Eyes on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

Spring is here, and as more people become vaccinated, we begin to see a light at the end of the quarantine tunnel. Unfortunately, the light of public engagement has been increasingly dimmed by the Board of Education and their ever-changing rules for public speakers, which only erodes trust in the Board and the District. Philadelphia is the birthplace of Democracy, and public education is the foundation of a democratic society.  This incremental silencing of community voices represents a failure of leadership by Mayor Kenney, the Board members chosen by him,  and Superintendent Hite.  The 133 students, parents, teachers, principals, and community members who signed up to speak at the special March 18 meeting proved the need for the Board to lift all constraints on public speakers.  The Board must reverse its regressive speaker policies. 

This agenda is like a closet full of empty suits: cryptic descriptions devoid of information; new and extended contracts to vendors in line for their next helping at the education buffet;  the growing legal firms  slush fund.  Will the Board ever halt this diversion of public money to private vendors? We need leadership determined to rebuild the staff and resources lost from Dr. Hite’s devastating 2013 Doomsday Budget. 

The March Action meeting agenda devotes another mega-block of time to Goals & Guardrails™, the glossy scheme designed by people unfamiliar with education and pedagogy. It reflects a slick attempt to codify education and boil it down to testing results with data as the driver, not the real needs of Philadelphia’s students.

Educator and blogger Peter Greene writes:  “Education has been overrun by the Cult of Data….Data is not magic, and educators should not bow at the data altar.” 

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Board Rejects All Five Charter Applications

by Lynda Rubin

All Board members attended this special meeting, including the three recently inducted members.  There were just five items on the agenda:  to approve or deny new charter applications. In unanimously denying all five applications, the Board took seriously the concerns raised in both the evaluations of the Charter Schools Office (CSO)  and the APPS reports that analyzed the applications and researched the applicant’s founders and investors.

Read more here.

Ears on the Board of Education : February 25, 2021

By Diane Payne

The remote February  Board of Education Action Meeting again enforced the silencing of students, parents, educators and community members through its regressive speaker policy. The Board’s sign-up process has no transparency, so we cannot know how many were barred from speaking before or after the window closed. How many students and adults were denied their right to be heard? How many ways did the Board violate the state’s Sunshine Act?  Both Speaker Lists reflected the Board’s new 10-student and 30-adult speaker limits. This Board, as the governing body of the public school system, has no right to violate the law or its own by-laws by secretly amending official District policies. The Board has an obligation to provide a venue in which Philadelphians can participate freely and openly in governmental business.  Other efforts to engage the public should not be conflated with public meetings where the Board votes on official items.  The speaker changes first implemented in December include capping speakers and reducing speaking time, as well as moving up the deadline for sending in written testimony. These changes were implemented in secret with no public notification or Board deliberation. They reversed decades of precedent that even the SRC adhered to.  APPS members call on the Board to reverse these changes.

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Board Must Reject New Charter Applications

At 5 p.m on March 4, the Board will hold a special hearing to vote to accept or reject applications for five new charter schools. APPS members, who have analyzed the applications and attended both rounds of hearings, call on the Board to deny all five. The Board has rejected, with good reason,  all of the new charter applications before them since 2018.  The Board has been presented with five clearly inadequate applications this year.  Aspira has submitted two, despite their failure, every year, to meet standards in their Renaissance charters.

The Board will not have the Charter Schools Office make a presentation on their findings until minutes before they vote at the special hearing.  The Board has abolished its committees. Thus, community members will have only two minutes to speak on the issue just minutes before the Board votes in February. Public speakers were given only two minutes each to be heard at the first hearing in December;  no public testimony was heard at the second. In contrast, charter applicants have hours of time to sell their applications, not including private communications with the District.  As in previous years, APPS had to file a formal Right to Know Request in order to see the attachments, which contains  the budget, curriculum, and staffing information.

APPS’ analyses reveal serious deficiencies in all facets of the applications, many echoed by Charter Schools Office staff during the hearings. None of the applicants makes a strong case for approval. In addition, the shocking lack of preparation and knowledge about their own applications displayed in most of the hearings did little to instill confidence in their ability to operate schools and educate the children of Philadelphia.

The Board has raised the possibility of closing neighborhood schools and laying off teachers and support staff. The virus has devastated the local economy; tax revenues to the District will continue to decline.  The District does not need any new charter schools. The District cannot afford any more charter schools. The Board must reject all of these charter applications.

These charters, if approved, would cost the District approximately $245, 259, 998 in direct allotments and approximately $73, 543, 345 in stranded costs.

Please let the Board know, in written testimony or in testimony at the Action Meeting, that they must vote to deny all of these applications.

ASPIRA Charter Schools by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin

Empowerment Charter School by Deborah Grill

Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys by Karel Kilimnik

Pride Academy Charter School by Diane Payne