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…?

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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


Eyes on the SRC:  March 15, 2018


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.