APPS Celebrates the End of the SRC, Calls for Elected School Board

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For immediate release                                                            November 2, 2017

Members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools celebrate the impending dissolution of the School Reform Commission. We thank Mayor Kenney and Council President Clarke for their leadership in bringing this state-imposed body to an end.  State control of our schools has brought devastation to this city: precious funds have been diverted to non-public schools and over 30 neighborhoods have seen their schools closed permanently.

Since 2012, APPS members have attended every session of the SRC, including special meetings and Policy Committee meetings.  We have spent those five years fighting and organizing against the reckless spending, lack of transparency and disregard for the public exhibited by the many iterations of the SRC.  In 2014, APPS sued then-Chair Bill Green and the SRC in federal court for violating the public’s First Amendment rights when Green ordered the police to confiscate signs from members of the public—and won. The following year, we filed suit in Commonwealth Court to stop the SRC’s continual violations of the PA Sunshine Act.  Our settlement resulted in significant changes in SRC policy, including posting the resolutions to be voted on two weeks before the meeting instead of only 72 hours, and allowing the public to speak on resolutions posted just before or during the meeting.

We now have a unique opportunity to end the disenfranchisement of the people of Philadelphia.  The stakeholders in our public school system—that is, every person who benefits from a thriving public school system—should have the same rights as those in every other district in the commonwealth to elect the officials who will be entrusted to represent them in matters of school governance.

The dissolution of the SRC is not contingent on changing the City Charter.  The Charter now provides for mayoral control, as it did before SRC. The Mayor can select an interim school board for a year, during which time the city should hold community forums, as it is presently doing for the Rebuild initiative, to hear from the people whose voices were shut out during the reign of the SRC about how best to create a truly representative body for the critical task of educating our children.

Trading in one unelected, unaccountable board for another is not a progressive solution to the problems facing the district.

 

Eyes on the SRC – November 15, 2016

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by Karel Kilimnik

November’s meeting is the first to be chaired by Joyce Wilkerson, sworn in by Mayor Kenney on November 3 and appointed as Chair by Governor Wolf. Ms. Wilkerson was Chief of Staff for Mayor John Street and has extensive experience in government. She stated publicly that she favors or a return to local control.

The resolutions for November embody recurring themes, fully supported by the SRC, of Superintendent William Hite’s administration. One is the issue of the resolutions that have been appearing and disappearing since last April. Resolutions for renewals of Mastery Clymer, Mastery Shoemaker, and Mastery Gratz are posted—as they have been every month since April. The SRC has tabled, postponed or withdrawn these resolutions, without explanation, for seven months.

At September’s meeting, the SRC approved the reopening of Vaux High School, which had been closed in 2013, as a “contract school” to be operated by Big Picture Philadelphia. The proposed school would serve up to 500 students through 2022. Just before October’s meeting, the SRC withdrew Resolution B-10 which would have approved a six-year, $23 million contract with the education vendor to manage the school. That resolution also stipulated an option for a five-year renewal through 2017. There was never any staff presentation to explain what that program entailed or why it cost $23 million. Once again, we ask: What is happening behind the scenes that resulted in the resolution to be withdrawn? Where is this money to operate one small high school coming from?

On October 11, Dr. Hite announced that eleven schools have been designated “Priority Schools”. Details about the initiative have been sketchy. There is a list of five options for some type of turnaround, at least three of which would include major staff overhauls. One of the options is “restarting the schools”, which would imply that the school would be closed. Dr. Hite has repeatedly said that no schools would be closed this year. How do you restart a school if you haven’t closed it? In September, the SRC approved a $200,000 contract with “The Cambridge Team”, an education vendor based in Massachusetts, to conduct “school quality reviews” over a period of three weeks. Cambridge will hold three community meetings at each school and conduct two days of site visits. The contract resolution stated that part of the SQR process will be “to identify strengths at these schools which can be built upon, and will provide additional, on-the-ground data to inform which strategic investments would be most likely to drive sustained school improvement.” Of course, it is the teachers and principals who have been developing these strengths—in spite of lack of resources, teacher vacancies, the substitute debacle last year, and cutbacks in support staff. If the district observed good pedagogy, those teachers and principals would remain in these schools while the district replaced the services which have been cut by the Hite administration over the past four years. APPS has attended and written reports on many of these meeting.

Dr. Hite will announce his recommendation for all eleven schools in January 2017. Perhaps at the time he will also tell us how much the Priority School initiative will cost.

One set of Resolutions raises the issue of what happens to the buildings of shuttered schools. In 2013, there was a massive closing of 24 schools. Several of these properties are located in gentrifying neighborhoods. Bok High School, the only Philadelphia school building financed and constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1938, and included on the National Register of Historic Places, has gone from providing “a core academic curriculum where students have been able to study accounting, bookkeeping, carpentry, health/medical assisting services, commercial/advertising art, computer systems networking and communications, engineering technologies, and culinary arts” into a space filled with a private preschool program, a range of small non-profits, working space for artists and craftspeople, as well as a summer rooftop bar. These programs may fill a need, but so did Bok High School—as a vibrant educational institution that provided opportunities for our young people. There are many other vacant buildings that would provide space for non-profits and artists, such as the Budd building in Nicetown. The neighborhood surrounding Bok is gentrifying and the services lodged within the building reflect that reality. How many more shuttered buildings are part of this gentrification of our city? Our neighborhood schools have served generations of families who expected that their children and grandchildren would be able to continue that tradition. How many of these closed schools are slated to become mixed-use buildings with market-value residences replacing residents who can no afford the rent? The SEPTA strike has shown us the value of having a neighborhood school within walking distance. What happens to a community stripped of its school?

This month, we see the continued use of non-profits to replace school staff. Partners are invaluable but should be supplemental, not primary. Volunteers are wonderful, generous people, but our students need educated and experienced staff who at the school every day. Our students need school librarians, counselors, nurses, reading specialists, art and music teachers. They deserve the best, and we should do everything we can to ensure that they receive it. Rather than close or charterize or turnaround our schools, the Hite administration needs to institute real reforms, beginning with putting back so many of the resources which have been taken out:

  • A full time school nurse to help in assessing any health issues (such as vision and auditory screenings)
  • Classroom aides to provide support in the classroom
  • Reduced class size that enables classroom teachers to support every child
  • Reading Specialists who can diagnose and remediate reading issues
  • Reading Recovery teachers in elementary schools
  • A flourishing ESOL program to support our English Language Learners
  • Small class size and supports for Special Needs students

Please note that November’s SRC Action Meeting is Tuesday (not Thursday) November 15th at 4:30 PM.

Click here to read selected resolutions relating to the ongoing expansion of charter schools, real estate interests purchases of closed Philadelphia public schools, contracting out of custodial services in violation of the SEIU contract, and more.

APPS Calls for Transparency, Public Engagement in SRC Selections

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The members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools call upon Mayor Kenney, Governor Wolf and the PA Senate to use this opportunity, brought about by the resignation of two members of the School Reform Commission, to create a transparent process for selection of their replacements. To be clear: the ultimate outcome for Philadelphia’s school governance should be a democratically elected school board. However, we must begin by advocating for citizen voice in the process of selecting those who are entrusted to represent the best interests of the public on the SRC.

The SRC, a governmental body that controls a $2.6 billion annual budget, has a responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of the children of Philadelphia. To date, those decisions have included: closing twenty-three neighborhood schools; privatizing and outsourcing personnel and services, resulting in the Source4Teachers substitute debacle; opening more charter schools at the expense of district schools, and the facilitation of charter companies effectively creating their own districts in some neighborhoods; the illegal cancellation of its contract with PFT members, and its failure over the last four years to negotiate in good faith for a new contract; an inordinate amount spent on lawyer fees to outside firms; failure to protect the interests of stakeholders and taxpayers by ignoring and delaying its own Charter School Office recommendations to close poorly performing charter schools; admitted backdoor negotiations between charter companies and SRC commissioners; and the SRC’s latest message of contempt for the public—openly manipulating vote outcomes to protect the interests of charter companies.

It is crucial that both the mayor and the governor honor the promises they made to their constituents to eliminate this failed imposition of state control on the people of Philadelphia. The opportunity to fulfill those commitments is now on their doorsteps!

APPS also renews its request, made last year, that Farah Jimenez step down from the SRC. Ms. Jimenez’s ability to fully participate in SRC decisions is compromised by the many conflicts created by her employment in an education advocacy organization and by her husband’s employment in a legal firm which represents a number of charter companies. It is clear that her role on the SRC is not to conduct the people’s business but to ensure that crucial issues, most notably charter renewals, are postponed indefinitely.

Unfortunately, Mayor Kenney has stated that he will not take steps to bring local control back to the district, saying “now is not the time”. He repeats the argument that Philadelphia may lose funding if we are not controlled by the state, ignoring the fact that funding is not contingent on continued acquiescence to state control. Philadelphia’s schools have not been adequately funded since the state takeover. The Mayor is well aware that the SRC did nothing to protect us from the devastating cuts under the Corbett administration. The Mayor’s justifications are simply part of the smokescreen which hides the true reason: that Philadelphians are the only Pennsylvanians who are disenfranchised when it comes to making decisions about their schools and their communities. The time to be Philadelphia has been treated as a colony of Harrisburg for too long. Fifteen years of state control and imposed governance has clearly resulted in a seriously damaged school system.

 

 

APPS Calls on the SRC to Rescind Its Illegal Vote

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February 1, 2016                                                              For Immediate Release

Members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools have called on School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff to nullify the vote taken at its January 21 meeting on the fate of Wister Elementary School in Germantown. In a letter sent Monday (click here to read the letter) APPS co-founders Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik list a number of reasons why the resolution introduced from the floor by Commissioner Sylvia Simms, and approved just minutes later by the SRC, is not valid.

Commissioner Simms, in an unprecedented move, introduced a resolution from the floor asking the SRC to proceed with pairing Wister with Mastery Charter Schools, thus overruling Superintendent William Hite’s decision to remove Wister from its Renaissance Program.   “Ms. Simms said she heard from parents on both sides, but she didn’t attend any of the meetings held by parents at Wister to keep the school public,” said Kilimnik.

APPS claims that “deliberate deception” was used by “district officials at all levels” to keep Wister parents from attending the January SRC meeting. Resolutions were posted to approve two other schools’ placement into the Renaissance program, but none was posted for Wister. District officials had already begun to hold meetings at Wister to develop an alternative program.

“The message from the district and the SRC was clear: we are taking no action on Wister,” said Kenya Nation, a Wister parent. “The Wister parents have been meeting every week over the past three months and came to the last three SRC meetings. I would have come to the January meeting if I had known the SRC was going to take a vote on the future of our school,” she said.

The letter also points out that no resolution was ever presented to the public at that meeting.   “Neither Commissioner Simms in her speech, nor Head of Counsel Michael Davis before he called the roll, gave anything other than an interpretation of what the resolution was supposed to be about,” said Haver. “That alone means that the action is not valid and must be rescinded.”

The letter also states that Neff’s refusal to allow the public to speak before the vote was taken is a violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. APPS filed suit against the SRC and the district in November 2014 on similar grounds after its vote to cancel the PFT contract the previous month.

Also see:

The Battle for Wister Elementary School
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools – January 20, 2016

‘Sunshine’ questions loom over SRC’s surprise resolution
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – February 8, 2016

Plan to privatize 3 schools is inconsistent and a gross overreach
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – February 10, 2016
Nine Philadelphia academics use the SRC’s much touted data to show their is not basis for privatizing Wister Elementary.

Kenny asked to investigate why Wister went charter
February 10, 2016