Good evening. My name is Deborah Grill. I am a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.
In the past several years I have become increasingly alarmed over the influence of the Philadelphia School Partnership, an outside entity with a clear pro-privatization agenda, on the decisions made by the SRC and the School District of Philadelphia. This influence has become more glaring in the light of recent developments.
PSP was created in 2010 by a group led by suburban businessman Michael O’Neill and which included several charter school operators including Scott Gordon of Mastery Charters and Janine Yass and David Hardy of Boys’ Latin Charter.
Although only 3 of PSP’s current Board members live in the city, PSP is very vocal about it support for “school choice” within Philadelphia.
Early on, PSP put itself in a position to influence decisions made about public education in Philadelphia, through its management of the Great Schools Compact, by facilitating and staffing the Compact Committee meetings, and by acting as its fiscal agent.
Unpublished minutes of the November 18, 2010 PSP board meeting reveal the Board’s early interest in influencing the Renaissance process. As they discussed their concern over the District’s choice of charter operators, Scott Gordon actually suggested that PSP could influence the District’s choice by providing advance notice of charter operators PSP would not fund.
It is clear from recent revelations that PSP exerts considerable influence on the fate of public education in Philadelphia. This raises several ethical questions. The language of a recently revealed email to Commissioner Green from a PSP executive evidences an easy familiarity between PSP and some members of the SRC. In it, the executive details Board members’ intentions to call Commissioners Simms and Houston to encourage them to support a motion to overturn Dr. Hite’s decision on Wister and to reconsider turning the school over to a charter organization founded by Scott Gordon, one of PSP’s founders. Subsequently, at the next SRC meeting Commissioner Simms introduced a last minute motion from the floor to put Mastery Charter’s bid for Wister back on the table, and she and Commissioners Green and Houston approved it. Recent news articles revealed that PSP supports EOF, an astroturf community group with which Commissioner Simms’ sister is affiliated. Commissioner Simms’ sister also works for a public relations firm with close ties to PSP. These incidents certainly raise the appearance of undue influence as well as the question of whether Commissioner Simms needs to recuse herself from any votes on resolutions involving Mastery Charter schools. It appears that the voices of the residents of Philadelphia are being drowned out by the voices of an organization whose 19 member board consists of 16 members who do not live in Commissioner Simms zip code or any 191 zip code.