 2007, the Broad Academy created a special position for Dr. Arlene Ackerman as the first “Broad Superintendent in Residence” while she served as Superintendent of the San Francisco School District. Not long after her 2008 appointment here as Superintendent, she released her signature program, “Imagine 2014”, most of it based on a plan to have existing charters or other outside management companies take over struggling public schools. In 2009 Ackerman joined the Board of the Broad Foundation. She was forced to resign as the District’s Superintendent in 2011 after a number of controversies, the last one involving a public dispute with the mayor over full-day kindergarten. In 2012 Dr. William Hite, a 2005 graduate of the Broad Academy, was selected to succeed Ackerman.  Hite’s even temperament and low-key management style, the antithesis of Ackerman’s, has made him a favorite of the city’s politicians and business leaders. On the other hand, his implementation of the Broad privatization ideology has carried on Ackerman’s legacy. Hite has downsized staff at 440 and cut support staff in schools. One of his first tasks was overseeing the closing of 24 neighborhood schools. Hite has outsourced several positions, most notably substitute teachers and other staff.

Two Items, 16 (Grant Purpose:  To partially fund the salaries and benefits of three Broad Resident positions) and 17 (To partially fund the salaries and benefits of one Broad Resident position), continue this open-door policy for the Broad Foundation ideology.

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Eyes on the Board of Education: June 27, 2019

by Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill

The June Tsunami

This month’s agenda lists 91 Action Items (including 3 Intermediate Unit Items) to be considered and voted on by the Board. Needless to say, it will not be possible for the Board to conduct any deliberation of most of them.  Every June, we could count on the end-of-school-year tsunami of resolutions from the SRC. We were hoping that the Board would discontinue this practice. Yes, there are Committee meetings, but only a handful of Items, if any, are discussed by those three Committees (Policy and Public Engagement committees meet only 4 times a year; no Items are considered by the Public Engagement Committee). This agenda includes Items of financial and educational concern to the entire District community.

This edition of Eyes looks at some of the most pressing issues under consideration this month.  Should the Board sell a public school building to satisfy the desires of a real estate developer and charter operator? Should the Board continue to shovel money into a fund for outside legal firms that allows for little accounting of exactly that money is spent?  Will expanding Drexel’s footprint in West Philadelphia benefit the community?

Find the full list of  June 27 Action Items here.

Call 215-400-4010 before 4 PM June 26 to sign up to speak, or sign up online here.

Click here to read the action items of note and our analyses

Eyes on the Board of Education: March 28, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

As income inequality grows each year, we witness philanthropic institutions and foundations funding more District projects and programs.  Schools across the Commonwealth have still not recovered from the massive cuts former Governor Corbett imposed on districts. Pennsylvania still lags in funding public schools that must now rely more than ever on local real estate taxes. As corporations and the wealthy receive more tax cuts,  resulting in less government funding available for public education, the burden of funding schools falls on the shoulders of local taxpayers. All these private funders blur the lines of accountability and transparency. They are accountable to their investors–not the public.

Parent Involvement

Parent involvement continues to be an issue as the District makes decisions often without  informing parents and community members. The Mayfair School (Action Item 26) is about to receive a 14-classroom modular classroom to alleviate overcrowding. However, it appears that few if any Mayfair stakeholders were aware of this until we notified them. Outsourcing continues, whether it’s for financial matters (Action Item 7), Special Ed (Action Item 10), or counseling (Action Item 39). Once again the philanthropy/non-Profit sector steps up to fund school projects (Action Items 21 & 23). Good people may be doing good things for others, but shouldn’t we have a tax base that covers adequate school funding with everyone paying their fair share of taxes?

Public Notification and Involvement an Ongoing Problem

As we have noted in previous editions of  Eyes, the Board is failing to provide printed copies to the public of items to be acted upon at both Action and Committee meetings. Under the guise of going green, no paper copies of Action Items are available for the public at Action Meetings. Three binders with print copies of the Action Items continue to sit on a table in the rear of the auditorium with a warning not to remove–as if these are not public documents. How is the public supposed to follow the deliberation and voting on the numerous Action Items without a written guide? Until October 2018, the Board followed the SRC’s practice of distributing sufficient copies of resolutions at every meeting.  That needs to be restored. Not everyone has a laptop to follow along as Board members discuss Items they will be voting on. Reading these lengthy documents on a small cellphone screen is difficult if not impossible. How much money is really being saved at the expense of informing participants?

Agenda Problems

The Board Agenda continues to be problematic. Initially there were 40 Items, then there were 39. (We copied the original Agenda Items in case any disappeared.) The original Action Item 39 vanished. It has now been replaced with the former Action Item 40 ratifying a Contract with 12Plus. The original item read:  Action Item 39:  Contract with Project Based Learning, Inc. (Schools – Contracts).  Project Based Learning,Inc is a non-profit that  supports The Workshop School.

We understand that changes happen. The SRC actually noted next to the resolution  “Withdrawn by staff” and provided the withdrawal date. This meant that every resolution had its own number. The Board no longer follows this practice. They simply adjust the numbers without any explanation or date of change.  Board members continue to say that they want to be accountable and transparent. These changes would be a decisive move in that direction.

April Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday April 25 at 5 PM.  To register to speak, call 215 400 4010 by Wednesday April 24 at 3 or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

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