Consultant’s Report Does Not Reflect Community’s Priorities

Eyes on the Board of Education:  December 9, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

Why tell a lie when the truth is available?
Dionne Warwick

Almost every day we lose another Philadelphia student to gun violence.  Students from Feltonville, Strawberry Mansion, Fairhill and many other neighborhoods have been gunned down while walking down the street or waiting for the bus. Last month, APPS members stood with principals and other members of CASA to call on the district and city officials to act now to save our students.  APPS calls on the Board again to curtail or eliminate the Goals and Guardrails session and devote that time to finding a way to protect our students. Start by saying the names of the children we have lost just this month.

Rather than engage in true dialogue with the public, the Board contracts with public relations firms, consultants, and multinational professional services companies such as Accenture. Community engagement now means hiring outside vendors to hold public meetings that are highly scripted, then issuing a report based on selected comments. The Board and its consultants, in this case Brownstone Public Relations, have produced a glossy document rife with corporate language, devoid of educational knowledge or expertise, that looks and sounds more like a stockholders report than one about educational leadership. In fact, the first 17 pages of the 27-page report have nothing to do with the superintendent search. The obvious exclusion of community comments that were critical of the Board and its selection process serves to exacerbate the broken links between the Board and District stakeholders–parents, students, school staff, and the community. Outsourcing public engagement simply widens the divide. Last year, the Board implemented speaker procedures that limit the number of speakers (both student and adult) and shorten the allotted speaking time. APPS members attended many of the “listening sessions” but none of our comments are included–for example, that the Board should not consider any candidates trained at the Broad Academy. 

According to the City’s Home Rule Charter, the Superintedent is hired to be the “chief administrative officer and instructional officer”; the Board is the “governing body charged with the administration,management, and operation of the school district” (Article X11 Public Education). Nowhere in the Charter  does it mention a CEO. The next superintendent must be an educator,  not a business manager. 

The Board posts Item Descriptions in its agenda that are devoid of details, omitting much of the clarifying information until the day of the meeting, or in some cases after the meeting, which is illegal.  Now it deletes entire Items with no explanation. Item 1, Acceptance of Donation from The Fund for The School District of Philadelphia and Authorization of Contract for Facilities Planning and Community Engagement, has vanished. Since the District is in turmoil–despite what their Office of Communicates claims–it is essential to be aware of what may be going on in the near future. APPS members attend all Board meetings: action meetings, committee meetings, budget hearings, charter hearings and special hearings on subjects such as the Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR).  We have witnessed the Board’s diminishing commitment to engaging and listening to parents, students, school staff, community, and education advocates. Thus, we are including what used to be Item 1 to inform the public of what the District may be planning. 

The Board is bound by the legal settlement they signed after APPS sued the District for ongoing violations of the Sunshine Act. They must post the official items at least two weeks before. The Board gives the appearance of adhering to the legal requirements by posting the title of the items, but they violate it by omitting the content. APPS will continue to demand that the Board release all information in items before they vote.    

Since the Board gutted the longstanding Public Speaker policy, almost  every month the Board devises another way to block true community engagement. The proposed Board schedule for next year (Item 2 Adoption of Board of Education Public Meeting Schedule 2022) reflects the Board’s decision to have its Policy Commitee meet only twice a year, down from four times a year. Why? And why wouldn’t they explain that move, even after questions from APPS members?

APPS raised the alarm last month about proposed changes to Policy 911 that would result in “a gag order”, in the words of BM Mallory Fix Lopez, of District employees.  The Board has posted a revised policy, but it still contains language that could result in the silencing of teachers and staff. 

The Board will be contracting with a new provider of substitute teachers with Item 10,  Contract with ESS Northeast, LLC, Substitute Staffing Services ($58,000,000). Will the Board explain why the District is  dropping Kelly Services–after paying them over $50 million since 2016? The Inquirer reports that Kelly failed to provide adequate services as promised–will the Board be demanding a refund? Will they admit that outsourcing actually did not save the District money? 

Continuing the District practice of parsing details in Descriptions, we have supplied a link so that the public can learn more about Temple University’s Program for  the Youth Dialogue Institute (Item 27).

The Board will be approving spending of $93,452,176 at this meeting, including the Audenried renewal and other items whose costs are not posted on the agenda.

What if…    

…the Board published Agenda Item descriptions that informed the public of specific details of contracts?  Board members are government officials who vote every year on how to spend $3  billion in taxpayer funds. They, like elected officials, serve the public, and do not exist to simply rubber-stamp the Hite administration’s requests. 

January  Action Meeting: Thursday January 27, 2022 at 4 PM. Check the District website for updated information on attendance and how to sign up to testify.

Action Items of Note

Find the full List of Action Items here 

Withholding Information Another Method of Speaker Suppression 

The Item below has disappeared from the Agenda. We are including it here to inform the public since the Board presents no explanation. It will probably reappear in the near future.    

Item 1:  Acceptance of Donation from The Fund for The School District of Philadelphia and Authorization of Contract for Facilities Planning and Community Engagement 

APPS Analysis: The Board Agenda was posted on November 25 and there are still no details provided for this Item. Why? How much will this cost? Who has donated to the Fund to pay for this? What vendor has gotten the contract? The contract should be posted so the public can see what this vendor is offering. The website of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia offers no information. This private organization, whose board meetings are closed to the public, serves as a tax-deductible funnel for individuals and businesses to donate money for a contract that will directly affect the public schools.  This Item  is mind-boggling given the track record of both the District and Board in Community Engagement. When searching on the District website this document pops up. It states that the Superintendent is responsible for preparing a written description of existing physical facilities and shall report to the Board annually. 

This 2017 Press Release announcing plans is all that comes up on the District website. Several Principals’ reactions to this Report provide a reality check on what was actually needed in their schools. Four years later and there has been extensive deterioration in school buildings. Asbestos, lead, and mold have joined the list of structural repairs needed to create healthy school buildings.

Considering that this Superintendent implemented the Doomsday Budget in 2013, closing 23 school buildings, as well as initiating the Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) that recommends school closures, it is frightening to speculate on what this Facilities Planning and “community engagement”  might look like. Couple this with the most recent string of disasters (construction at Ben Franklin HS; Opening Plans during the Pandemic; deaths of students in schools without a nurse; Fangate; failure to deliver food to an elementary school) put forth by this administration and the possibilities for calamities are alarming.

Board Policy 911 Seeks to Muzzle District Staff 

Item 2: Review of Proposed Board Policies (REVIEW – NO ACTION)   

The Board of Education will consider the amendment of the following policies, in the form attached, at the December Action Meeting:

    Policy 004.1 – School Board Committees 
    Policy 115 – Career and Technical Education
    Policy 138 – English Language Development/Bilingual Education Program
    Policy 203 – Immunizations and Communicable Diseases
    Policy 209 – Health Examinations/Screenings
    Policy 218.1 – Weapons
    Policy 226 – Searches
    Policy 331 – Employee Travel, Meal, and Expense Reimbursement
    Policy 810.3 – School Vehicle Drivers (NEW)
    Policy 823 – Naloxone (NEW)
    Policy 904 – Public Attendance at School Events
    Policy 911 – News Media Relations

 Furthermore, The Board of Education will consider the elimination of the following policies: 

                  Policy 314 – Pre-Employment Physical Examination
                  Policy 325 – Meal Policy for District Employees
                  Policy 905 – Citizen Advisory Committees

Here is the Link to policies above. 

APPS Analysis: Policy 004.1 states ”The objective of School Board Committees is to improve governance practices by increasing the number of public access points to the Board and aligning the work of the Board to key District initiatives.”  Eliminating the District Partnerships and Community Engagement, Student Achievement and Support, and Finances and Facilities committees eliminated those noted “access points”. Now the Policy Committee, which was meeting quarterly, has decided to meet only  twice a year.   APPS reported last month that “… the Board never announced this change in scheduling nor did they take a public vote on it. “ The Board has not posted the amended Policy 911, just a “Policy Summary”. We emailed the Board about this and were told that the Board would post the full Policy 911 “in advance of” the Board meeting. That could mean posting  just hours before the meeting as the Board has done before. How can the public comment on a policy that the Board hasn’t posted? Policy 911 now appears to have two sections: the first on News Media Relations and the second on Administrative Procedures. This policy could enable principals and other administrators to take punitive measures against staff who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights by speaking out about the conditions their students are facing. One recent example is the District’s failure to deliver food to Mitchell Elementary in West Philadelphia. If staff members had not sounded the alarm, who knows what would have happened.

Item 3: Universal Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School – Exercise of Surrender in Charter Agreement (Action Postponed 11.18.21)

Description:  Universal Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School (“Charter School”) agreed to comply with certain Conditions for Renewal in the charter agreement effective July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2021 signed by the Charter School and the School District (“2016-2021 Charter Agreement”).  The Charter School agreed that if the Charter School did not fully satisfy any of the Conditions for Renewal set forth in the 2016-2021 Charter Agreement, the Charter School would irrevocably surrender and forfeit its Charter and would close the Charter School.  The Charter School has failed to comply with two of the Conditions for Renewal.  The Board of Education demands that the Charter School irrevocably surrender and forfeit its Charter for failure to meet all of the Conditions for Renewal in the 2016-2021 Charter Agreement and that the Charter School close by June 30, 2022, pursuant to a dissolution plan and timetable developed with the School District to enable the transition of the operations of the school in the Audenried High School building to the School District, which dissolution plan and time table shall be provided to the Board of Education on or before January 31, 2022.   The Charter School shall notify the Board of Education on or before November 30, 2021 that the Charter School shall irrevocably surrender and forfeit its Charter, that the Charter School shall close by June 30, 2022, and that the Charter School shall work with the School District on the development of a dissolution plan and timetable which shall be provided to the Board of Education on or before January 31, 2022.  The Board of Education will consider this action.

APPS Analysis: The Board’s description does not include the full agreement that the Board will be voting on. The Board keeps all charter business secret until after it is voted on it. That means that the Board is taking a secret vote on official business–that is illegal, and it is a falsification of the public record. Ignoring the protests of students and educators, the SRC in 2010 gave control of Audenried High to Universal charter company, just one year after opening a new building. Universal has not fulfilled its promise, as a Renaissance charter operator, to “effect dramatic change” at Audenried. The District recommended non-renewal in its first 5-year renewal report when Universal failed to meet any of the basic standards.   The SRC postponed the vote, and the Board has extended Universal’s operation of Audenried despite its failure to provide an adequate education to its students. Over the past five years, Audenried has expelled 37 students, about the same number as the total number in all District schools. Most of those students were denied their due process rights.  Two years ago, the Board renewed Universal’s control of Audenried after Universal agreed that it would voluntarily surrender its charter if it did not meet a number of conditions. District data shows that Universal did not fulfill those conditions, but the Board indicated at the November meeting that they will offer the same deal to Universal. The District allots over $8 million each year to Universal to operate Audenried. Part of that pays Universal CEO’s annual salary of $209, 000. 

The Board’s message to Universal: no matter how poor an education you provide your students, no matter how many students you expel unfairly, no matter how much public funding is mismanaged — we will allow you to keep control of this neighborhood school. 

Board Continues Expensive Outsourcing of Substitute Services

Item 9: Contract with ESS Northeast, LLC – Substitute Staffing Services ($58,000,000)

Start date: 7/1/2022, End date: 6/30/2024

Board Description:The District’s current substitute services contract expires on June 30, 2022 and a new contract is needed to ensure continuous support for schools.  Substitutes are a key part of keeping our students safe and healthy, which supports the Goal of Welcoming and Supportive Schools. Success of this contract will be measured on a combination of quantitative factors (fill-rate, number in available substitute pool) and qualitative feedback from schools and administrative staff (principal survey, Talent feedback).

 Feedback on the current vendor was gathered from schools. The selection committee process collected input and scoring from Information Services, Position Control, and the Office of Budget to inform selection of a vendor through the RFP process.

APPS Analysis: Let us reiterate how difficult it is to locate information on the District website.  It appears from the scant information provided that ESS Northeast LLC has secured a $58,000,000  2-year  contract to replace Kelly Educational Staffing. The public should be able to read the contract so we know what is being promised by this next vendor. Do any of the Board members remember the Source 4 Teachers debacle? It took over a year for the District to recover, while principals and teachers were forced to scramble to cover classes. 

Thanks to the Inquirer article we now know why the District is replacing Kelly Educational Services. The handling of this situation speaks directly to the ongoing lack of trust and disruption of community engagement. Can the District justify not returning to the original PFT/District managed system when these corporate entities have failed to provide adequate substitute coverage for the last 6 years? As staffing shortages continue to plague the District, we need to know the track record of ESS Northeast LLC. Since coverage falls on the shoulders of school principals and teachers, were they included in the search for a new provider?

The ESS Northeast website lists sixteen people in Leadership.  One worked briefly as a substitute teacher, and another person lists a one-year stint as temporary TFA teacher in New Orleans. That appears to be the extent of their teaching experiences.

Item   1:  Adoption of Board of Education Public Meeting Schedule 2022

January 27, 2022 – Action Meeting
February 24, 2022 – Action Meeting
March 24, 2022 – Action Meeting and Adoption of Lump Sum Statement
April 7, 2022 – Budget Hearing
April 21, 2022 – Action Meeting
May 26, 2022 – Action Meeting and Budget Adoption
June 23, 2022 – Action Meeting and Levy of Taxes
July 14, 2022 – Action Meeting (TRAN)
August 18, 2022 – Action Meeting
September 22, 2022 – Action Meeting
October 20, 2022 – Action Meeting
November 17, 2022 – Action Meeting
December 8, 2022 – Action Meeting and Board Organization

Policy Committee
April 28, 2022
November 3, 2022

Public Hearings
June 2, 2022
October 6, 2022

APPS Analysis: We will again ask the Board to explain why its Policy Committee will meet only twice a year. Students who have been advocating for a policy on student voter registration for two years will now have to wait until April 2022 before the Committee even considers it.  If the Board again refuses to consider such a policy, students would have to wait until a year from now.

Urgent Need for Youth-Led Conflict Resolution  

Item 27: Contract with Temple University for Youth Dialogue Institute ($75,000)

Description: The Youth Dialogue Institute assists students with leadership development, problem solving and conflict-resolution skills by providing high school students valuable communication techniques to facilitate dialogue between groups experiencing conflict. The Youth Dialogue Institute is a student-empowered and student-led initiative. High school students will develop media-based and in-person conversations about their critical issues and engage in social change efforts in their schools and communities.

This effort is aligned  to Guardrail 1 – Creating Welcoming Schools. By educating students in dialogue models and processes used to address group conflicts and identify underlying issues in a community, a school’s climate will improve and, thus, be more inviting. Success of the program will be measured by the reduction in the data points that show conflict and an increase in the student well-being survey results on the annual District survey.  In May and June 2021 YDI students participated in three forms of evaluation to provide feedback on the program and their experiences in YDI.  The evaluation feedback was very positive about their experience.  Through the program over 20 youth dialogues were facilitated by YDI members on issues ranging from discriminatory dress codes to better supports for students with mental  health issues to language-support inequity for students.
APPS Analysis: The Board parcels out details as if they were rare gems, so we are providing a link to the Youth Empowerment through Dialogue website for those looking for more information on this program. We do question how schools were selected and by what criteria.   As gun violence ravages our city there is a need for programs addressing both root causes as well as alternative solutions.