[Note: Deborah Grill, Ken Derstine, Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin contributed to this edition of Eyes.]
Seventeen years ago, after a vote taken in the middle of the night in Harrisburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the School District of Philadelphia. The School Reform Commission supplanted the School Board as the governing body of the city’s public schools. Few of us could have imagined the devastation wrought by this body: over thirty neighborhood schools shuttered, public schools handed over to private managers, charter expansion and charter fraud, outsourcing union jobs, and a succession of superintendent/CEOs whose policies and practices opened up a marketplace for corporate education reformers and outside vendors.
The SRC will hold its final meetings this month. The SRC will go out the same way it came it—by withholding important information from the public. Up until last week, the SRC had posted two June meetings; one is tentative as action is contingent on the budget vote of City Council. On June 14, the SRC posted a small notice (the minimum notice required by law) in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a Special Meeting to be held at 1 PM on June 21 for the purpose of voting on renewals of seventeen charters. Rather than put the charter renewals on the agenda of the regular 4:30 meeting, they decided at the last minute to have two separate meetings on the same day. Will working parents be able to attend a 1 PM meeting? Unlikely.
The notice on the district webpage (not on the homepage but on the inside SRC page) says that speakers who will be addressing items on the agenda will be “prioritized”. Here’s the problem: the SRC has not posted any resolutions for this meeting. We know which schools are up for renewal; they are listed on the Charter Schools Office page. So why aren’t they listed as resolutions? The actions of the SRC, particularly in recent years, leave little doubt about the district’s increasing accommodations to charter operators and investors at the expense of district schools.
The School District of Philadelphia has a new tool for evaluating its charter schools, one that it hopes will help end a long and public tug of war with the city’s growing charter sector.
If charters accept the terms in this revamped rubric — known as the “charter school performance framework” — the District will have a clear and mutually agreeable road map for deciding whether a school should close when its term expires or remain open for another five years.
If charters blanch at the deal, the incoming school board will inherit a dispute fraught with political implications and real-world consequences for tens of thousands of children.
To be clear: the SRC has always had an accountability framework for rating charters. The fact that they ignored it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. When the SRC’s Charter Schools Office (CSO), citing over thirty reasons, recommended non-renewal in 2016 for two Aspira Renaissance charters, Olney High School and Stetson Middle School, the SRC voted to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow Aspira Inc to get its financial house in order. Two years later, the SRC finally voted not to renew. That same year, the CSO recommended non-renewal for two Universal Renaissance charters, Audenreid High and Vare Middle. Those two votes were also tabled and have not been brought back for a vote, although both schools continue to operate with tax dollars, as do the two Aspira charters. The fact that the SRC ignores overwhelming evidence outlined by the CSO does not mean that there has not been a rating system. It means that the SRC has a history of caving to political pressure and selling out the best interests of the school children who attend actual public schools. The Notebook article states:
The new tool is an attempt to break this stalemate, and it was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves. District leaders say it is far more transparent and consistent about what schools must do to meet District standards in academics, operations, and financial stability. They also hope it will create an ever-increasing academic bar for charters, one that ensures these publicly financed, privately run schools are superior to their District counterparts and worth the financial burden they place on the system as a whole.
In that spirit, the standard charter agreement has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” over the past year, according to Estelle Richman, chair of the soon-to-be dissolved School Reform Commission.
“These charter agreements incorporate a revised performance framework which provides charter schools with transparent and predictable accountability and ensures charter schools are quality options for students and families,” she said in a statement.
Why were these meetings, about a major policy change, kept secret from the public?
Charter operators maintain that charters are public schools. Why would policy changes about any public schools be conducted in private?
Why does the SRC allow the charter operators—the entities who are regulated—to determine how they will be regulated?
The district and the charter operators say that charters are public schools. Then all dealings with charter operators must be conducted in public and all information about them made available to the public.
Next SRC Meetings:
Thursday, June 21 2018 at 1 PM. Call 215-400-4010 (NOTE: Different number) by 1 PM the day before.
Thursday, June 21 2018 at 4:30 PM. Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM the day before.
At the School Reform Commission Meeting on April 26th, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite stated that of 2267 students in its catchment area only 235 students are enrolled in the Strawberry Mansion High School. His theme echoed a flyer the School District has circulated in the Strawberry Mansion community “Envisioning the Future of Strawberry Mansion High School”. The premise is that the Strawberry Mansion community is not supporting the comprehensive High School and therefore it must be phased out and replaced with a yet to be defined “Education Complex”.
The very first paragraph of the flyer is titled “Strawberry Mansion is NOT closing.” Apparently this is to reassure the community that Strawberry Mansion will not become an abandoned building, thereby contributing to a downward spiral like so many seen in so many low-income communities that have lost their community school, but, after it has been emptied of students and community control, it will be replaced with such corporate entities such as what Hite called in his SRC statement the Energy Performance Pilot School. (Note the corporate company Hite keeps to bring this about.)
The next claim is that current students will graduate from Strawberry Mansion. The District has already announced that there will be no ninth grade next year so that is not true for all students since what would have been the ninth graders will not graduate from Strawberry Mansion.
The lame-duck SRC, moving towards its final day on June 30th, continues to hold fast to its worst practices of lack of transparency and public notification. After several emails from APPS to SRC Commissioners, the Resolution List for the April 19thmeeting finally appeared on the district website on April 12. According to the negotiated, court-ordered settlement between the SRC and APPS on the district’s pattern of violations of the PA Sunshine Act, Resolutions must be posted at least 14 days before the meeting. It is truly baffling as to why this occurred for this particular meeting as this was posted: The heading on the Description simply states: “This meeting of the School Reform Commission is a Budget Hearing for the purpose of hearing public comment on the FY19 Budgets. There are no action items. The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the FY19 Budget at its Action Meeting on May 24, 2018.” We expect the incoming School Board to do a better job of informing the public without having to be reminded.
As Diane Payne reportedin the April 26 edition of Ears on the SRC, “Part-Time Commissioner” Bill Green arrived an hour and a half after the meeting began. Despite missing staff presentations on the two charters up for a vote (Eastern University and Franklin Towne Middle CS), as well as almost all public speakers, Green voted on all resolutions, including one to approve the deeply flawed Franklin Towne Middle Charter School’s “revised” application. Despite the Charter Schools Office report citing almost thirty instances of FTCMS failing to address concerns in the original evaluation, and despite CSO Director DawnLynne Kacer stating that there were few “substantial” differences in the revised application, the SRC voted 3-1 to approve “with conditions”, with Commissioner Marge Neff voting to deny. The actual revision came from the SRC, who took it upon themselves to come up with almost twenty conditions, most of which were not read into the record and were not revealed to the public until the day after the meeting.
What none of the commissioners ever told the public was WHY they felt the need to go to such lengths to approve this new charter. It seems they are sending a message to other charter applicants: Denied at the first charter school application hearing? No problem. Submit a barely modified revised application and you can count on us to approve, with no justification or explanation, and guarantee your CEO and investors years of funding. So far, Philadelphia Hebrew Charter and APM Charter have submitted revised applications to the SRC; they will probably be voted on in May.
Strawberry Mansion High School Supporters Fight Back