Eyes on the SRC: June 21, 2018

SRC 5-24-18
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite

by Lisa Haver

[Note: Deborah Grill, Ken Derstine, Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin contributed to this edition of Eyes.]

Seventeen years ago, after a vote taken in the middle of the night in Harrisburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the School District of Philadelphia.  The School Reform Commission supplanted the School Board as the governing body of the city’s public schools. Few of us could have imagined the devastation wrought by this body: over thirty neighborhood schools shuttered, public schools handed over to private managers, charter expansion and charter fraud, outsourcing union jobs, and a succession of superintendent/CEOs whose policies and practices opened up a marketplace for corporate education reformers and outside vendors.

The SRC will hold its final meetings this month. The SRC will go out the same way it came it—by withholding important information from the public. Up until last week, the SRC had posted two June meetings; one is tentative as action is contingent on the budget vote of City Council.  On June 14, the SRC posted a small notice (the minimum notice required by law) in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a Special Meeting to be held at 1 PM on June 21 for the purpose of voting on renewals of seventeen charters.  Rather than put the charter renewals on the agenda of the regular 4:30 meeting, they decided at the last minute to have two separate meetings on the same day. Will working parents be able to attend a 1 PM meeting? Unlikely.

The notice on the district webpage (not on the homepage but on the inside SRC page) says that speakers who will be addressing items on the agenda will be “prioritized”. Here’s the problem: the SRC has not posted any resolutions for this meeting. We know which schools are up for renewal; they are listed on the Charter Schools Office page. So why aren’t they listed as resolutions?  The actions of the SRC, particularly in recent years, leave little doubt about the district’s increasing accommodations to charter operators and investors at the expense of district schools.

A June 11 Philadelphia Public School Notebook/WHYY story, “Philadelphia School District Nears New Accountability for Charters”, offers a disturbing account of secret negotiations between the district and charter officials. The subject: how to lower the bar on charter achievement once again.

The School District of Philadelphia has a new tool for evaluating its charter schools, one that it hopes will help end a long and public tug of war with the city’s growing charter sector.

 If charters accept the terms in this revamped rubric — known as the “charter school performance framework” — the District will have a clear and mutually agreeable road map for deciding whether a school should close when its term expires or remain open for another five years.

 If charters blanch at the deal, the incoming school board will inherit a dispute fraught with political implications and real-world consequences for tens of thousands of children.

To be clear: the SRC has always had an accountability framework for rating charters.  The fact that they ignored it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. When the SRC’s Charter Schools Office (CSO), citing over thirty reasons, recommended non-renewal in 2016 for two Aspira Renaissance charters, Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, the SRC voted to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow Aspira Inc to get its financial house in order. Two years later, the SRC finally voted not to renew.  That same year, the CSO recommended non-renewal for two Universal Renaissance charters, Audenreid High and Vare Middle.  Those two votes were also tabled and have not been brought back for a vote, although both schools continue to operate with tax dollars, as do the two Aspira charters. The fact that the SRC ignores overwhelming evidence outlined by the CSO does not mean that there has not been a rating system.  It means that the SRC has a history of caving to political pressure and selling out the best interests of the school children who attend actual public schools. The Notebook article states:

The new tool is an attempt to break this stalemate, and it was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves. District leaders say it is far more transparent and consistent about what schools must do to meet District standards in academics, operations, and financial stability. They also hope it will create an ever-increasing academic bar for charters, one that ensures these publicly financed, privately run schools are superior to their District counterparts and worth the financial burden they place on the system as a whole.

 In that spirit, the standard charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year, according to Estelle Richman, chair of the soon-to-be dissolved School Reform Commission.

 “These charter agreements incorporate a revised performance framework which provides charter schools with transparent and predictable accountability and ensures charter schools are quality options for students and families,” she said in a statement.

 SRC Chair Estelle Richman told reporters that the charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year. We intend to ask the SRC directly:

  • When were these changes negotiated?
  • Who was present during these negotiations?
  • Why were these meetings, about a major policy change, kept secret from the public?
  • Charter operators maintain that charters are public schools. Why would policy changes about any public schools be conducted in private?
  • Why does the SRC allow the charter operators—the entities who are regulated—to determine how they will be regulated?

The district and the charter operators say that charters are public schools.  Then all dealings with charter operators must be conducted in public and all information about them made available to the public.

 Next SRC Meetings:

Thursday, June 21 2018 at 1 PM. Call 215-400-4010 (NOTE: Different number) by 1 PM the day before.

Thursday, June 21 2018 at 4:30 PM.  Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM the day before.

 Click here to read the Resolutions of Note
and the APPS Analysis.

Eyes on the SRC: May 17, 2018

full SRC 4-26-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Community Engagement or Community Exclusion?

We have heard a lot about the importance of community involvement from Superintendent William Hite and his staff. Dr. Hite has expanded the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Office, spoken of the need for “customer relations” (meaning parents, who are not customers but stakeholders), and created “Focus Groups” for his Priority Schools Initiative In fact, Dr. Hite wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer lastweek beseeching the community to “come together” to solve the problem of crumbling, moldy buildings that the district has ignored for years. Yet Dr. Hite continues to pursue his corporate reform-driven plans behind closed doors.

In the struggle to save Strawberry Mansion High School, the district’s two-faced dealings with the public has reached a new low.  The district’s hollow claims of community involvement have been exposed by a group of people determined to thwart plans to close the comprehensive high school and replace educators with vendors. Parents, students, alumni and community members have shown up to speak out at SRC meetings, attended the City’s Listening Tour for new school board members, and contacted City Council members. A commentary on the subject by APPS member Ken Derstine was published in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

In late March, Dr. Hite sent Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoats to SMHS to lead a community meeting, which was well attended despite poor outreach from the district.  In answer to a question from the audience, Becoats admitted that the district’s plans had already moved into the “implementation stage”, thus skipping any planning stage in which stakeholders could add their own perspectives or objections. This meeting’s resolutions draw attention to changes in the mission and future of Strawberry Mansion—at the same time raising even more questions.  Resolution B-15 sends money to one vendor for an alternative education program, while the (B-17) Culinary grant includes Mansion despite the fact that the district has left the Culinary Arts teacher position vacant this year. Dr Hite claims that under-enrollment at SMHS accounts for his closing the comprehensive high school (without actually admitting that this is a school closure).  If there are so few young people in the neighborhood, why has the district opened a new high school?

Note that nearby Robert Vaux High School was closed by the SRC in 2013 due to under-enrollment, then reopened in 2017 as a contract school under the management of Big Picture. A flyer appeared on the SMHS website announcing future plans for the school.  No 9thgraders will be admitted, although  “…current students can continue and graduate from Strawberry Mansion High School”.  For unexplained reasons, enrollment of 9thgraders will resume in 2019 for a project-based high school.

The district selected a small group of SMHS community members to visit The Workshop School in West Philadelphia in an attempt to persuade them to endorse the district plan. The Workshop School has 240 students (less than SMHS), and despite Great School Philly’s projection of an enrollment of 500 by 2015/16, that school is under no threat of closure due to under-enrollment. There has been a systematic erosion of services, staff, and resources in district comprehensive high schools. Feeder schools have been shuttered, thus forcing displacement of students across the city or into charter schools. Bok, Germantown High School, Carroll, University High School, Vaux, Stephen A. Douglas High School, and Lamberton High School were among the twenty-four schools closed by the SRC in 2013. This policy of closing schools comes directly out of the 2012 Boston Consulting Group Report,  paid for with private money and kept secret from the public.

Spring is rerun season for TV viewers—and favored school district vendors. Both The New Teacher Project (TNTP) (Resolution B-8) and Jounce Partners(B-13) return to feed at the public trough. No matter that the district has yet to provide data showing that either program has benefitted students.

The district is awarding a $20 million contract to the Chester County Intermediate Unity to oversee the Philadelphia Virtual Academy (B-3) over the next three years. Why does a virtual school—without the same costs as a brick-and-mortar school—need an additional $6.6 million every year?  Enrollment is currently at 462 students, there are no SPRs, no data. Will Dr. Hite explain why the virtual school has suddenly become so expensive—and why the district has to outsource to another district to manage it?

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) continues its financial support of schools of its choosing, this time with a $116, 000 grant to Science Leadership Academy Middle for two more teachers.  Multi-million dollar renovations slated for both Motivation High School and Roosevelt ES (A19) both raise questions about the co-location of Motivation with the KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory CS and will hopefully provide some relief for the beleaguered Roosevelt School community. There is an ongoing issue of Our Schools Are Not Charities as staff is hired at Parkway West (B1) and money allocated to the Fund for the SDP for a staff position (A9).

For this meeting, there are 53 Resolutions  which send $34,381,750  to vendors and contractors including TNTP, Jounce, One Bright Ray, and the  Chester County Intermediate Unit.

What If…?

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Eyes on the SRC: April 26, 2018

SRC logo

by Karel Kilimnik
April 22, 2018

The continued adherence to outsourcing has been a mainstay of this administration. Many of these Resolutions either continue contracts or establish new ones instead of returning positions to the District.  The Philadelphia School District has hosted Broad-affiliated superintendents since 2008 when then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman served on the board of the Broad Foundation. Dr. Hite, is a 2005 graduate of the uncertified Broad Superintendents Academy.  He avidly pursues many of the toxic notions promoted by both the Broad Foundation and Superintendent’s Academy. “They target urban school districts with the highest poverty by having graduates from their Broad Superintendents Academy appointed who are prepared to starve public schools in order to make charter schools appealing to parents. The hemorrhaging of students from public schools to charters has led to urban school districts closing public schools all over the country due to “under enrollment”.  Part of their strategy is implementing a market place approach to education ensuring that vendors help themselves to lucrative contracts thereby also eroding union membership. In the last days of the SRC we witness a plethora of contracts waiting their approval for moving funds into the private sector and away from public accountability.

Out of 98 Resolutions on the April 26 Agenda six (A-6,A-7,A-8, A-31, IU-4,IU5) extend contracts focusing on Special Needs Students. Resolution A-26 forks over money to a company for bus maintenance. Altogether there is $24 million going into the pockets of vendors to provide services formerly done by district employees. The district has become a cash cow for vendors selling their products and services.  We sincerely hope that the incoming Local Board does not pursue this outsourcing as ardently as their predecessors.

The SRC just posted Resolution SRC-4 to reconsider the Revised Charter Franklin Towne Charter Middle School Application. This Application was denied on February 22.  Commissioner Green suggested they submit a Revised Application and they are the first of six rejected applicants to do so. Closely following in their steps are Philadelphia Hebrew Charter and APM Community Charter. We will alert you when the last two come up for another vote. Please consider attending this SRC meetingon April 26 to urge the Commissioners to deny any charters. The District cannot afford to spend money on charters that should be going into classroom needs in District schools. They are also considering the Nonrenewal of Eastern Academy Charter School (SRC-3).

Once again the issue of artwork (A-13) removed in 2004 from schools in the middle of the night surfaces as it’s time to renew the storage contract. Many of these valuable pieces were donated to specific schools where they survived for decades without any damage.  Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS)(A-37) provides a strong education for its students but once again the District plans on renting space for this program instead of either locating it in a district building or getting Drexel to cover the rent. SLAMS received $1.8 million from PSP in its initial stages two years ago Why are some schools more equal than others?

What if?

The  $24 million slated for vendors could restore Certified School Librarians into all district schools. Students could experience a professional librarian housed in their own school sharing resources, books and online materials, along with a hearty dose of lifelong learning.

The next SRC meeting is Thursday May 17 at 4:30. Call 215 400 4180 before 4:30 to register to speak.

Click here to see discussion of Resolutions of Note out of the 98 proposed resolutions.

Also see:
Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education? | Defend Public Education
More on Broad in Philadelphia  |Defend Public Education

Eyes on the SRC: April 19, 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
April 16, 2018

The SRC appears determined to maintain its legacy of non-transparency in its final months. Almost every month, the SRC fails to post resolutions on time. APPS sent several emails to the Commissioners, reminding them that they agreed to post resolutions at least two weeks before every Action Meeting as part of the court-ordered settlement to our 2016 Sunshine Act violation suit. Finally, the Resolution Summary and Description for the April 19 meeting appeared on Thursday April 12, a mere eight days before the scheduled meeting.

Now that the information has been released, it is hard to understand the delay. The heading on the Description simply states:  This meeting of the School Reform Commission is a Budget Hearing for the purpose of hearing public comment on the FY19 Budgets. There are no action items. The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the FY19 Budget at its Action Meeting on May 24, 2018.

Why the secrecy? The April 19th meeting is not listed on their schedule as a Budget Hearing but as an SRC Action Meeting.

We expect the new School Board to make a commitment to keep the public informed, and in a timely manner, when it takes power on July 1.

The SRC will most likely consider the revised application of the Franklin Towne Charter Middle School (FTCMS) at its April 26 meeting. Thus far, it is the only new charter applicant to reapply after being denied by vote of the SRC at its February 22 meeting, obviously taking to heart the encouragement expressed by Commissioner Bill Green just after that vote. One of the members of the FTCMS board is the chief of staff for State Representative John Sabatina, who supported Green in his recent failed Congressional campaign.

 Green must recuse himself on this vote.

This soon-to-be-dissolved body has the ability to approve a deeply flawed charter application that would become a financial burden for the District—indefinitely. In fact, there are few substantial changes in their revised application. In her February report, APPS member Diane Payne  listed several reasons for denial, including:

• Franklin Towne operates a K-8 elementary school—why the need for a separate 450-student Middle School?
• Student enrollment is 83% white
• Circular financial and real estate dealings (cited by former City Controller Alan Butkovitz in his 2010 report)
• FTC CEO oversees two schools and draws a salary of $260,000

Their revised application provides no remedies for any of these issues. The SRC must vote again to deny.

Defenders of Public Education Needed to Testify at this April 19 Meeting

Please consider attending the April 19th meeting at 440 N. Broad to express your concerns about this proposal.  CFO Uri Monson has repeatedly testified that charter schools represent the largest item in the district’s budget. We cannot afford any more. As Dr Hite implements the district’s plan to close Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive neighborhood public high school we ask: how can the SRC consider taking more money out of district classrooms and putting it into the hands of a charter operator with this kind of record? When do the needs of students in District schools become a priority?

To speak at any SRC meeting, call the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. on the day before the meeting at which you wish to speak. You have 3 minutes to speak and timing your remarks is important because they will turn your mic off at the end of 3 minutes.

APPS will be posting the April 26 edition of Eyes on the SRC for that meeting in the coming days.

Also see:
Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education? | Defend Public Education
More on Broad in Philadelphia  |Defend Public Education