by Diane Payne
All members of the Board were present with the exception of Leticia Egea-Hinton. Seven APPs members were present; five testified on behalf of public education. Edison High students gave a beautiful performance of Christmas music. In a very touching ceremony, honorary diplomas were awarded to two World War II who enlisted before they graduated. The student violinist played Pomp and Circumstance as they walked down the aisle. (All Board meetings can be viewed on the District website at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/ scrolling down and clicking on Watch Previous Board Meetings )
Dr. Hite acknowledged the dedication and work of school nurses, particularly Ben Franklin High Nurse Santos. She had attended to a student in cardiac arrest until the ambulance arrived; she undoubtedly saved his life. The student is recovering. This incident illustrates the crucial role of school nurses and shows that the District should never let budget cuts, or any circumstance, undermine the safety and well-being of our students. Many remembered the termination of 50 school nurses in December 2012. In June 2011, nurses positions were decreased due to attrition leaving District children’s health and safety in a precarious position.
Hite reported that the district is increasing its computer science offerings including expanded digital learning experiences for both elementary and high school students. Without further information, it is hard to decipher whether this is increasing computer literacy using technology as a tool or there is an increase in “personalized learning”, a misnomer if ever there was one. This model places children in front of screens for algorithm-driven programs in lieu of classroom teachers. Technology, as a tool, is useful; algorithm-driven programs need close inspection. Our students are not guinea pigs to be used for the benefit of edu-vendors.
Philadelphia School Partnership Deal
Hite spoke about an issue that APPS members had written to the Board about and had raised in Committee meetings the previous week: the Hite administration’s surprise announcement on December 5 that it had entered into a “partnership” with PSP. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported: “To help make it easier to find teaching jobs, the Philadelphia School Partnership created teachPHL.org, which has a job board for any teaching position in the city — whether it’s at a traditional public school, a charter, or a private or parochial school.” PSP is a non-profit with a stable of corporate and individual donors with a clear privatization agenda. The District has acceded to the strings attached to their donations over the years, with almost no examination of the ramifications for the receiving schools and the District as a whole. After being found in violation of the state’s lobbying laws, PSP created a political action arm that lobbies in favor of charters at the Board and in Harrisburg.
Notably absent from this City Hall press conference, held in the Mayor’s conference room and attended by Mayor Kenney, were any members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), who apparently were not invited. One part of PSP’s political agendas has been to undermine the collective bargaining agreement between the PFT and the District. In 2013, PSP lobbied in Harrisburg to withhold federal funds from Philadelphia unless the PFT agreed to a 10% wage reduction and collective bargaining give-backs.
Hite attempted to justify this hurried agreement by saying it would make more qualified candidates available to district personnel. Hite failed to explain how he deduced that a website controlled by a private organization would increase the pool of qualified candidates. There will always be a price to pay when you willingly partner up with an organization whose political mission is to increase the corporate takeover of your own schools through increased charter school seats and an erosion in professional working conditions (which are our student’s learning conditions). In short, there is no justification for such a partnership. It is a dangerous precedent.
To make matters worse, the site contains links to professional development opportunities, providing another way to spread the ideology of charter-developed unaccredited schools such as Relay Graduate School of Education and TNTP. It was disappointing that not one member of the Board raised an objection to having been not only left out of the decision but not informed of it. The Board should have asserted its role as the body which decides all District policies and procedures.
Board Votes for New Officers
The Board re-elected Joyce Wilkerson as President and Wayne Walker as Vice-president; they were the sole nominees. Wilkerson noted that the four standing committees–Student Achievement, Finance and Facilities, and Community Engagement–will experience some changes in leadership to reflect the preferences of the Board members. Notice of those changes will be sent out as soon as they are finalized.
Each committee Chair gave a report of business discussed at the most recent meetings. (To read APPS’ reports on the committees, go to APPSPhilly.net)
District Props Up Failing Richard Allen Charter School—Again
Greg Windle reported in the Public School Notebook: “The School Board met Thursday night and left many long-time activists in the audience feeling like they had returned to the days of the old School Reform Commission (SRC). The…controversial vote reversed the 2017 decision of the SRC to close Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School for years of poor and declining academics, instead granting it a one-year extension.” Although Action Item 3 states that the renewal extends until the end of the 2019-20 school year, it also states that the school would have another year of operation if the Board decided not to renew at that point.
This new mayoral-appointed School Board may look different, and may be holding more public meetings, but the proof is in the pudding. This was a business-as-usual vote. Richard Allen Charter has been in operation since 2001 and has been renewed several times “with conditions”. The school’s managers have been given several opportunities over the years to improve its performance in all three categories: achievement, financial, organizational. The school has failed to do so; in fact, it met no standards in its 2015 renewal evaluation. Countless community members–public school advocates, attornies, professors– have testified before this new Board and before the SRC, explaining the harm to public school students caused by continued expansion of charters, the harm of approving new charter school seats, and the harm of propping up failing charters.
As the district is dealing with the fallout of the Inquirer expose on toxic schools, it serves to emphasize the reason the District must rethink its commitment to the 20-year failed experiment of charter schools.
APPS speakers Lisa Haver and Deb Grill referred to General Council Lynn Rauch’s acknowledgement at the December 6 Student Achievement Committee meeting (in answer to a question from Board member McColgan) that Richard Allen could in fact pursue legal action despite the signing of a settlement between the charter and the District. The settlement outlined in Action Item 3 stipulates that the school agrees to “surrender” its charter if it fails to meet standards listed in the settlement. Rauch commented, after Deb spoke, that she never said the settlement was not “legally binding”. She did say at the Committee meeting that the District could not stop Richard Allen from filing an appeal or pursuing legal action, but that the District’s “chances” of prevailing in any legal action would be better. The settlement states that should Richard Allen pursue legal action it would be required to pay the District’s legal fees. But if charters are not required to have a legal fund, and charters are funded by taxpayer dollars, who is actually paying those legal fees? The District alloted Richard Allen $4,251,526 last year. Did the Board expect to pay over $8 million in legal fees—the cost to keep the school open another two years?
Comments made by Board members during the voting demonstrated an alarming lack of understanding of what they were voting on. In fact, more than one asked CSO Director Grant whether they were voting to renew the school, apparently missing the word “renewal” in several places in the Item. No one objected when Grant first answered “No, not al all” then later “Yes, technically” to the question “Is this a renewal?” Angela McIver read a statement about her involvement years ago with the Black Alliance for Education Opportunities (BAEO), a branch of the corporate ed reform movement, and said that she came to believe in charters as a way to offer “choice” to parents. She gave several reasons why the school should close, then voted to renew, advising the Richard Allen community to “demand quality” from the school, which is actually the Board’s job. McGinley said he was voting Yes “reluctantly”. Wayne Walker blamed the PA Charter law. On the other hand, Julia Danzy said that she had reviewed the materials and did not see how Richard Allen could improve in one year. Wilkerson, Danzy and Fix Lopez voted No; McGinley, McColgan, Mciver, Walker, and Huang voted Yes.
After the vote, Wilkerson called for a “recess” so that the Board members’ uncertainties about the Item could be addressed. The Board left the room. After 12 minutes, they returned, and Wilkerson asked Rauch to announce the vote. Rauch said that Item 3 passed 5-3, and the Board moved on. In a letter sent to the Board days after the meeting, APPS reminded the Board that having a secret meeting to deliberate on an Item before the Board is a violation of the PA Sunshine Act, which could result in summary offenses and fines for the Board members.
District parent Antoine Little testified later in the meeting that this week his 7-year-old son suffered a 2nd-degree burn on his rear end when he was shocked by a faulty electrical outlet at his school. The shock went through his son’s pants and underwear before burning his skin. It is past time for the district to put all of its resources into safe, healthy, resourced public schools, not pay for failed charter schools to remain open indefinitely. The arguments for a charter school moratorium far outweigh the arguments against including: the need to repair toxic schools, the need to provide full support staffing to ensure safe public schools, the need to provide adequate resources, to lower class size, to reopen school libraries, and so much more. Richard Allen is just one example of the problems inherent in this failed system.
Board Moves to Restore District’s Art Collection
In a stealth unauthorized move, then-CEO Paul Vallas confiscated valuable artwork from schools and offices across the District during Christmas break over fifteen years ago. The school hardest hit was Wilson Middle School, which had become a veritable art museum through the building of an impressive art collection begun decades ago. The SRC came close to selling the entire collection about six years ago, but after the testimony of a former Wilson Middle School teacher and administrator, the SRC voted not to sell. Action Item 1 approves a Board policy to restore this lost art and to begin a transparent process to protect, preserve, and display the District’s art collection. Three public speakers, including a retired Wilson principal, reminded the Board that the art belongs to the schoolchildren of the District, for whom it was purchased.
Board Votes on Action Items
A.I. 1 and 2: Unanimous Yes
A.I. 3: As noted above, 5 Yes and 3 No
A.I. 4 to 6: Unanimous Yes
A.I. 7: Comprehensive Plan – (Fix Lopez No vote) passed 7 Yes, 1 No
A.I. 8 to 10: Unanimous Yes
A.I. 11 to 13: Unanimous Yes
A.I. 14: McGinley moved to amend the Item to reflect that the Board will review this project at regular intervals. The vote on the motion was a Unanimous Yes. The vote on the amended resolution passed with 5 Yes and 3 No.
A.I. 15 to 41: Due to conflicts, Fix Lopez did not vote on #32, Huang did not vote on 30, 32, & 39, McGinley did not vote on 32, and Wilkerson did not vote on 32. All Items passed with the remaining votes as Yes.
A.I. 42: Danzy moved to amend the motion with the removal of the 20/21 SY. The motion passed with a unanimous Yes. The amended motion passed with 7 Yes votes and 1 No vote (Fix Lopez was the No vote).
A.I. 43 to 45: Passed with Yes votes by all members except for abstaining votes on 43 by Huang and McIver.
Intermediate Unit Item 1:Unanimous Yes
APPS has written to the Board explaining the need to take separate votes on any Item that a Board member is abstaining from. The public has a right to know which Board members have conflicts and what that conflict is. The Board did not respond and continues with this practice.
The next Action Meeting will be held January 17th at 5:00 p.m. This is the last meeting before the Board votes in February on the 3 new charter applications. To register to speak, you must sign up on the District website by 4:00 p.m. the day before the meeting or call 215-400-4180.