Ears on the Board of Education: September 17, 2020

by Diane Payne

The Board managed to hit many lows during this September remote Action Meeting. Just hours before the meeting started, registered public speakers on action items received an email message with their zoom confirmation that stated “…the Board President will be interrupting the testimony of those individuals not speaking on the topic under which they registered and directing the host to mute their lines.”  [Bold added] The absolute control the Board has over the public process during the quarantine took a chilling turn with this threat. Board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Angela McIver spoke against the directive during the meeting, and Wilkerson seemed to relent; but several speakers were cut off when they attempted to speak on more than one topic. APPS members pointed out in their testimonies that this comes on the heels of the Board’s allowing unlimited time in several consecutive meetings to the Hilco, Inc. officials who lobbied the Board–successfully, as it turns out–for a major tax break.   

During Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson’s presentation on projected budget shortfalls, Lee Huang dropped his own bomb: suggesting the closure of public schools as a solution to a financial crisis. Several Board members spoke in agreement, using familiar buzz phrases like “tough decisions” and “difficult move”, forcing us to relive the trauma of 2013 when the SRC approved the Hite administration’s permanent closure of  23 neighborhood schools. This is disaster capitalism in action. Communities have not recovered from losing those schools, and this Board wants to impose more? If Black Lives really do matter in Philadelphia, the community needs to organize now to stop this.   

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Eyes on the Board of Education: September 17, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”  James Baldwin

As educators and students across the nation begin a new year, many enduring issues of inequity and racism generate discussion. We need to go beyond the clouds of words and promises of task forces and advisory committees. Educators, parents, students, advocates and school staff need a seat at the decision-making table. Better funded districts with newer facilities are able to provide both in-school and virtual instruction, while we in Philadelphia continue the fight to detoxify schools. The District’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a scathing report on the  Hite administration’s mishandling of the construction and the ensuing environmental crisis at Ben Franklin High School. Dr. Hite and his team, in hurrying the project so that Science Leadership Academy could relocate, endangered the health and safety of students and staff. The Board expressed its disappointment, then moved on with a shameful promise simply to include the years-long display of incompetence and malfeasance in Dr. Hite’s annual performance review.  

The OIG Report not only laid bare what happened during the eighteen months of construction at Ben Franklin (although omitting all names of those responsible seems designed to preclude accountability), it gave important insight into the policy and practice of the Hite administration on outsourcing and the resulting erosion of institutional memory at 440, an issue raised by APPS members for years:

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Board Protects Charter Status Quo

by Diane Payne

Policy Committee Meeting, September 10, 2020

The Board’s Policy Committee scheduled a special meeting just one week after its regular quarterly meeting. The Board did not explain on September 3 why it was having a separate meeting on September 10 or why the three policies on this agenda could not have been discussed the week before.  Members of the public who signed up to speak could only guess about the Board’s intentions about revising or deleting Policy 141, the Renaissance Charter Initiative.  By the meeting’s end, however, it became clear that the purpose of the meeting was to assure charter operators that their interests would be protected. 

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