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.

Click here to read the rest of the Eyes

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.

Click here to read the rest of the report

Eyes on the Board of Education: February 28, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

At the Board’s inaugural meeting last July, many new Board members made a commitment to transparency and community involvement. Agenda Items, alas, do not reflect these promises. In September 2018, the Board posted documents related to Action Items, including a list of new hires and terminations, City of Philadelphia documents on Authorization of Keystone Opportunities Zone, and the conditions for approving the new MaST Charter School. The Action Item descriptions were much fuller and more descriptive than the paltry information presented since then. The fact that the Board posted Contract Summaries, which we had asked the SRC to post many times, seemed to be a fulfillment of their commitment to transparency. Unfortunately, that was the first and last time anything resembling a contract was posted.  In October, the Board presented another Agenda format that actually had fewer details in Action Items. Also, despite our protestations, the Board has stopped providing paper copies of anything but the agenda at Action Meetings, making it impossible for the public to follow the discussions (if any) and votes on Action Items. The Board places three binders at the back table with a warning not to remove the materials. So are members of the public supposed to sit in the back if they want to know what is going on? Is this their idea of transparency? These are public documents and the public has every right to take them. The Board should provide adequate copies. Unfortunately this parsing of information continues today resulting in a lack of transparency. Their descriptions are uninformative and we continue to question what few nuggets of information are provided to the public.

Superintendent Hite continues to outsource services to vendors instead of building the capacity of District staff. We continue to remind him and the Board that there is a wealth of experience and knowledge within both the teaching and the school support staff. Building on these strengths would lead to greater teacher retention. When people feel respected and listened to, they do not feel the need to leave. Many ESOL teachers have come to both  Committee Meetings and Action Meetings to praise the professional development provided by WestEd QTEL (Action item 34). Hopefully the Board will listen and approve this Action Item.

Three charter school applications are going to be considered for approval at this meeting  (Action Items 4,5 & 6). The District’s Charter Schools Office has issued reports which enumerate significant problems with all of the applications. The District cannot afford to spend almost $119 million over the next five years on unnecessary charters. Our aging school facilities are in dire need of repair. Those millions could make a dent in the estimated $4 billion needed to bring every building up to code. The charter law makes it difficult–but not impossible–to shut down a failing charter, so approving a charter would mean at least a ten-year financial burden on the District. If the Board takes its promise to improve the opportunities for the schoolchildren of the city, then they have an obligation to vote no on these applications. (See the APPS charter reports here).

The next Board Action Meeting is Thursday February 28th at 5 PM.  The community must come out to urge the Board to vote no more charters! If you cannot attend please  submit written testimony by 5 PM Feburary 27 to schoolboard@philasd.org,  telling the Board what your school needs but will not be able to afford if the District sinks another $120 million into new charters. To sign up to testify call 215-400-4010 by 3 pm on Wednesday Feb. 27th.

Click here to read the rest of the report