APPS Members Question Board Member Angela McIver’s Possible Conflict of Interest

by Lisa Haver

On Wednesday, June 24, APPS sent an email to Board of Education member Angela McIver, copied to Board President Joyce Wilkerson, about possible conflicts of interest arising from McIver’s math curriculum business Trapezium.  District parent and teacher Zoe Rooney, active with APPS and Parents United for Public Education, had posted a thread on social media after she discovered recent interviews with McIver on Good Morning America and in a business magazine in which McIver spoke about her business and the struggle to maintain it during the quarantine. APPS members attend all Board Action and Committee meetings, and none of us could recall her ever publicly mentioning, since her appointment two years ago, that she operated any type of education business. In our letter, we asked that McIver respond to questions not about the social media postings but about comments made by her in those interviews. (See the letter below. As of this posting on June 29, we have received no reply.)

Before giving her report Thursday as Chair of the Student Achievement Committee, McIver read a prepared statement (time stamp 1:21:58) in which she described a social media thread about her business activities as “incredibly misleading” and “highly inaccurate”.  

Without naming Rooney, McIver stated that the “author” of the thread conveniently leaves out one piece of critical information–”that I am Black.” McIver went on to say, “She erased my blackness.” Actually, Rooney’s social media posts included links to both the video segment in which McIver appeared and the news article which prominently featured her picture. McIver accused Rooney, who identifies as biracial, of perpetrating “an insidious form of racism” with “the unspoken belief that our children are not capable of achieving.” She attributed motives to Rooney, saying that her posts were “deliberately designed to advance an agenda that will keep students from achieving at the highest levels.” McIver did not mention that parents pay almost $600 to participate for one day each week in her semester-long after school program. She did not explain how this is not a conflict or why she never mentioned it in her two years on the Board.

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APPS Letter to the Board: Action Meetings Must Remain Public

March 24, 2020

Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board of Education,

We write to you concerning the protocols for the March 26, 2020 Action Meeting.

Holding a meeting that the public cannot attend in person violates the PA Sunshine Act, but of course the Board must heed the health warnings from city and state officials. The alternative is to hold a virtual meeting that the public can both observe and participate in. Current technology allows for both of these.

The Board has announced that it will live-stream the meeting at the scheduled time. Members of the public can send in testimony in writing or by phone no later than 24 hours before the meeting. Members of the Board will read summaries of those testimonies.

That is not a public meeting.  That is a live TV show.

We have been told that most Board members will be present via phone. That same technology could be used to have members of the public testify via phone. People could submit their numbers by calling in advance or emailing their phone numbers and topics before the meeting. Staff could call them at the appropriate time—before or after voting—and each person could give their own testimony, in full, in their own words.  Everyone watching would be able to hear the testimony.  In addition, some of the questions and comments sent via email and twitter could be answered during the meeting.

The Chief Financial Officer will be making a presentation on the lump sum budget.  Without real-time participation, no one would be able to ask a question about that presentation. Testimony sent in ahead of time could not be amended to include comments or questions about that or any other business taking place during the meeting.

We have also asked that all non-essential Items be withdrawn for now, and that each Item Description include a sentence explaining why it is essential and must be voted on this month. Thanks to the Board for already withdrawing Item 31.

In this difficult time, it is important that the public be able to participate in the democratic process.  The Board must make a good faith effort, using the technology available, to include the public in this week’s public meeting. We appreciate being part of the conversation. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Lisa Haver

Karel Kilimnik

Statement from APPS: How Will Public Be Able to Participate at March 26 Board of Education Action Meeting?

The COV-19 virus has turned our lives upside down. Class and race matter little to this germ, but we must work to get resources to those who most need them in the face of this potentially fatal disease. The District struggles to ensure that students are fed while schools are closed, for how long no one knows. Support from every level of government is crucial as we face a looming economic and social upheaval. The Philadelphia Board of Education is a governmental body that controls a $3.2 billion budget and whose decisions affect the lives and futures of thousands of children.

APPS members expect the Board of Education to inform its constituents of its actions and intentions. Schools will need resources when they open, but the contracts and funding for those resources have to be approved months in advance. Thus the Board will have to vote on essential items now or in the near future. When it does, the public must be able to observe and participate. That participation will take a different form, but the Board must make the best effort to make sure the public can be present, even if virtually. APPS has made a number of suggestions to the Board about how to have the public interact at its March 26 Action Meeting. And as steadfast observers and participants in all meetings and hearings held by the Board of Education, APPS has reviewed the current Board Agenda for the upcoming Action meeting on Thursday March 26.

Due to the governor’s restrictions on public gatherings, the public will not be present at the March 26 Action Meeting.  The Board has indicated that it is considering holding some type of online meeting. Because of the limited nature of virtual meetings, the Board should only vote on essential items. All other business should be tabled until the community can observe and comment in person. The current Item Summary includes a number of items that do not require immediate action by the Board.

We understand that the Board is in the process of figuring out  how to hold the meeting. Every Item on the agenda must include, along with the usual description, an explanation of why the Item must be voted on now and cannot be tabled. One example is Item 31, Contract with Various Vendors for Professional Learning Support $2,000,000.  This proposed contract with Schoolkit was tabled at the February Action meeting, with the promise of further discussion at the March Student Achievement and Support Committee meeting, now cancelled. This non-essential contract should be withdrawn until the public can weigh in at a fully public meeting.

Representative governments cannot, and should not, come to a halt, even in times of crisis. The Board needs to arrange a way for the public to not only view the meeting but present testimony as well. We have made these suggestions to the Board:

  • Only essential Items voted on this month. All other Items tabled.
  • Take questions via email or twitter during the livestreamed meeting. If the questions pertains to a specific Item, read the question or comment just prior to the meeting so that Board members can answer before voting.
  • Have staff members read the testimony of public participants. Testimony sent in to the Board should be considered oral testimony, not written testimony. Testimony of Items should be read before the Board commences voting.
  • The Board should inform the public of its decisions and actions by posting a banner on the homepage of the District website.

APPS members look forward to attending and participating in this Thursday’s meeting.

Board of Education Public Hearing: September 26, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

The recently amended Philadelphia Home Rule Charter mandates that the Board of Education hold at least two public hearings each school year for the sole purpose of giving parents, students, teachers, and community members the right and opportunity to address the Board with concerns, suggestions, complaints and questions. One purpose of making these hearings part of the City Charter was to underline that the Board is a public body that needs to engage with and be responsive to the public will. The Board may not always agree with members of the public, but they do have to consider the wishes of the people as they make decisions about spending tax dollars and formulating educational policy. The city’s populace successfully fought to have the School Reform Commission replaced with a Board precisely because the SRC ignored the people’s interests and inclusion in the process of running public schools for our city’s children. That this Board is appointed by the mayor and not elected by voters in no way diminishes the fact that its members are expected to be working on behalf of the public–that is, their constituents.

In light of that, it is inexplicable that the Board did not publicized this meeting commensurate with its importance, resulting in a disappointingly under-attended meeting. Board members were informed by staff that robo-calls were made to parents, and that notice was posted on the District’s website. But this notice  required a more descriptive and inviting name than the two-word “Public Hearing” in a small box in the Board calendar, which requires several page clicks to find. As community activist Mama Gail Clouden pointed out in her testimony, students’ home and cell phone numbers are changed too often to be a reliable means of contact. At the very least, a banner with the meeting information should have been prominently placed on the Home Page of the District’s website where anyone who goes to the website for any reason will see it. The Board should explore such ideas as using PSAs (Public Service Announcements) on TV and radio stations which are often provided free as a service to public schools.

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