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.

Click here to read the rest of the report

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?

Click here to read the rest of this letter

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.

Click here to read the rest of the letter and the Board’s response