by Diane Payne
December 23, 2015
Search and Seize
December 17th brought another jam packed SRC meeting. It is not unusual for the SRC to change the rules to suit its current agenda, and that is exactly what happened even as people entered the building. Bags of all attendees were searched, but apparently not to prevent dangerous items from being brought in. All food items were confiscated and thrown away. No explanation and no remorse—just into the trash can. No one was warned or advised ahead of time. It didn’t matter that those food items were to sustain members of the public coming right from work, coming with children, or coming with medical issues. Of course, the SRC had no notice posted on its website that food is not permitted. How would anyone know when the SRC members themselves eat and drink in full view?
Charter School Lobby
Present was a large showing of charter school proponents, most there to demand that the SRC hand Wister over to Mastery, who provided dinner and tee shirts. In fact, the district gave them access to the café inside the building. This sent a clear message to public school parents that the churn and disruption which can rip neighborhoods apart would not only continue but be enabled by the district itself.
Dr. Hite’s opening remarks praised his administration’s continued influx of technology, which he claims will help our children prepare for college and career. It is hard to understand, though, why the district is using its very limited dollars on more technology rather than make sure all schools have enough teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors. Could that be because ultimately the plan is to move to a blended learning/computer based model of education? The SRC has already set aside $10 million for these types of unproven programs—ones where our students are stuck in front of computers for hours each day. The district calls substituting a computer screen for a teacher “personalized learning”, but it is really more jargon for “let’s try to educate our children on the cheap.”
At both the October and the November SRC meetings, APPS member, Diane Payne asked the SRC to provide a copy of the proposal and contract they approved in May allowing Mastery Charter to set up teacher training programs in three district schools. On December 15, 2015, Tracey from the SRC office returned a phone call to Payne, stating that an answer would be made public by the December 17th meeting. As Payne noted in her testimony that night, however, she was still waiting for this information. As of this writing, no answer or information has come from the SRC about the proposal: how it was decided, how it would be carried out, how those conducting it would be qualified to do so, or how district teachers would benefit from it.
Speakers, Voting and Business as Usual
In addition to six APPS members, the 65 listed speakers included many teachers, parents, students, and community members, most of whom spoke out against the harm and chaos caused by the policies of Dr. Hite and his Action Plan 3.0. Rob McGrogan, president of CASA (the principal’s union), spoke about the impossible situation his members had been placed in and how administrators’ calls for help are ignored until there is a crisis that makes the news.
As usual, all of these testimonies fell on deaf ears and the SRC responded to no one. They voted in lock step to approve all resolutions including the most troubling one of extending Dr. Hite’s contract for five additional years—to 2022. No discussion, no deliberation, no debate. And why did the SRC take this action even though Dr. Hite’s contract was not set to expire for two more years? The reason given by Chair Marjorie Neff was to maintain stability. Stability? When the message from almost every speaker was that Dr. Hite’s policies are creating a dangerous lack of stability in the schools themselves?
There were a number of troubling SRC votes. Resolution A-17 allocated 12 million for outsourced facilities and maintenance jobs stolen from 32BJ, Resolution A-3 approved outsourcing of two district superintendent positions to Foundations Inc. a charter company with close ties to Dwight Evans (one of the architects of Act 46 and the 2001 state takeover). Resolution B-1 accepted another large grant from the William Penn Foundation for early childhood programs. And, Resolution A-15 approved $4 million in capital improvements to Wister Elementary in preparation of handing it over to a charter operatior.
After the last speaker, but before the vote on resolutions, Michael Davis, head of the district’s Office of General Counsel, made an unprecedented presentation regarding possible conflicts of Commissioner William Green and the law firm at which he is employed, Dilworth Paxson. According to Davis, this seven-minute presentation was done at the request of Green. Davis stated that Green is not “associated” with Dilworth Paxson in any way which would violate the state Ethics Act. Davis told those present that Green is an “independent contractor” for the firm and that Green does not benefit from the profits made by the firm. Hmmmm….
Hite’s Closing Warning
As the interminable meeting was drawing to a close and most of the room had emptied, Dr. Hite took the opportunity to thank the SRC commissioners for their faith in him and his plan by extending his contract. In what sounded to many like a warning, he told those still in attendance that they should expect him to continue with his present agenda. He invoked the “every child deserves a good school regardless of zip code” and the “we have to make hard decisions” mantras. Of course, that would be with the full blessing of the five unelected SRC members who are accountable to no one. Watch out Philly: more outsourcing, more privatizing, and more relegation of essential staff and services to principal “wish lists” as Dr. Hite’s experiment on our children continues. What the SRC commissioners deem to be stability much of the public deems to be just more chaos and churn