Eyes on the Board of Education: January 17, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

NOTE:  Unlike the BOE and District leadership when we are mistaken in what we have written we will take ownership and remedy the problem. Based on the testimony given by numerous ESOL teachers at the Janaury 17th Board meeting we feel compelled to retract the APPS Analysis for Action item 11 Contract with WestEd Professional Development for EL Instruction. According to teachers who actually implement ESOL instruction they find that QTEL is one of the best Professional Development Programs they have encountered. Also, we were mistaken in  identifying the William Penn Foundation funding for this project.  It is for another of WestEd’s programs. It is not for QTEL.

Budget Issues

The largest single allotment in the District’s budget goes to the 87 charter schools. Although there are no Action Items on this month’s agenda regarding charters, the Board will consider three new applicants next month. The Board must remember these facts when they decide in February:

  • The District cannot afford any more charters.
  • The Charter School Office is seriously understaffed; it has only 12 staff members to monitor 87 schools.
  • Our review of renewal evaluations shows consistent barriers to enrollment, lack of due process when students are accused of infractions, and expulsion for minor infractions such as uniform violations.
  • Many if not most charters pay rent and management fees to private companies; the Board has no control over those costs.
  • Neither the Board nor the public has access to the financial records of the Real Estate/Management companies which profit from the charter system, thus they have no control over those costs.
  • Administrative salaries and compensation are decided by the boards of the individual charters, not the Board of Education.  Ten charter CEOs, according to the most recent tax information, are paid over $200,000 in salary and compensation–and all of those schools have SPR Achievement ratings which place them in the Intervene category.
  • Charters do not offer “choice” to parents. The charter school chooses its students.
  • The PA Charter School Law has been called one of the worst in the country by many, including PA Auditor General Anthony DePasquale.

According to Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz, the US has the highest rate of economic inequality among “any of the advanced countries”. Gains achieved over the last fifty years have gone almost exclusively to the top 1%.  The destruction of “The American Dream” is felt deeply in our public schools where resources are scarce, union collective bargaining rights are rolled back, and teachers are blamed for this situation even as their wages and buying power diminish. Students suffer in toxic buildings with inadequate resources. . In 2013 the SRC passed Dr. Hite’s Doomsday Budget, resulting in massive layoffs of counselors, teachers, and other support staff. Our District is still reeling from the $1 billion budget cuts implemented by former Governor Corbett. The District is now led by a Broad Academy-trained superintendent. Eli Broad, an advancer of free-market ideology and policies,  is one of many uber-wealthy “philanthropists” pushing their corporate education agenda in public school districts across the country. Experience and degrees in education are secondary. Self-proclaimed innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit will suffice. Charter school proliferation at the expense of traditional district-run schools has been an important strategy in the corporate education agenda of privatization. Relationships in the school community have become secondary to competition and technology.

Ongoing Website Issues

Board of Education members are government officials with a stated commitment to  “…provide our diverse audiences with information that is relevant, timely, and easily accessible.”  If so, then why is navigating their website so complicated? It’s akin to wandering through a labyrinth in search of the exit (or information in this case).

Some questions:

  • Why is information dated prior to 2015-16 still not posted? When the City of Philadelphia made its transition to a new website, users were given the option of using the previous format or the new one. We suggested that the District do the same, but that fell on deaf ears. We were told that it would take about a year to fill in the older documents, but they remain unavailable.
  • Older documents can only be obtained by filing an official Right to Know request, which can take over 5 weeks to process.  It is also an unnecessary waste of staff time to search for information that should be online.
  • Why is nothing posted from the October and November Action Meetings?

The District has a fully staffed IT Department. If  they cannot resolve these issues, they should demand a refund from the vendor that sold them this program. These are public documents that, as the Board acknowledges, should be “easily accessible”. They are not. What is being done to remedy this situation?

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Eyes on the Board of Education: December 13, 2018

By Karel Kilimnik

Educators and defenders of public education across the city were shocked to see Dr. Hite and the Mayor as guests at a press conference called last Wednesday by Philadelphia School Partnership Director Mark Gleason. Unknown to anyone but a few insiders, the Hite administration had entered into an agreement with PSP in which that private organization would direct applicants for teaching positions–district, charter and private–to a website created and controlled by PSP.

Why is the Superintendent of a public school system handing over control of one of its most important functions to a private organization? Is the District Office of Talent now accountable to the Board of PSP?  PSP was created in order to carry out the privatization and charterization of the district. The news media unquestioningly repeats PSP’s identification of itself as a “non-profit” that funds schools.  PSP is on record as saying the district’s teachers make too much money. PSP lobbied then-Governor Corbett to WITHHOLD funds from the School District unless PFT members took a substantial pay cut and surrendered long-held collective bargaining rights. Did the Board of Education give its OK for this move? We’ll be asking that and other questions about this latest PSP power grab at this meeting.

The Board’s website continues to present hurdles.  The Agenda may number each Action Item, but click on it and you are delivered to a page  bearing no identifying number. Whenever an additional Action Item is posted, it automatically changes the numbers of all of the Action Items below it. The SRC at least would add a Resolution with an entirely new number. They also listed the Resolutions according to topic (e.g., Operations, Donations).  Hopefully the Board will change this practice. Each Action Item needs its own number and every reference must include that number. We await the return of Contract Summaries as posted in August and September, then discontinued for some reason, as the Board continues its journey into becoming more transparent.

Seeking Equity Across the District

While the Hite administration invokes the term “equity” in City Council and Board meetings, the ongoing issue is the lack of equity.  Some schools have Home & School Councils (Action Items # 42 and #43) able to raise large sums of money.  Philadelphia retains its position as the poorest of the country’s ten largest cities. Our rate of deep poverty (those living at 50% of the poverty line or less) has actually risen. Given these statistics, what is the District’s Plan to ensure that every school gets support, not just those in more affluent neighborhoods? How is the District planning to level the playing field for all schools? The SGS initiative has targeted  “underperforming” schools with long histories of lost resources, leaving them with no choice but to accept unrequested professional development services from businesses with a foothold in the district. In the past two years, SGS schools have seen the imposition of vendors and the forcing of all teachers to reapply for their positions without due cause–things no parents have said they wanted.  This only leads to destablization of already struggling schools without providing resources the school’s community has said they need.

The APPS articles on the SGS Focus Schools provide a detailed list of what parents, staff, and community members at the three schools in this year’s SGS cohort have said they want for their schools. As we review this month’s  Action Items we see other ways of providing financial support to individual schools such as contracts with non-profits (Action Items # 44–Steppingstones and # 30–Playworks) and/ or universities (# 29 and # 38–Drexel).

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Eyes on the BOE: November 15, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

The nine members of the Board of Education, as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget, have undertaken the enormous task of trying to understand the workings of the School District of Philadelphia.  The issue of equity remains a crucial one in their decision-making. Parents at Board Committee and Action meetings have expressed their frustrations at not being heard, both as members of their school’s SAC and their Home and School chapter.  One parent of a Northeast elementary school student reported that the principal at her child’s school unilaterally and unexpectedly ejected the Home & School group and ordered them to remove all of their supplies from the parent resource room. Lack of equity rears its head when some Home & Schools can raise large sums (see BOE-33 (Acceptance of Donation from the SLA Home & School Association) to pay for extra-curricular activities and supplies when schools in struggling areas cannot.  BOE-29 (Occupational Advisory Committee Members for 2018-19 School Year) omits Strawberry Mansion from the list of schools to benefit from the District’s newly re-established Culinary CTE Program. Why? The goal of the Hite administration’s Anchor Goal 2 is to have 100% of 8-year olds reading on or above grade level). Does BOE-30 (Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Support Classroom Modernization of Pre-K-3 Classrooms) include every K-3 classroom in the District? Let us not forget that both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said that they expect to close 2 to 3 neighborhood schools a year for at least the next 3-4 years.  In light of this, we need to be aware of all real estate transactions being proposed, such as BOE-20 (Cooperation Agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for the Sale of Communication Tech and George Pepper Middle School). There are vacant District buildings across the city.  We continue to urge the Board to post either contracts with vendors or provide a link to the actual document so that the public can be aware of exactly what our tax dollars are buying. In August the Board posted a list of modifications to Summary Contracts. We supported that step towards greater transparency, and we need that to be part of all Board meeting materials.

Click here to read the Action Items of Note and APPS Analysis

Eyes on the Board of Education: October 18, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

As the Board of Education continues threading its path through the thicket of District policies and funding challenges, we are witnessing several changes. There are now four Board Committees working to improve public participation: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, Policy, and Community Engagement. Board members are certainly more friendly and welcoming toward the public than their predecessors on the SRC. In addition, several changes have been made on the Board’s website page, although there have been some glitches. APPS members have met with Board staff and explained how the new format can be more user-friendly, a banner at the top of the page noting the changes and a guide to navigating the site. We appreciate the Board staff meeting with us, noting our concerns, and their assurances that changes will be made. Presently, we have found that clicking on “Action Materials” on the Board page raises a screen with choices between “Online Agenda” or “Download Agenda”. Clicking on Online Agenda provides a document with active links. Selecting Download Agenda provides the list of Action Items followed by their descriptions .  There are only 23 Action Items this month.

The true test of this Board, of course, will be how they vote. Will they continue to question District spending, especially the outsourcing of services and staff? Will Board members listen to stakeholder concerns and act on investigating them?

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