Only people “in the know” knew about this meeting of Mayor Kenney’s Education Nominating Panel. The City’s Education Office put out no notice via email or social media. The Mayor didn’t mention the upcoming Panel convening when he appeared with the Board’s superintendent nominee last week, nor did Board President Joyce Wilkerson. APPS members are in the know because we attend all Board action and committee meetings. Because our members read the small-print legal notices in the newspaper every day, we knew that the Panel was to hold its opening meeting to select “one or more” persons, in the words of City Education Director Otis Hackney, to serve on the Board of Education. The Panel will meet in private for all meetings except the first and last. The people of Philadelphia will have nothing to say about who will represent them on the Board. In fact, neither the mayor or Wilkerson has disclosed how many vacancies the Panel will be filling.
The Panel solicits candidates for the Board of Education, considers applicants, and provides recommendations to the mayor. The mayor selects from the recommendations. City Council must then confirm the nominees.
On November 17, Mayor Kenney’s 13-member Nominating Panel convened to open proceedings on filling three vacancies on the Philadelphia School Board. They billed the event as a “public hearing”, but it was actually a live television show. No public testimony or interaction of any kind was permitted. The Panel, reading quickly from their scripts, wrapped up the TV show in just over 30 minutes. Chair Wendell Pritichett, former School Reform Commissioner, gave little information on the selection process and did not give the date of the next Panel meeting. He and the Panelists did take time to congratulate each other for their service.
Pritchett mentioned in passing that the Nominating Panel would again be conducting all deliberations in executive session. Pritchett, a Penn law professor, failed to cite the specific reason for moving the Panel out of the public eye–probably because there is none. APPS members protested this same violation of the PA Sunshine Act when the Panel convened in 2018. Did the people of Philadelphia fight so hard for local control just to be shut out of all discussions about our representatives on the School Board? The Panel — itself chosen without any public input — has sent nine semi-finalists, from whom the Mayor will choose his three nominees. The Mayor can ask for more candidates if he is not satisfied with the Panel’s choices; he has until December 26 to ask for more names. City Council must confirm those nominees. In the past, however, Council has done little more than rubber-stamp the Mayor’s choices.
Unlike the other 500, Philadelphia is the only school district in Pennsylvania whose voters cannot elect a school board. We’ve had town halls, online surveys, and pronouncements from city politicians, but it all comes down to this: The government officials who will decide the future of the city’s public schools, and who will control a $3 billion budget, have been chosen by one person, Mayor Kenney. His decision has been based, in part, on the opinions of the thirteen people selected by him to be on the Nominating Panel. It has also been based on the wishes of the influential individuals, organizations and corporations who have lobbied him to represent their interests on the board. Two built-in lobbyists on the Nominating Panel, Stephanie Naidoff and Bonnie Camarda, are members of the board of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which funnels millions every year from private investors into schools of their choice for the programs of their choice, mostly charters.
APPS members Karel Kilimnik and Rich Migliore wrote an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirerdecrying the lack of democracy and the mayor’s attempt to have the charter change include language that would allow him to remove school board members without any due process, which would have killed the possibility of having a truly independent board.
Lisa Haver also wrote an op-ed questioning whether trading in one unelected, unaccountable school board for another, under the banner of local control, could be considered progress.
APPS also researched all forty-five Panel nominees. Now that the final selection has been made, we are re-posting the profiles of those selected with updated information. One thing that stands out in the Mayor’s selection: there are no known advocates for public education. Since no one could question the nominees, we have no idea whether, or how much, they are committed to defending public education. We don’t know whether they believe that privatization and charterization are solutions to the problem of under-resourced neighborhood schools. We don’t know what their stance is on using anonymous private donations to fund public and charter schools.
At a March 16th public meeting, the Education Nominating Panel approved eighteen additional nominees for the new school board to replace the SRC on July 1. Mayor Kenney will consider these, along with the initial twenty-seven approved two weeks ago, to come up with a nine-person board. He is expected to announce his final selection by April 5.