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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Eyes on the Board of Education: September 20, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Last Spring, at the urging of Superintendent Hite, the SRC approved a 2018-19 School Calendar in which school started a week before Labor Day. Dr. Hite gave little rationale for this, but he did say that June is just as hot a month as August. The first week of school brought days of early dismissals because of extreme heat and the lack of air conditioning in most district buildings. Dr. Hite, in response to public criticism, has created a “calendar committee” to gather data on this issue, which would have been a better idea last Spring. One lasting legacy of the SRC and the Hite administration is the lack of stakeholder dialogue on crucial decisions. Fortunately, the New Board of Education has changed its approach in order to allow discourse on a range of policies and practices. The BOE has established three new committees: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, and District Partnerships and Community Engagement; the Policy Committee was established last year and will continue to meet under the Board. (See our reports on the first two committee meetings.) This structure allows for more dialogue about proposed policies and for raising concerns so that the community will have more than the three minutes allotted to BOE Action speakers.

Ongoing Outsourcing

We often feel like the proverbial broken record as we continue to track money spent on outsourcing staff and services instead of rebuilding the internal District structure. There is an untold wealth of professional wisdom among those with years of experience in our classrooms and offices. Teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, and other staff have devoted their lives to working with students. They have created curriculum, projects, and other educational materials based on their knowledge and understanding of the students in their classrooms and schools. This administration needs to acknowledge and support these efforts across the district, not just in selected schools. For example, instead of sending more money into the coffers of vendors such as In-Class Today,Inc (Action Item A-15), the District could reinstate the School-Home Liaison staff. The District employed Nutrition Educators (B-2) until outsourcing their jobs to Catapult Learning,LLC last year. Every time this happens the District abdicates its responsibility for accountability to students and parents; private companies are not accountable to the public. Whenever District services are outsourced, and whenever a school is closed or charterized, the Superintendent should return a portion of his salary, as he is no longer responsible for overseeing that service or that school. We need Board members to question these expenditures as the SRC did not. Who benefits – our children or vendors?

This Year’s Model

Every year Superintendent Hite announces some new model of transforming schools that will “turn around” underperforming neighborhood schools. Over the past two years, he has targeted 17 schools as part of his “System of Great Schools” (or “Priority”) program. This has created tremendous uncertainty and instability as teachers and principals worry about whether they will have to re-apply for their positions simply to stay in their school, while parents fight to keep teachers and administrators who have dedicated themselves to those schools. In keeping with the Hite administration practice of rebranding positions and programs, an indication of how the corporate mentality has infected the district, this initiative is now referred to as “Focus Schools”. Unlike in previous years, there has been no resolution or action item approving contracts to consultants for this program. APPS has learned that Cambridge Education, who was paid $300,000 for obviously inadequate reports, will not return for another serving of District money.
However, Temple University will again be facilitating community engagement. The District has entered into a contract with Temple, but since for some reason it was not approved by the SRC or the BOE, the public has not been informed of the details or the amount. We have found it very difficult to find current information on the District website, so we are posting a link to the page. The three Priority schools this year are:
Avery D. Harrington Elementary School (K-8), 5300 Baltimore Avenue
Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School (6-8), 7501 Woodbine Avenue
Alain Locke Elementary School (K-8), 4550 Haverford Avenue

Last month we applauded the posting of Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries in the Action Item Summary. As of the date of this edition of Eyes, those Summaries have yet to appear. We also urged the BOE to list vendor contracts that enables the public to view the negotiated terms.

Charter Chains Move to Consolidate Power

Will the new Board members continue their predecessors’ tradition of bending over backwards to ensure that well-connected charter schools find a home in the District? Some SRC Commissioners even made a point of advising applicants whose charters had been denied to reapply—which they did, when they were then approved. Public schools need the Board to set a new course. That means not simply rubber-stamping inadequate charter applications without acknowledging the impact on neighborhood schools. MaST is simply one in a string of charters with connections to enlarge their realm at the expense of every student in the District.

If in October the Board approves the application from MaST charter to consolidate its governing boards, it will become the first Multiple Charter School Organization in the city and the state.  We have seen no coverage about this in the local press, but the public needs to understand how this could affect the District in many ways, including financially.

What If…?

…instead of spending $ 384,000 (Action A-15) on outsourcing Attendance Services, the District brought back the School-Community Liaisons? Developing and maintaining relationships with students and families not only improves attendance but helps to prevent or resolve other issues as well. That money would not only work towards building better Home-School relations but also create jobs in low -income neighborhoods by hiring community residents.


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