Eyes on the SRC: April 27, 2017

SRC budget vote

by Karel Kilimnik
April 24, 2017

The Steady Stream of Public Dollars to Private Vendors
A recurring theme in every edition of “Eyes” is how much public money flows from the District into the pockets of corporate education reformers and vendors. The Relay teacher-training program, unaccredited in Pennsylvania, was approved last month for a one-year contract, but we predict that they will return for even more funding next year. Relay is closely affiliated with the Mastery Charter School district.

This month, the SRC proposes to extend its current contract with TNTP (The New Teacher Project) by an additional $1 million. One teacher who testified at the April 20 meeting asked why the SRC funds programs which produce poorly trained teachers while failing to pay their own teachers a fair wage. These companies only seek to profit as part of the program in which students are subjected to unproven methods like blended learning under the guise of innovation.

 APPS has developed a FAQ about these non-profits and consultants hired by the District as part of the privatization program Superintendent Hite was hired to carry out

  1. How much teaching experience, if any, does the staff of these programs have? Were they appointed teachers or TFA-trained? Did they teach in an urban area?
  2. Who sits on the boards of these institutions? Are any board members or staff affiliated with other corporate reformers or vendors? Are any graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy?
  3. Who are their funders? Any of the big 3 (Gates, Walton Family, Eli Broad)?)

WHAT IF… Instead of shelling out $1.2million to TNTP, the district used that money to hire 30 Bi-Lingual Counseling Assistants? Four students spoke eloquently at the April 20 meeting about the urgent need for more resources, including Bi-Lingual Counseling Assistants. Dr. Hite talks about supporting our immigrant students –now we need to see money going to meet those needs.

This Is Not Real Charter Reform
Please be aware that the state legislature is again attempting to revise the state Charter Law with HB 97, a fix with untenable conditions that propose even less accountability for charters and will certainly weaken public schools. Some crucial facts from the Education Voter website on HB 97 include:

*HB 97 fails to ensure that charters will equitably serve all students and does not address student “push-out” in charters.

* HB 97 fails to address critical funding problems with the current law.

* HB 97 does not address issues of education quality in charter schools or allow school districts to hold charters accountable if they fail to provide students with a quality education.

Please contact your state representatives and urge them to vote NO on HB 97.

Education, not Gentrification
In 2013, the district closed 23 schools including Smith School located in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze neighborhood. Save Smith School, a community organization working for over three years to have Smith School re-opened as a public school, is holding an Education Not Gentrification rally at 4 PM on Thursday, April 27th just before the SRC meeting. Meet at 4 PM at the Thomas Paine Plaza (adjacent to the Municipal Services Building across from the North side of City Hall); we will march down to 440.   Come and support the parents and community members defending public education in Point Breeze and in all neighborhoods.

The next SRC Action Meeting is Thursday April 27 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215.400.4180 before 3PM Wednesday April 26.


Resolutions of Note

Click here to read selected Resolutions and the APPS analysis. 

Eyes on the SRC – March 16, 2017

SRC 2-16-17 $2

by Karel Kilimnik
March 13, 2017

 More Outsourcing
This month’s resolutions show the continued privatization and outsourcing for professional development and other services that historically have been provided by district employees. Instead of recruiting and supporting educators who are knowledgeable about their subject and able to provide support to all schools, Dr. Hite and the SRC continue to pay vendors with no ties to Philadelphia or any commitment to long-term service to the students or the community. Not only is this a questionable use of taxpayer dollars, it is insulting to the district’s teachers and school professionals. Look around and see the amazing things that teachers are doing without adequate resources. They nurture and support each other as collaborative projects are created for their students. Teachers are holding this district together with ingenuity and determination and yes, grit. We see so many stories in the local press about the remarkable work teachers are doing every day—yet the “cash-strapped” district’s dollars continue to flow to the private sector, depriving our students of the experience of dedicated district educators.

 SRC Delivers Public Assets to Private Interests
Resolution A-10 continues the selling of vacant school buildings. Rapid gentrification is taking place in many Philadelphia neighborhoods. Shuttered school buildings are prime targets of developers and realtors driving this gentrification. The W.S. Peirce School sits at the edge of one such area in South Philadelphia. The Alterra Company is listed as the buyer. Many questions go unanswered in this tersely worded resolution. What is the asking price? What has Alterra offered? What is the market value? Communities are seeing that these vacant properties can either be given the tools to strengthen their neighborhood or be priced out of current residents’ reach.

WHAT IF… ?
What if that $150,000 for Relay Graduate School of Education, $3 million for Carnegie Learning, and $15 million for the Children’s Literacy Initiative were spent in classrooms? Let’s look at what $18 million could buy instead of putting it into the pockets of private companies. After all, there have been no raises or steps increases for PFT members since 2014. With that $18,150,000, the district could hire 160 counselors or nurses, 105 assistant vice-principals, or 428 school aides. This would help to build a thriving school district where the focus is on meeting every child’s needs instead of the yearly piecemeal diversion of funds into a few selected schools.

Note: The next two SRC meetings are Thursday March 16 and Thursday March 23 at 4:30 PM. Call 215.400.4180 by 3:30 the day before to sign up to speak.

Click here to read selected resolutions for the March 16th SRC meeting and the APPS analysis.

 

 

Eyes on the SRC – February 16, 2017

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By Karel Kilimnik
February 14, 2017

Introduction

At this meeting, Dr. Hite will announce the fate of the eleven Priority Schools targeted for this year’s version of turnaround. Four out of the five options presented (with few details) at public meetings involve pushing teachers out of their schools—without due process—by having them re-apply for their jobs.

Last fall, the SRC approved $200,000 to hire Cambridge Education to do what the Superintendent’s staff should have done: assessing what is working in these eleven schools and how the district could make them work better. The Cambridge report offers very limited data based on meetings with an undetermined number of parents, students, teachers, and community members. APPS members who attended the meetings reported very small turnout at most schools. Cambridge Education did not earn that fee and the SRC should demand a refund. You can read our reports on the Priority Schools and Cambridge Education here.

These Priority Schools are the latest phase of the demolition derby playing in our school district. Last year it was placing three schools into the Renaissance Charter Program. Pushback from the community was so fierce that one of the charter companies dropped out of the running. The previous year it was allowing parents to vote on staying with the district or being turned over to a charter management company. They voted overwhelmingly to remain with the district. As a result parents are no longer allowed to vote on the fate of their children’s schools. Who knows what next year’s cohort of schools to be “turned around” will be called.

We list the resolutions below which illustrate the continued destabilization of the district. Our schools have been stripped of essentials, most of which have not been restored, since Hite’s 2013 Doomsday Budget. There is no guarantee that every school will be able to have an adequate number of counselors and nurses after this year. If a school does not have an outsider donor like the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) showering them with money it is difficult to survive. But these funders come with their own agenda that silences parent, student, and teacher voices.

Our comments are not meant in any way to criticize the specific schools mentioned but the inequities in allocated resources . Both Hill-Freedman World Academy and SLA-MS appear to offer many opportunities to their students and families. We firmly believe in the necessity of having a high-quality and equitable district where every single student is valued, where every school is fully resourced. We envision a district where private funders supplement rather than providing necessary resources, such as purchasing a teacher for one school chosen by them (see Resolution A7).

Note: Because of the district’s change in formatting the Resolution Summary, we have experienced technical difficulties in producing this issue of Eyes. The SRC staff, in answer to our question, has said that due to the high volume of pages posted for the February 16th SRC meeting they cannot post it in Word format as was done previously. That makes it impossible for us to copy individual resolutions without transcribing each one.

In the December 2016 Eyes we noted that Resolutions SRC 1 and 2 referred to policies with no description. This month we have policy descriptions that involve numerous pages. Next month, the SRC should post them as an addendum and not as part of the actual resolutions. They certainly have far more resources than we do to resolve this technical issue in the interest of greater transparency.

(Eyes December 2016) APPS Analysis:  If the public is to review this information, then links should be provided for the policies listed here on the district’s website. Where is the description for each item? The PA State Sunshine Act states that the public has the right to comment on matters of concern”. The wording here may be an effort to provide more information but it falls short of providing enough background for the public to comment.

The next SRC Action meeting is Thursday February 16th at 4:30 PM. Call 215.400.4180 before Wednesday February 15, 4:30 PM to sign up to testify.

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

 

Eyes On The SRC – December 15, 2016

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Eyes on the SRC:  December 15, 2016

by Karel Kilimnik

As 2016 draws to a close and we contemplate what the next four years may bring, we need to pay close attention to the ways in which the public continues to be shut out of decision-making at the SRC. The SRC is a governmental body overseeing a $2.8 billion budget. This is our tax money at work. Although we successfully negotiated a resolution to our lawsuit charging the SRC with violating the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, there remain many hurdles with transparency.

APPS members are proud to have achieved what no individual or organization has done in the fifteen years since the SRC was imposed on the city: making that body more transparent and accountable through a court agreement. Highlights of the settlement include provisions to publish official resolutions two weeks in advance of the monthly Action Meeting and ensuring that the public has a reasonable opportunity to speak on every resolution, whether posted just before the meeting or during. Thus, anyone attending the meeting will be able to sign up at the meeting on “walk-on” resolutions, which are those posted within 48 hours of the meeting, and resolutions “from the floor” which may be introduced during the meeting by an SRC commissioner (as Sylvia Simms did in January, thus clearing the way for Mastery to take over Wister Elementary).

Of course, issues of accountability still remain.   The SRC now fails to include any text with an increasing number of resolutions deemed “quasi-judicial”  (e.g., Resolutions SRC-5 and -6). Those resolutions are blank except for the title. How can anyone make a comment, or even ask a question, about a resolution that doesn’t say anything?  The SRC has never publicly explained what “quasi-judicial” means or why charter renewals have been classified as such. The dictionary gives this meaning:  “noting, pertaining to, or exercising powers or functions that resemble those of a court or a judge”.  Renaissance charter schools are actually contract schools: they agree to provide services in exchange for payment. Does a judge get involved when a contract is signed between two parties? If not, then why is the SRC hiding these contracts behind a wall of secrecy and refusing to allow the public to view them?

Something new this month: Resolutions SRC-1 and SRC-2 are “For Review”. By whom—the people attending the meeting or just the six people at the table? How can anyone ask questions when no information is provided? The only testimony the public can give is to query the SRC Commissioners who routinely fail to answer.

The resolution to hand over $23 million to Big Picture Inc. to reopen Vaux High School and operate it as a “contract school” for six years has reappeared. Again we must ask: why is this huge sum necessary to reopen one high school? Where is the money coming from? What is a contract school? We hear that the district is too broke to have a full support staff in every school, then we hear that it has a surplus.  Teachers are told that they must “face reality” when they ask for a fair contract, then the SRC allots $23 million for one school. When will the SRC give the public some straight answers?

In October, Dr. Hite announced his newest turnaround category, “Priority Schools”, but we are still waiting for him to make a public presentation at an SRC meeting on what that might mean for the future of those schools, as well as what this will cost the district.

Renewal resolutions for Mastery schools Gratz, Clymer, and Shoemaker are MIA once again. We can only assume that Mastery does not want to agree to the conditions which the Charter School Office recommended. Again, the SRC has a responsibility to update the public on what has been happening for the past eight months.  These resolutions have been appearing and disappearing since April.  Mastery Gratz and Mastery Clymer were to have been renewed in 2016. Does this mean they receive an extra year for their next contract?

Renewal resolutions for Universal’s Audenried and Vare have not been seen, or even mentioned, since April. Those for Aspira, Inc.’s Olney and Stetson also come and go without explanation.  The SRC apparently feels no obligation to the community to tell us what is going on with these schools.

Next SRC meeting:  Thursday December 15 2016, 4:30 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  Do you want to testify? Call 215.400.4180 before 3 PM Wednesday to ensure that your voice will be heard.

Click here to read selected resolutions relating to policy changes, revised charter applications, the reopening of Vaux and more.