Eyes on the SRC: April 19, 2018

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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.

 

Eyes on the SRC:  March 15, 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
March 12, 2018

Reading about the many recent school shootings has been heartbreaking. School culture has changed so that students today have grown up with metal detectors, school police officers, and lockdowns. Resolution A-4 (Operating Budget: $500,000 Contracts with AstroPhysics, Autoclear, and Ceia – Weapons Screening Equipment and Supplies) tells a sad tale of what has become normal in so many of our schools. Veteran teacher Kristin Luebbert described a lockdown drill at her school in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Hearing the signal while in the hall with her students, she quickly shepherded them back into the room, plastered the windows with paper and sent the children to the back. Turning around she saw her students arming themselves with scissors, a heavy-duty stapler, and a bottle of Windex.  They told her they were prepared to defend themselves and her.

Edu-vendors continue to prosper at the expense of our students. Carnegie Learning (B-3) siphons off another $3 million as the District extends their contract to “provide professional development services to approximately 1500 K-8 and Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s annual summer mathematics initiative (2018 Summer Math Institute).”

Carnegie Learning traces its roots back to the 1980’s, when researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed an “intelligent” math tutoring system. (Carnegie Learning spun out as an independent company in 1998, and its ownership has changed hands several times between private equity groups and other investors.)

Other investors, thereby blurring the lines of accountability and transparency, routinely gobble these private companies up. They are accountable to their investors—not the public.

In January, APPS members submitted questions to the SRC about the resolution approving the sale of the former Ada Lewis Middle School in East Germantown. This meeting’s Resolution A-10 reflects a modification to the sale. How this will affect the community is unknown. The January resolution description provided little information. In our analysis of that Resolution, we share the details we were given at that SRC meeting.  We need to keep in mind that Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney are united in their intention to close more neighborhood schools.   District schools receive no dispensation and have no pathway to appeal any decision by the Superintendent or the SRC to close them down. Five years ago, students, parents, and teachers in twenty-four public schools found they had no standing in the fight to save their own schools. Their stories were heartbreaking but caused no change in the decision. The state’s charter law, on the other hand, guarantees an extensive legal process for any charter facing closure, effectively keeping the school open for many years.

Drexel University (A-18) was chosen to manage the federal ProSPER grant whose origins lie to the North in Harlem.  ProSPER represents the Obama Administration’s attempt to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone, a private non-profit with several charter schools, preschool programs, health clinics, social service agencies, and parenting programs.  The Harlem Children’s Zone provides cradle-to-high school services provided by a private entity. Some of what they have done is worthy of duplication but not under private control where the accountability and transparency evaporate. The question is how much autonomy the District schools have in saying what their school needs.

What If…?

…instead of outsourcing almost $ 4 million services this month, that money was used to put a dent in the estimated $5 billion it will cost to repair our public school buildings—from leaky roofs to deficient electrical systems?

Register to speak at the March 15, 2018 meeting. Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday, March 14.

Next SRC meeting: Thursday March 22 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday, March 21.

Click here to read Resolutions of Note
for the March 15th SRC meeting.

 

 

Eyes on the SRC: February 15, 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
February 11, 2018

As we count down the final days of the SRC, we continue to examine the policies implemented by the Broad Academy-trained Superintendent, Dr Hite. Eli Broad is one of many uber-wealthy “philanthropists” pushing their corporate education agenda public school systems across the country, including ours.  Broad is a firm believer in free-market policies  and in the role of competition in education. Experience and degrees in education are secondary. Self-proclaimed innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit will suffice.

Two themes emerge in this edition of Eyes on the SRC. First, the determination of both the District and the SRC to outsourcing services traditionally performed by District staff.  Second,  the increasing use of data to inflict real damage on district schools at the same time the District fails to provide data justifying its decisions to overhaul certain neighborhood schools.  Where is the data to the Transformation Schools, Turnaround Network Schools, Redesign Schools, Priority Schools—all sold by the Hite administration as that year’s remedy for struggling schools? Magic Data is about as valuable as Magic Money. There is an Education Industrial Complex at work dipping into education funds and enriching edu-vendors at the expense of our children.  Some examples from this month include Resolutions A-2 and Resolution A-11, which will enrich the owners and stockholders of The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Jounce Partners, respectively, with little expectation that it will provide a better learning experience for students.

While education advocates fight for more funding in Harrisburg, the SRC continues to put precious dollars into the pockets of vendors, consultants and faux education groups like TNTP.  Resolutions A-12, B-2, and A-3 demonstrate the growing influence of private funders including the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) and the William Penn Foundation, whose policies and pet projects are simply rubber-stamped by the SRC without public deliberation.

Dr Hite often speaks about what teachers should be doing to address student trauma, even as his policies inflict more turmoil on entire school communities. His decision on this year’s cohort of Priority Schools forces both Steel Elementary School in Nicetown and Rhoads Elementary School in West Philadelphia into the District’s Turnaround Network. Both principals and teachers will be compelled to re-apply for their positions. “Up to” 80% of teachers can be retained—that means 20% must leave, and that most of the faculty can be forced out before next school year.  How does all this turmoil affect students already affected by trauma? It simply escalates their feelings of instability and loss of control. Relationships developed with teachers and principals over the years are tossed aside as new teachers are brought in. Perhaps Dr. Hite sees fit to introduce one of ten partner vendors already approved by the SRC for professional development. What our students need is stability, nurturing of relationship—not blended learning that sits children in front of computer screens instead of interacting with a teacher. These resolutions (A-7, B-12) send an astronomical $19 million into the coffers of  “various vendors” and Pearson Incorporated, which has profited greatly from the enforced yearly testing mandated by No Child Left Behind.

At this meeting, the SRC will consider resolutions on proposed contracts to various vendors totaling over $114 million.

What If…?

This question takes on a new significance this month: if the SRC votes to approve all resolutions, which it does over 99% of the time, it will send more than $114 million to outside companies including:  TNTP (A-2); Kelly Services, for outsourcing of substitute services (A-4 & 5); Pearson Inc., for “instructional management” (A-7); CLI (B-9)  and other companies for more outsourcing of  Professional Development  (B-10 and B-11); several companies for online instruction/blended learning (B-12). For only $24 million, the district could bring back one Certified School Librarian for every school in the district.

Next SRC meeting:  Thursday, February 15 at 4:30 PM in the auditorium at 440 No. Broad Street.  Call 215-400-4180 by 3:30 on February 14th to sign up to speak.

Click here to see selected SRC Resolutions and the APPS analysis.

Eyes on the SRC: January 18, 2018

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by Karel Kilimnik
January 15, 2018

Change is in the wind this month as we look forward to the end of the SRC, await the pronouncement of the fate of the six Priority Schools, and see how many of the nine applicants for new charters will hit the taxpayer lottery. Both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have said that the district will need to close more neighborhood schools every year for at least the next five years in order to balance the budget.

APPS members who testified last month at the first round of hearings for new charter applicants reminded the district that it cannot ignore the financial health of the district when considering new charters. District CFO Uri Monson has testified at the SRC and in City Council that charters are the single biggest item in the District’s budget. Philadelphia is fast approaching the 50/50 tipping point of district to charter schools.

Is the SRC deliberately pushing the District toward the New Orleans Model, which Commissioner Green has often lauded despite evidence that it has been a disaster for that city’s students and teachers?

Approving any new charter comes with the understanding that no matter how well or poorly that school may perform, the city is stuck with it for a long time. The five-year charter term has become meaningless. On the rare occasion that the SRC votes not to renew a charter, a long and expensive hearing process must take place, followed by a possible legal appeal. This can take years—while the school continues to operate. But when Dr. Hite targets public schools for closure, there is no appeal. In fact, there is not even a legal requirement for a hearing.

Despite the fact that the SRC agreed in a court-ordered settlement to post resolutions two weeks before action meetings, after APPS sued them for a pattern of violations of the PA Sunshine Act, the SRC just posted two new resolutions last Friday. Two concern renewal resolutions: the Memphis Street Academy resolution has been tabled since April 2017, the Universal Vare resolution since April 2016. Both were recommended for non-renewal by the district Charter School Office. APPS has asked at every meeting when the SRC would be deciding on these renewals; of course, we never got an answer.

In the face of predictions of more financial problems for the district, the SRC continues to sell school buildings at prices far below market value. This month, Resolution A-24 proposes the sale of the former Ada B. Lewis Middle School to an unknown out-of-state buyer. This raises questions about the effect of closing public schools, not just on the students but on the community as a whole, and about how little the community gets to say about it. Lewis was closed over ten years ago despite strong opposition from parents, teachers, students and community members. The district allowed the building, once home to the largest middle school in the city, to become an eyesore. In 2013, the District closed Smith Elementary in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze area. Many of the same community members who fought to keep Smith open formed the Save Smith School Committee to stop the sale of the building. Their long legal battle was lost when a judge ruled in favor of the district, thus enabling an out-of-state real estate investor to purchase the building, who quickly flipped the property to a local developer of high-priced housing.

Last month, the SRC approved the sale of the Beeber Wynnefield Annex. Neighbors had attempted to buy the building to convert it to a community center when the district closed it in 2002, but the District’s asking price of $300,000 was beyond their means. The building stood as an eyesore for almost twenty years, when Iron Stone Capital Partners bought it last month for $140,000—less than the original asking price.

 Is this what the people of Philadelphia want—for the District to shut down schools, then sell the buildings to satisfy the financial interests of developers and investors? The SRC offered little opportunity for the community to express its own needs, neither in Point Breeze nor in Wynnefield. Hite shut down Bok even though it was a thriving high school in a beautiful building; now that building is lost to the community. The SRC should consider the wishes of the community before it votes, not just the bottom line of developers and real estate investors.

Dr Hite’s pronouncement on the fates of this year’s cohort of Priority Schools may be made this month. He announced in a September press release that Penn Treaty will be “partnered” with the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA)—even before Cambridge Education and Temple University started to do their “School Quality Review”. The District told members of the six school communities that they would not be closed or charterized, but only for the next two years. Parents have repeatedly demanded a seat at the table where the future of their school is being decided, but have only gotten the usual dog-and-pony show of District-run meetings where no real decisions are made.

Catapult Learning reappears this month in two resolutions that propose lucrative contracts for the company. Since 2015 the company has shared in contracts totaling over $60 million for programs for high-needs students. In 2017, the District proposed awarding Catapult a $54million contract to run a stand-alone school for former Wordsworth Academy students; the District had to withdraw students from Wordsworth after the murder of a student at the facility. After strong pushback from The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, which is comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC), the proposal was cut back to $10 million to provide for the 100 returning Wordsworth students. [See Lynda Rubin’s summary of the July 6, 2017 meeting for more details.]

Even after the SRC approved that Catapult contract, there were still concerns about Catapult’s record, about the fact that no contract has been made available to the public, and the exclusion of parents, teachers, and advocates from the process. Dr. Hite attempted to reassure Coalition members by having Chief Academic Officer Cheryl Logan address those concerns. Logan said that the District would be carefully monitoring Catapult’s new schools, beginning with weekly visits. To date, neither Dr. Hite nor Dr. Logan has provided any account of visits or any type of oversight of Catapult.

What If…

…instead of spending $490,000 on some kind of undefined direct marketing campaign, and another $68,600 to a vendor for professional development, that half million plus went directly into classrooms? Students could have necessary supplies like paper, pencils, and crayons—as students in suburban districts do—and teachers would not have to beg for funds online.

Next SRC meeting: Thursday January 18 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday January 17.

Click here to read the APPS analysis of SRC resolutions.