Ears on the Board of Education: June 27, 2019

by Diane Payne

Before the Board began the call to vote on the three charter school renewals on this agenda, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver stood and raised an objection to the proceedings, under Section 710 © of the Sunshine Act, about a clear violation of the Act as the Board was poised to vote on four official Items which contained no text or details—a de facto secret vote.  Despite APPS raising objections in letters and testimony, this Board continues the SRC’s practice of voting on Charter School matters and posting the text after the vote and after the meeting concludes. That constitutes a falsification of the public record as it implies that it was available to the public before the vote. In fact, there is no written acknowledgment that it was posted the day after the meeting.  President Joyce Wilkerson did not respond to Haver’s objection, nor did any of the other Board members, and the votes were cast illegally.

APPS contends that this Board consistently violates the Sunshine Act by not providing full information on charter school Items and by falsifying the records by placing text sometime after the vote as though it was available at the time of the vote. [Note: the Items in question were posted in full two days after the meeting.]

Present

Seven of the nine Board members were present as well as the two student representatives.  Absent were Leticia Egea-Hinton and Mallory Fix Lopez. Eight members of APPS were present; seven spoke in defense of public education.  The video of this meeting can be viewed by going to the BOE page of the SDP website.

Minutes of the May 30, 2019 Action Meeting were approved.

The two student representatives, Julia Frank and Alfredo Practico, read a statement about their experience serving on the Board, and they encouraged the public to view their report which should be available on the District website by the weekend.  APPS wishes them well in their college endeavors and appreciates the work they did in giving students a voice.

Belmont Bombshell

President Wilkerson made an announcement about Action Items that had been withdrawn.  For Action Item 1 with multiple policy items, one item, Policy 007 was withdrawn because new information was received and the Board needs to review it.  Wilkerson then stated that Action Item 40, the sale of the “unused and unnecessary” school district property at 4030 Brown Street to Belmont Futures, was also being withdrawn.  This property houses Belmont Charter School, so this designation of “unused and unnecessary” was incorrect from a legal standpoint. Belmont Charter CEO Michael Karp is a wealthy and politically connected real estate mogul; he controls the operation of three schools in the Belmont network. Karp testified at the May 2017 SRC meeting that Belmont would not be signing the new charter because he objected to “conditions” imposed on the school. Belmont had failed to meet any standards in that evaluation; in fact,  Belmont received a “Does Not Meet” rating in academics. Since Belmont had not been successful in any category, the conditions were simply the CSO’s attempt to make Belmont responsible for the terms of its contract.

Charter School Office Interim Director Christina Grant announced at the May 16 2019 Finance Committee that the CSO had been negotiating (in private) with the Belmont administration who were now willing to sign the new charter. Why? Because the sale of the 4030 Brown Street property was contingent on that renewal.  Apparently, Belmont officials would not improve the academic, financial, and organizational deficiencies for the sake of the Belmont students and families, but they are willing to do so in order to accumulate real estate. Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd also told the Committee that her office had been in talks with Belmont about the sale of the building. Not only had a sale price been negotiated, an August closing date had already been scheduled! Board member Chris McGinley pointed out that this school is a Renaissance School, which means it serves a District catchment area; he also stated that the building is neither unused nor unnecessary. Selling this building to a charter operator would be one more in a long list of the District selling off its public buildings, creating more “school deserts” in struggling neighborhoods. The District has sold off public school buildings for a song—look at Bok, Smith School, University City, and Germantown, to name a few.

APPS members immediately began to testify, research, and write the Board expressing the problems inherent in this “deal.”  It seems that our efforts were having an effect, as newspaper stories reported that Board members were skeptical of the deal. We were optimistic that the Board would vote to keep that public building out of the hands of a private concern. But lo and behold, Harrisburg seems to be rallying to facilitate the interests of Michael Karp. Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R, Allegheny) had introduced House Bill 1615 just prior to the Board meeting which would in essence allow Karp’s schools to secede from the School District of Philadelphia.  Money talks. Turzai is no friend of Philadelphia and no friend of public education. Details are sparse at this point but the public needs to be aware of this transaction.

Behind this story is the history of developer and landlord Michael Karp, notably his influence and wealth.  He has served on the PICA Board (Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority) since he was appointed by Governor Tom Ridge in 2000, one year before the state takeover of Philadelphia’s public schools.  Per the PICA website: PICA was created in 1991 to assist the City of Philadelphia in overcoming a severe financial crisis. The Authority was created through the joint efforts of concerned Philadelphians and State officials who envisioned a structure which would assist the City in putting its revenue collection and spending processes in order and at the same time reach a consensus on its future priorities, assets and limitations.”   In other words, an appointed board has the power to override the decisions of the duly elected representatives of the city.

In 2015, Karp bought a vintage Greenwich Village townhouse for $32 million.

In February of this year, the Philadelphia Tribune reported that City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell allegedly tried to aid Karp in the purchase of 4601 Market Street.  Blackwell served on Belmont’s board for many years.

Indicating the range of Karp’s political influence, Philly Power Research found:  “In 2018, the top real estate donors to current City Councilmembers and City Council candidates were: Joseph Zuritsky, Chairman of Parkway Corporation; The Building Industry Association; and Michael Karp, head of University City Housing Company and the Belmont Charter Network.” 

We ask again: Is this about educating needy children or is it about real estate deals?

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Hite began by congratulating the senior class of 2019, thanking the out-going student representatives, and by recognizing the  commitment of teachers and staff to the week-long summer institute training, [He did refer to it as a “boot camp” but did not mention that many who attend have no choice, e.g., those in the Acceleration Network.) Hite also addressed the U S Supreme Court decision to strike the Trump administration attempt at including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.  Hite stressed that it is extremely important that the community gets the word that answering the census is not a threat and that billions of federal dollars hang in the balance if incorrect counts result due to incorrect information.

Hite shared information regarding the District’s efforts at voter registration geared to District seniors.  A packet has been developed in conjunction with the Committee of 70 for all Social Studies teachers, and professional development will be available. Next year, certain high schools will be targeted for voter registration events.  APPS speaker Coleman Poses has been advocating for District engagement in getting high school seniors registered to vote. In his remarks Thursday, Poses asked Hite if a database could notify school personnel when students turn 18 so that district officials can provide the forms immediately.  Hite did not have an answer to Poses’ query but said he would get back to him.

Committee Reports 

Chairs of each committee–Student Achievement, Finance and Facilities, Community Engagement, and Policy–gave a brief update from their last meetings.  APPS reports for each of these meetings can be viewed on our website.  There were no District presentations at this Action Meeting. In the past, the CSO would present information about charter renewals and applications at the full Board meetings; that seems to no longer be the case. It is part of the pattern of keeping charter issues out of the public eye.

Speakers

Three members of APPS spoke in opposition to the amendment hidden in Action Item 91–MaST II’s request for an enrollment increase of 650 students as part of its renewal agreement.  Only those who attended the June Student Achievement Committee had any knowledge of the increase. Even after we notified the Board and the Board staff, no information about enrollment increases as part of any charter renewal was posted on the District website.  APPS members highlighted MaST’s blatant school segregation. Some examples across its two current campuses: MaST’s poverty levels are 26% & 43% compared to SDP’s 74%; African/American student percentages are 8% & 24% compared to SDP’s 50%; and White percentages are 68% & 41% compared to SDP’s 14%.

The topic of the District’s involvement in increasing the segregation of schools has been addressed at multiple Committee and Action Meetings by a parent from the Northern Liberties community.  Stephanie King brought graphs, data, and noted her past attempts to engage the District in discussion about this ongoing problem. Board member Angela McIver agreed with King that it was an issue that needed a hard look.  King stated that the District is engaged in “willful segregation.” Yet even in the face of MaST’s demographics, the Board voted 6 in favor and 1 against to approve the renewal and the 650 seat enrollment increase. There was no discussion or even acknowledgement of why such an increase should be approved–even when APPS member Diane Payne called out from the audience asking the Board to explain why they were voting to approve this increase.  Why the secrecy?

MaST CEO Charles Swoyer III pulls in a salary of $335,147 for overseeing two schools, MaST I and MaST II.  (Dr. Hite makes $311,000 for overseeing 210 schools.) The MaST Board approves all MaST salaries, which are paid by taxpayers who have no say in that decision–or knowledge, unless they are able to pore over federal tax information.  An additional MaST II campus is under construction along the Delaware River near the Tacony Palmyra Bridge. Since the SRC approved MaST for a mega-third school on a 30-acre tract on Roosevelt Boulevard, that means that these three new campuses will be in remote locations.  None of these campuses will qualify as a “great school close to where children live” as Dr. Hite often says because there are no neighborhoods by any of these campuses. The MaST II new campus and the third MaST school are both located in industrial areas.

Although two campuses are in the Achievement category of Reinforce, the high school is in the Watch category.  Even with the skewed demographics, not a great success.

The CSO report unabashedly states that “the CSO anticipates the enrollment increase to positively impact the Charter School’s ability to borrow money for construction.”  Apparently using our children as bargaining chips so this powerful organization can increase its holdings is not even something to feel shame about.  This raises the specter of a Ponzi-like scheme of continually filling in the bottom to keep the top afloat. As APPS member Deb Grill told the Board in her testimony: “ It is not your responsibility to facilitate profitable real estate deals for charter operators or universities.”

Finally, the Board failed to answer the question of whether secret bartering between the CSO and the Charter School resulted in a quid pro quo.  MaST dropped its Multiple Charter School Organization (MCSO) application, which Chris McGinley specifically asked about at the June Student Achievement  Committee meeting, along with the reference to the enrollment increase. APPS co-founder Lisa Haver asked the Board directly if this was the case but no answer was given nor was there any indication an answer would be forthcoming.

This was a disheartening vote to increase the real estate footprint of a charter school that is directly  linked to school segregation, overpaid executives, remote school locations, and state of the art facilities to provide that private school vibe for their select group of students.  This while children at schools like Gideon, Sheridan, Harding, and more struggle for resources, safety, and non-toxic buildings.

Deal for Drexel–Who Benefits Most?

Drexel President John Fry gave a 40-minute presentation at June’s Finance and Facilities meeting.  He laid out all the good that Drexel has done for the public school communities near Drexel, most notably Powell Elementary.  His mission was to have the District put $7 million into the kitty to fund construction of a new building, owned by Drexel, intended to co-locate Powel and SLA Middle School (SLAMS). According to Fry, Drexel has already secured $29 million from various sources for the new building–to be constructed on the site of the former University City High School at 3601 Filbert Street. Uni City, along with the adjacent schools Drew Elementary and the Walnut School, were closed by the SRC in 2013, the property purchased by Drexel, and the buildings quickly razed. So…the District sold the property to Drexel, Drexel bought it and will now lease it to the District. One group strongly advocating for the 23 school closings that year was the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), when Fry was a member of the Board. Fry continues to be a major contributor to PSP (as is Michael Karp).

The 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the District and Drexel details the level of control Drexel will have over this new school.  There were promises by Drexel to guard against the gentrification and other issues that resulted from the University of Pennsylvania’s involvement in Penn Alexander. One question not posed by any member of the Board in either the Committee or Action Meeting: why does Drexel want to build this school in its backyard? Who stands to benefit?  And wouldn’t the District benefit every year if Drexel would pay its PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes)?

Fry’s presentation was never posted on the District website.

Action Item – 41 – passed with 6 Yes and 1 Abstain insuring the involvement of another wealthy institution that will “partner” with the SDP.

Board Votes

The Board took block voting to a new level at this meeting.  President Wilkerson separated the Items into 5 blocks (not in order),  and 83 Items were passed in 5 votes.

Action Items 1 – 3

Action Items 9 – 16

Action Items 20 – 39

Action Items 42 – 88

Action Items 92 – 96

McGinley and Wilkerson abstained on Action Item 14; it passed 5 Yes and 2 Abstain. Huang abstained on Action Item 75; it passed 6 Yes and 1 Abstain.  The remaining items in this block passed unanimously.

Action Items 4 – 8 passed unanimously.

Action Items 17 -18 passed unanimously.

Action Item 19 was withdrawn.

Action Item 41 Drexel vote passed with 6 Yes votes, I Abstain from Huang and comments from McGinley, Wilkerson, and McIver about why they were voting yes.

Action Item 89 passed unanimously.

Action Item 90 passed with 6 Yes votes and 1 Abstain from McColgan

Action Item 91 passed with 6 yes votes and 1 No vote from McGinley

The Action Meeting adjourned and the Intermediate Unit convened. The Board passed three Action Items unanimously.

 

Eyes on the Board of Education: June 27, 2019

by Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill

The June Tsunami

This month’s agenda lists 91 Action Items (including 3 Intermediate Unit Items) to be considered and voted on by the Board. Needless to say, it will not be possible for the Board to conduct any deliberation of most of them.  Every June, we could count on the end-of-school-year tsunami of resolutions from the SRC. We were hoping that the Board would discontinue this practice. Yes, there are Committee meetings, but only a handful of Items, if any, are discussed by those three Committees (Policy and Public Engagement committees meet only 4 times a year; no Items are considered by the Public Engagement Committee). This agenda includes Items of financial and educational concern to the entire District community.

This edition of Eyes looks at some of the most pressing issues under consideration this month.  Should the Board sell a public school building to satisfy the desires of a real estate developer and charter operator? Should the Board continue to shovel money into a fund for outside legal firms that allows for little accounting of exactly that money is spent?  Will expanding Drexel’s footprint in West Philadelphia benefit the community?

Find the full list of  June 27 Action Items here.

Call 215-400-4010 before 4 PM June 26 to sign up to speak, or sign up online here.

Click here to read the action items of note and our analyses

Finance and Facilities Committee Report: June 13, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

The final 2018-19 Finance and Facilities Committee was held June 13, 2019. Present were  Co-chairs Lee Huang and Letitia Egea-Hinton along with Committee Members Joyce Wilkerson and Wayne Walker. Board members Julia Danzy, Angela McGiver, Maria McColgan and Chris McGinley also attended.  The May 16, 2019 Minutes were approved and will be posted on the website.

Huang noted that the meeting time was moved to an earlier time to accommodate  Drexel President John Fry who would be giving a presentation; that item was listed under “District Presentations” on the agenda, although there was no link to it prior to the meeting.  Huang asked Fry to speak about the work that Drexel University has been doing on the facility under consideration. Fry began his 40-minute presentation by stating that Drexel’s intent is to construct a new building, into which Samuel Powel Elementary and SLA Middle School  (SLAMS) would co-locate, on a site including 3601 Filbert Street, the address of the now demolished University City High School. Drexel is hoping for a September 2020 or January 2021 opening date.

As of this writing, there is no report which can be accessed from the agenda link, but for those who wish to “Download the Agenda .pdf” from the meeting materials page, there are now nine pages (pp. 12- 20) of drawings and renderings of a proposed new building for Powel Elementary and SLAMS to co-locate and a graph which does not explain itself at all, but no narrative to accompany President Fry’s report.  (Note: following these drawings can be found the PowerPoints of the agenda items on Tax Revenue Report update given by Chief Financial Director, Uri Monson, and a School Renovation update by Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd.  Look for Finance Committee – Download Agenda)

Fry introduced three Drexel University administrators who are overseeing this project: Donald Moore, VP for Real Estate and Facilities; Lucy Kerman, who worked with Fry years ago at Penn during the creation of Penn Alexander, their first project with the Promise Zone design;  and Brian Keech, Sr. VP for Governmental/Community Relations, who was brought on after Drexel purchased the University City site. Fry said that Drexel has been a “committed university partner” to the District, and he cited the list of schools the University has gotten involved with, although not to the level as with Powel and SLAMS. About five years ago, Drexel was named administrator of a $5 million federal Promise Zone grant of $5 million and chose these five schools as recipients:  McMichael Elementary, West Philadelphia High School, Locke Elementary, Martha Washington Elementary and Belmont Charter. Fry further stated that under the Drexel/District partnership, in addition to other various education services, 101 schools have “hosted” pre-service teachers, (co-op, student teachers and teacher residents) and awarded 50 scholarships to Drexel for District students which he pointed out assists the district, the student teachers themselves and Drexel’s program, especially enabling them to recruit Philadelphia students for their school. Fry stated that Drexel spent $12 million to partner with Wexford Science and Technology LLC to buy the site for $25 million. Wexford is currently constructing Innovational school buildings for their uCity Square project on that site while Drexel would build the Powel/SLAMS building on the same lot. Fry said they believed that the site, which sits inside Drexel’s “boundaries”, could be an area for job growth and simultaneously provide schools for the children of those workers in the future. Fry referred to the 2016 MOU (memorandum of understanding created with the SRC) in which all parties agreed to seek out funding for this project.

Finally, Fry finally told the Board he had come to ask the District to contribute $7 million for the project. Fry stated the building costs would total $39 million but that getting commitments from philanthropists, etc. had been difficult. He did say that Gerry Lenfest had given $15 million just before he died. He also said that Drexel recently sold a parcel of the site back to Wexford in return for Drexel building an academic building for them on another site for $8.5 (or $9) million. With those contributions and the $12 million they paid for the purchase for the site, Drexel had $29 million “in hand”. His numbers were not exact figures, as he was speaking in general terms. Fry then said that Drexel was hoping to get $3 million in tax credits, and although he repeatedly stated he didn’t know whether they were sure to get those credits, he did include that $3 million in the  available funds.

Fry stated that he had been consulting with Superintendent Hite throughout the process, that Dr. Hite is in favor of the process and the financials, and that it was Dr. Hite who suggested that he come before the Board for the request.

Before taking questions from the Board, Huang recognized the presence of City Finance Director Rob Dubow who did not address the Board.

Although questions from the Board members were cogent, they did indicate that the Board had limited knowledge about this project, agreed upon in 2016 under the SRC.The actual MOU was not provided at this meeting. We have requested a copy, but it is doubtful we will get it before the vote on the 27th.

President Wilkerson asked  how much the building itself would cost and how big it would be. Don Moore replied that constructing the building itself would be $30-31 million of the total $39 million. McGiver asked whether there were studies about student growth in neighborhood areas that would identify how the demographic needs could change 10-15 years down the line, as Penn-Alexander is now experiencing. Lucy Kerman said that despite having a waiting list, only half of Powel’s students come from the catchment area, so Powel would have the ability to increase its neighborhood students, unlike Penn-Alexander, whose total enrollment is from the catchment area. She also said this move would allow Powel to increase by one class per grade (currently there are 2 classes per grade). Kerman indicated that included in the MOU is a clause that Drexel would fund a staff person to be at the school full-time to oversee university/school connections and that other Drexel staff were expected to be involved in the “innovation” ideas at the school as well. Leticia Egea-Hinton asked about community engagement, the degree to which that was done, and what they learned from the Penn-Alexander project. Kerman identified organizations they had talked with, then said that a strong leader is essential to the success of any school. She also said that the 2016 MOU actually states that  Drexel administrators would participate in the hiring of the principal. Danzy asked what will happen to SLAMS if Drexel is not able to raise the money. Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd noted that SLAMS is currently at the 3600 Market St. Science Center and that the District has reached out to negotiate terms for SLAMS to remain there should that be necessary. Floyd stated that SLAMS has already made location moves and hopes this will be the last.

Wilkerson voiced the same concerns as McIver and stated that Penn-Alexander “didn’t play out the way we thought it would” in that although it initially included more African-American students and economic diversity, it has now “flipped completely”. Wilkerson recounted that Penn had given mortgages to all of their staff, not just faculty, to facilitate diversity in student body demographics. She said no one had anticipated that the investments in new and renovated housing prompted by the new school, would actually push out long-term neighborhood residents who could not afford the higher property tax rates assigned to the area. Those factors led to the creation of  “a more privileged student body” at the school. Kerman pointed out that the Penn-Alexander catchment area had not had an affordable housing development partner as this area does. Powel School currently enrolls homeless children served by People’s Emergency Center (PEC), and PEC has been building affordable homes in the area. She stated that the work of PEC, “with sufficient planning”, should be able to offset the pricing out of current neighborhood residents. McGinley said the District would have to be the manager of limiting outside catchment enrollments to keep the school with the diversity of the District. McGinley asked whether the Board was being asked for a total of $7 million or actually more. Fry did not give a definitive answer. Fry also said that he was in talks with a “private foundation”.  These questions and others from Board members demonstrated that this Board has not been adequately “read in” to this project.

Chairperson Huang asked for clarification of Action Item 42 that Drexel is asking to be passed. Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson replied that this would come from the operating budget.

APPS is concerned that Drexel University and other local universities, including Penn and Temple, are partnering with the School District for more than educational training, research and academic supports.These schools have grown to become major corporate players by increasing their purchasing of property, partnering with other corporate and non-profit entities, in where and how the City’s planning development will occur. While APPS believes in using our city’s resources, including our universities, much of this is done without public disclosure or engagement until the deals are close to completion. The buying and selling of land, especially in residential neighborhoods, and in determining which schools will be updated and expand, and which schools will not, affects our children and the community at large. Universities with non-profit tax structures, including Drexel,  have resisted the paying of PILOTS (Payments in Lieu of Taxes), taxes necessary to support public schools and other city services in ways that will best meet our needs. They seem to want to control how, where and for what they will make their contributions to city schools that also places their own interests first. APPS is further concerned that, as often happens in development, obtaining the financing is more difficult than initially thought. Because Drexel would like to start construction this summer, it is concerning that Drexel is, at the last minute, coming hat in hand to the Board for sizable funds to keep the project on track. In reply to a question by Egea-Hinton about what Drexel has learned from Penn-Alexander, VP Lucy Kerman said that picking strong leaders is key, followed by a mention that Drexel will have some or all control over hiring the principal as outlined in the MOU. Are we now ceding oversight and even directional controls of our schools to outside entities, even universities?

Financial Report

Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson presented information  on TRANS (Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes) using a powerpoint presentation (included in Meeting Materials link above). A Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) is a short-term note sold by a municipal (City) issuer as interim financing in anticipation of tax and other revenue. To allow for regular cash flow throughout the year, the District will have to borrow TRANS that will have to be repaid in the same fiscal year. Monson stated that revenues fluctuate throughout the year but that expenditures are a constant with payroll and charter payments. The projected year-end fund balance for fiscal year 2019 is $206.8 million. ($206 million represents less than four weeks operating costs for the District.) President Wilkerson asked about the terminology of the $30 million surplus. Uri Monson contends that the money is not actually a surplus in common definition but is actually Fund Balance Increases.

Overview of 2018-19 Facilities Renovations

Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd gave an update on the year’s Lead Paint Stabilization and Paint Repair to address loose, peeling and flaking paint assumed to contain lead. Forty-eight schools were assessed; 11 schools are completed and 15 final reports have been issued. During the summer 2019, 13 elementary schools have been scheduled for stabilization and another 104 for assessments this summer in order to comply with a new City Ordinance. (A map on page 12 of  the PowerPoint presentation linked above shows the status of specific schools). During the 2018-19 school year, the District responded to 293 reported concerns–135 mold/HVAC, 47 asbestos and 111 other IEQ/IAQ (no definition was given for these acronyms). The District completed water testing at 45 schools for 1200 water outlets, per City ordinance. 86% were below the action level (not defined); 173 outlets were taken out of use for above action levels. This summer 90 hydration systems will be installed. To date, 882 hydration stations have been installed per this initiative.

Action Items

Of the 88 Action Items on the June 27 Board meeting agenda,  60 Items are of concern to the Finance and Facilities Committee.  Three should be noted at this time:

  • Item 2: Authorization to Levy and Access Taxes,a yearly duty of the School Board  – This is a yearly task that the Board votes on each June for the following school year.
  • Item 40: Declaration of Unused and Unnecessary Land & Buildings: Sale of 4030 Brown Street,  Belmont Elementary Charter to Belmont Futures (a non-profit set up by the Belmont Charter Board with overlapping board members, specifically to buy the building).  APPS members have testified and spoken against selling anything to an entity with ties to Belmont School Network CEO Michael Karp.  First, Belmont Elementary has not made sufficient progress in school achievement. Second, Belmont Elementary was only recommended in 2017 for a 5 year renewal With Conditions. Michael Karp refused to sign that contract in defiance of the District’s right to have oversight of charter schools as per the Charter Law. After two years of refusal, the District has fast-tracked Belmont’s renewal, without revealing any possible conditions to the public until after the Board’s vote, so that Karp’s newly formed non-profit can buy the Belmont property.  Are the Drexel and Belmont Items related? Drexel is the administrator of a federal fund; one of the schools it chose as a beneficiary is Belmont Charter. Why would the Board of Education and the Hite administration accede to the wishes of a major real estate developer to buy a public building? As Dr. McGinley has pointed out to fellow Board members, Belmont is a catchment area school. It should also be noted that Michael Karp and Drexel President John Fry are both major donors to the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP); Fry is a former PSP board member.

PSP identifies as a non-profit that funds schools. In reality it has been a major political force for charter expansion and union-busting. APPS has strongly advised the Board to vote against the sale of this catchment area school building for no reason other than to satisfy the wishes of Michael Karp.  As McGinley noted at an Action meeting, neighborhood schools should remain part of the School District. APPS continues to oppose this Item.

  • Item 42: Lease with Drexel university or its affiliates for Building for the Co-Location of Powell Elementary School and Science Leadership Academy – Middle School (SLAMS)(described above). This is in reference the presentation made by Drexel President John Fry above. There are many questions of concern about the arrangement between Drexel and the District for staffing and running these schools as well as funding, including “Drexel University or its affiliates”  in the title. APPS is concerned that the Board members appear to be too uninformed about this project to make a decision at this time. Board members asked incisive questions regarding the effect on the students and the neighborhood, both now and in the future. APPS is very concerned that Drexel is now, at the last minute, requesting $7 million (or $10 million) of funding that Drexel was supposed to obtain from non-District sources. This Board needs to step back, familiarize themselves with the specifics of what they are actually agreeing to, discuss it with the community, and decide whether this deal benefits the people of the District or Drexel and its “affiliates”.

Public Speakers

Councilwoman Helen Gym thanked the Board members for their work in making the examination and repair of buildings a priority. She pointed out that since the Board does not raise its own taxes, it remains difficult to adopt long-term priorities. Since City Council does provide the funding along with the State, and since this City Council is very education oriented, she suggested that the Board and City Council sit down to have a conversation about how to proceed. Gym also noted that as elected officials, City Council does pay attention to the public will. Gym stated that she does not trust the polls that say many residents don’t see the District as important and saveable. The District needs to make a “bold step” in getting the public to see that the Board is committed to making necessary changes and improvements. She advised the Board to begin thinking of such a bold step and again invited the Board to engage with City Council members to make plans for how we can engage public sentiment for the good of the District.

APPS co-founder Lisa Haver spoke against Item 40: Sale of 4030 Brown St. to an entity created by developer Michael Karp and Belmont Charter Network. She noted that for many reasons, Karp should never have been given control of any public school, in part because he has no education background, and has in fact been a high-level realtor. She pointed out Karp’s intransigence in working with the District, including his refusal to sign the contract for the past two years over the addition of “conditions”. Lisa thanked Dr. McGinley for emphasizing that the schools belong to the community. She pointed out that while building sales are financial decisions, they are, more importantly, community cohesion decisions and that no one asked or informed the local community of their thoughts on the matter.

APPS member Lynda Rubin spoke about the need to post District meeting agendas and descriptions of the items to be discussed and voted on sooner and make them easier to find on the website in order to actually encourage greater public participation on these matters. Lynda also spoke against the selling of 4030 Brown St. to Belmont Charter Network and, more importantly not selling off the School District’s buildings too quickly and without long-term thought.

Leah Clouden spoke about how she and her mother, Mama Gail, along with Pastor Darien Thomas enlisted support for setting aside a room at Penrose Elementary School last September, which was done in conjunction with 440 support and named The Peace Cafe. The Peace Cafe was a place where they met with parents regularly, put in clothes washing machines and fed both students and families. Horace Cloudon spoke about the District’s history of renting expensive sites for some schools, in this case a gym for SLAMS, when nearby underutilized schools could be used. He said that expensive rentals like this do not help the School District’s budget. Parents and community residents spoke about the need for allocating an increased amount for school facilities’ repairs. Another parent spoke about the problem when some schools are over-enrolled and others are half-empty and encouraged the District to engage parents and community in resolving the issues. Another speaker raised the need for more playgrounds attached to the schools.