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. 

Click here to continue reading.

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:

Click here to read the rest of the report.

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. 

Click here to read the rest of The Eyes.

Eyes on the Board of Education: June 25, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

The people of Philadelphia continue their struggle to survive, personally and financially, under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We witness the social upheaval as people demand an end to  police brutality and systemic racism. But at 440, not much has changed. The Board, despite public demands for months, continues to conduct non-essential business in remote meetings with a minimum of public participation. At its June Committee meeting, most Board members offered personal statements about what Black Lives Matter meant to them.  But as APPS members reminded them in their testimony, how the Board votes will prove whether these statements carry any weight. At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, few substantial questions were raised about District business by these eight government officials. Almost no deliberation took place about the Items to be voted on at this Action meeting. Planning the  next school year is fraught with obstacles never faced in our lifetimes. District families will be dealing with even higher rates of unemployment and evictions. All of these issues must be addressed with genuine parent, staff, and community engagement–not just the perfunctory distribution of surveys. Surveys often raise more questions than they resolve. As District parent and activist Cecelia Thompson has told the Board at its last two meetings, parents and community members have issues that are not addressed in surveys. The District’s commitment to engagement with stakeholders has reached a new low after years of eliminating positions for community liaison officers and NTAs. The Board’s (soon to be defunct) Community Engagement Committee has held no public meetings for over a year and has no plans to schedule any. Schools will look very different next year no matter what type of format is put into place. District educators and parents should be heard on this, not just be asked to fill out surveys. The corona virus provides cover for all kinds of changes–in public meetings and in how business is conducted. Could it lead to closing schools next year–without any real opportunity for the public to fight it? Remember that both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have stated publicly that they support closing more public schools.

At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, Board Member Julia Danzy said,  “This is not a sprint but a marathon. We cannot change by simply talking but by actions taken.” This Board needs to step up and lead the District as we make our way through these tumultuous times. Non-essential Items should be set aside while we focus on what all students need, not just those in some selected schools.  “Watch how we vote, not what we say” truly applies to Item 59, Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master. This Item is so vaguely written that APPS sent a letter asking for clarification. President Wilkerson informed us we would learn more from their discussion at the Joint Committee Meeting held on June 11. However, no such discussion occurred nor did any Board member ask about the missing information. 

Click here to read the rest of the report.