Letter to BOE Re: Sale of District Building to Belmont Charter Operators

May 28, 2019

Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,

We are writing to you about the impending sale of a District owned building to the operators of Belmont Charter School.

The first public disclosure of the proposed sale of 4030 Brown Street came at the May 16 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting. Apparently the District had already entered into negotiations with Michael Karp and the other members of the Board of Belmont Charter. Belmont has made an offer of $2.8 million, of which the District would net about $1 million.

Belmont’s operators have told the District that it will be creating a non-profit that would buy the property and lease it to Belmont. Should the sale be approved, the Board of Education would be assisting this charter in creating yet another circular lease agreement, common in the charter sector, by which the charter’s financial partners can further insulate themselves from District oversight.

What we did not hear was any reason why the District should sell this public property.
Is it only because that is what Belmont’s operators want?

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Letter to the Board of Education Regarding a Violation of the Sunshine Act and the Board’s Response

After a disruption of the March 28, 2019 Action Meeting of the Board of Education, the Board members left the public auditorium and continued the meeting in a private room to vote on Agenda Items – a clear violation of the Sunshine Act. Below is our letter to the Board calling for them to reconvene to take a public vote on those Action Items.

 

April 1, 2019

Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,

We write to you regarding the Board’s decision to hold a private meeting during its scheduled Action Meeting last Thursday.

After the meeting was interrupted by protestors, the Board voted to recess. Only four of the Action Items had been voted on. Over thirty public speakers had not yet been called. I left the auditorium after the recess was called and went down to the front desk to try to find out what was going on when I saw Board members walking toward the Board offices. I asked where the Board was going- twice- but received no response.

While waiting for the meeting to reconvene, we found out from someone in the audience, not from any District staff, that the Board was meeting in the Committee Room. A group of about ten to fifteen attendees, including APPS members came to that room and asked to be admitted. We were barred from entering by several school police officers who told us they had been directed not to let any member of the public in. We told them that no one in our group had taken part in the disruption of the meeting in the auditorium.

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Commentary: To make big impact, new Philly school board must break with the past

SB 7-9-18

The following commentary by Lisa Haver was published by The Inquirer on September 11, 2018.

July 9 was a great day for the people of Philadelphia. The first meeting of the newly appointed Board of Education signaled the end of our long school governance nightmare.
The new nine-member board has made symbolic gestures toward breaking with the infamous past of the School Reform Commission, such as opening public spaces at district headquarters and refurbishing with some of the artwork confiscated from district schools and offices over 15 years ago.
The board has also begun to institute meaningful reforms, including establishing committees so that those with a stake in the district can engage in more meaningful participation beyond their allotted three-minute testimony, maybe even engage in dialogue with board members. The board even discussed resolutions before voting on them, a sight rarely seen during the 17-year reign of the SRC. 
But a true “break with the past,” as promised by former SRC chair and now board president Joyce Wilkerson at that first meeting, means a thorough rejection of the devastating agenda carried out by the SRC.
The SRC was imposed on the city for the purpose of carrying out the corporate, free-market agenda, the same privatization plan carried out in cities across the country: Close neighborhood public schools; expand charters, then make them almost impossible to close when they fail; and  force children to take standardized tests every year, then use those test scores to label them and their schools failing in order to justify charter-izing or closing them. Many decisions rubber-stamped by the SRC were made in the boardrooms of private foundations and nonprofits.  As it became increasingly clear that this “reform” did little more than destabilize the city’s public schools and neighborhoods, Philadelphians voted by a 2-1 margin for a nonbinding resolution to dissolve the SRC. 
The board must abandon the destructive spending priorities of the SRC and implement time-tested reforms.
In addition to lowering class size from 33 students, the district, now enjoying some semblance of financial stability, should bring back the remaining support staff laid off four years ago—reading specialists, non-teaching assistants, counselors, classroom aides for students with special needs. This board could signal its intention to improve the lives of our students by bringing back fully functioning school libraries. It’s a disgrace that there are fewer than 10 certified librarians in a district of more than 200 schools.
The board must bring back an equitable system.  A first step would be to abolish the district’s philanthropic Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, whose board meets in private to “help set funding priorities.” Schoolchildren should not be placed in the role of charity recipients. 
All funding decisions should be made in public, by the duly appointed Board of Education.  We should not maintain an undemocratic structure in which unknown individuals or corporations can decide which schools will be lucky enough to receive money for basic resources.
One of the biggest challenges the district faces is lack of funding from Harrisburg. The board should join with the Pennsylvania School Board Association to become more vocal advocates for fair funding. But we have to make sure that the dollars we get are spent on improving every classroom in every school. Outsourcing millions every year to consulting firms for teacher-training programs of questionable quality do nothing to improve education for our students. 
The board must invest in neighborhood schools and stop approving new charter schools. The district cannot afford them. Don’t renew charters that do not meet standards. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on schools that promised to educate children better than district schools but now want standards lowered when they have clearly failed to do so.
What local control will look like is up to the board members themselves.  They must be accountable, above all, to their constituents—the students, parents, educators, and community.  

Board Holds Student Achievement and Support Committee Meeting

by Diane Payne

The Board of Education’s Committee on Student Achievement and Support held its first meeting on Thursday September 13. Eight members of APPS attended this meeting; seven testified. There were several presentations by district officials: Superintendent William Hite, Head of Schools Shawn Bird, Director of Academic Support Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks, Director of Early Education Diane Castlebuono, and Interim Director of the Charters Schools Office Christina Grant. (You can view all BOE committee meeting presentation materials at the SDP website.)

Angela McIver and Chris McGinley serve as co-chairs; Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, and Maria McColgan are members of the Committee. Also present for most of the meeting was BOE President Joyce Wilkerson.

The meeting was scheduled for an hour and a half, but adjourned after two hours due to the number and length of staff presentations. At meeting’s end, the Co-chairs acknowledged that the number and length of presentations will have to be reconsidered in an effort to be respectful of time and to allow for public discussion. The 3-minute speaker rule was invoked due to time constraints, and although some went over, no speaker’s mic was shut off.

Staff presentation topics included: Read by 4th literacy initiative, teacher recruitment and retention, System of Great Schools (SGS) procedure and public hearings, and multiple charter school organizations (MCSO). (As noted above, all power points can be viewed on the SDP website.) During the presentation, Committee members asked thoughtful questions that challenged the status quo. For example, in response to Shawn Bird’s presentation on SGS, McGinley told him that “there are elements of the model that I vehemently disagree with.” McGinley added that the Committee would be following up for more information as the hearings on the year’s cohort of targeted schools proceed. The SGS schools this year are all in West Philadelphia–Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke. In response to another presentation, Fix-Lopez asked what other indicators were used besides standardized tests to determine whether graduating seniors were “career and college ready.” McColgan, Fix-Lopez, and Wilkerson expressed concerns around equity in the administration of grants and donations.

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