by Diane Payne
The 8-member Board held its 7th remote Action Meeting on June 25th as the Covid-19 crisis continues to necessitate quarantine. Mayor Kenney has not yet replaced Chris McGinley, who resigned at the end of April, nor given any indication when he will. Kenney has said that his Nominating Panel must reconvene, even though the Panel submitted names of 27 candidates just months ago. Concerns about current Board members’ appearance of conflict of interest (See Possible Conflicts below), coupled with alarm over support of anti-public education measures, amplifies APPS’ call for an elected school board. Until Philadelphia ends the disenfranchisement of its people when choosing school board representatives, it is imperative that Mayor Kenney institute an open and transparent nominating process with full public participation.
Why are Philadelphians the only voters in the state barred from choosing their school board members? The answer points to the systemic racism people have taken to the streets to demand an end to.
Board president Joyce Wilkerson, Vice-president Leticia Egea-Hinton, Board members Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, and Angela McIver all attended this remote platform meeting. Student representatives Imere Williams and Doha Ibrahim also attended as did Superintendent Hite.
The Board approved the Minutes of the May 28 Action Meeting.
Dr. Hite opened his remarks with an update on the Continuity of Education Plan. (The full presentation can be found on the District website.) Hite stated that the school reopening plan will be finalized sometime in July. Virtual public meetings will be held in July and August. A second stakeholder survey will be conducted to solicit public input on school re-openings.
The report included statistics on the accountability and monitoring of the online learning conducted during the school closures (grades 6-8 struggled to participate at the same rate as the other grades.) Hite said that the District will be supporting students through the summer, but the presentation gave few details about the newcomer EL summer school being offered or the Extended School Year for special education students (ESY). Hite also noted that hot spots have been secured for fifteen shelters housing students experiencing homelessness. (The fact that we have students experiencing homelessness is in itself an indictment of the system.)
Hite announced the appointment of Alicia Prince as Acting Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Programs following consultant Jim Creedon’s departure. Creedon filled this position temporarily after Danielle Floyd was reassigned. Hite anticipates making a final selection in July.
Hite spoke of the need to maintain a school police office. Hite’s presentation offered a repackaging of this office by renaming school police as “school safety officers”, changing to a “softer” uniform, and the promise of retraining. This failed to meet the demands of the students, staff, and community members who testified in favor of eliminating the position altogether and spending funds on more counselors, NTAs, and trauma-informed climate specialists. (See Philly Student Union’s (PSU) demands for Police Free Schools (PFS).
Lee Huang read the summary report for Finance and Facilities, Angela McIver for Student Achievement, and Maria McColgan for Policy. Mallory Fix Lopez presented a report from the Community Engagement Committee, which has not met since April 2019. Fix Lopez noted the proposed elimination of this committee on the meeting agenda, saying that community engagement is the responsibility of the entire Board. That may be true, but APPS members and other community activists have raised the issue of the lack of community engagement for many months. One glaring example is the Board’s refusal to hold hearings on 5-year charter renewals, which cost the District hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Another is the District’s conducting the Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) process with no public meetings until after recommendations were made by the appointed panels. To eliminate this Committee, with nothing of any substance to replace it, provides yet another example of a lack of community engagement. (All committee reports can be viewed on the Board website. In addition, APPS’ published reports on committee meetings can be viewed at the APPS website.)
Possible Conflict of Interest Unresolved
Before delivering her Committee report, Angela McIver read a statement objecting to a series of tweets that appeared just days before the Action Meeting. These tweets, posted by Parents United and APPS’ member Zoe Rooney, raised the issue of a possible conflict for McIver in her role as Board member while owner and operator of Trapezium, a Math curriculum business. Rooney posted the thread after seeing a Good Morning America (GMA) segment in which McIver received a $10,000 check to help the business survive through the quarantine.
APPS sent a letter to McIver the day before the meeting to ask her to clarify the issue and explain why she sees no conflict here. Our questions were based on remarks she herself gave in that interview and another in a business magazine. We have posted that letter, along with Rooney’s response given in her testimony, here.
True Community Engagement Remains Aspirational
Board members took turns reading sections of a PowerPoint presentation on their vision for pursuing “Goals and Guardrails” (G & G) to move District schools forward. They stated that the Board will conduct public sessions in the Fall on this plan, formally adopt it in December, and begin monitoring this new direction in 2021. Again, there is too often a disconnect between the contents of Board presentations and what happens in schools and classrooms. The disconnect manifests itself when the Board claims to be open and transparent but arbitrarily changes rules, fails to answer or respond to public questions, and responds to organized public demands with window-dressing.
Based on testimonies of staff, students, and community stakeholders, it is hoped the Board will include these voiced needs in its G & G. Over the past three years, Philadelphia educators through the Melanated Educators Collective (MEC), Building Anti-racist White Educators (BAR-WE), and Black Lives Matter have strongly urged the District to institute mandatory anti-racist staff training. Fortunately, these educators have not waited for 440 to act but have forged ahead with this work in their own schools and classrooms. Mandatory anti-racist staff training should be an important component to any Board efforts.
Guide and Guardrail plans should include a transparent and public charter school renewal process. One-third of the District’s $3.2 billion budget is paid to charter operators, with a woeful lack of oversight. Questions go unanswered and school deficiencies go unchallenged. The Board routinely renews charters that fail to meet basic standards. The Board has supported state-level charter school reform efforts. Although this is a meaningful first step, this Board must get its own house in order.
We look forward to the Fall public sessions and will continue to demand transparency, inclusion, and substantive response to public input. Board members have said they want to change the status quo. How they vote and to whom they send public dollars to will show whether those are empty words or not.
Eight APPS speakers were among the 52 scheduled to speak. The meeting was marred by continual technical difficulties, leading to concerns that those who did not respond when called may not have been connected. At least a dozen speakers, including students, educators, and parents, advocated for the elimination of school police and student surveillance in Philadelphia schools. These speakers cited research and demanded the strengthening of support services that would prevent the criminalization of students–guidance counselors, nurses, NTAs, and trauma-informed specialists. School staff members pointed out the need for mandatory anti-racist training. A series of student social media posts have highlighted the need to address this issue immediately, citing the work of educators who began this work 3 years ago while repeatedly urging the District to implement.
Item 1 on Nine Board policies: Passed unanimously.
Just before the vote on this Action Item, Board Member McColgan invited H.A. Brown Elementary School Principal Carnivale to speak. Carnivale was not listed as staff presenter on the official agenda, and there was no 3-minute time clock displayed. Carnivale praised the safety officer at her elementary school. Carnivale repeatedly referred to the “drunks”, “prostitutes”, and “drug dealers” around the school, which no Board member objected to, revealing Carnivale’s own biases even though she works in a neighborhood devastated by economic hardship. Fix Lopez pointed out that support staff such as NTA’s, trauma-informed specialists, and counselors could also perform the tasks that school police do at Brown. McColgan invited Carnivale to respond to Fix Lopez; Carnivale insisted that support staff members could not accompany her into the community for the adult problems they encountered. Could that be part of the re-imagining of school security?
Is this the new Board protocol now–having Members bring in guest speakers to bolster their own points of view? In addition, the Board attempted, as they have before, to cherry-pick the parts of the Item they approved. There are four possible responses when the roll is called: Yes, No, Abstain, or Recuse for Cause. Those who have served in government, or on any type of corporate board, or even a neighborhood council, know that there is one vote per Item/ Resolution/Ordinance /Motion. We wrote to the Board after they did this at the December 12, 2019 Action Meeting. The Minutes of that meeting report that separate votes were taken on different parts of the Item. That is a falsification of the public record. If Board members want to vote against certain Policies, then they must vote against them in a separate vote. Until they do, the record must reflect that this item passed 8-0.
Item 2: No vote, for review only.
Items 12 & 13: Passed unanimously
Items 14 and 42: Withdrawn by administration.
Items 51, 52, and 53 were voted on individually at the request of Fix Lopez. Items 51 and 52 proposed contracts that support initiatives in individual schools. Fix Lopez wanted to raise the question of how these Items considered equity. To her point, one Item proposed giving $800,000 the Workshop School’s project based learning. Equity is definitely a valid question when this one school with a student population of 255 receives $800,000 in this one Action Item. Regarding Item 53, Fix Lopez questioned why we need a contract with Old Sow Coaching when we have an entire leadership development department. Hite’s comment that it falls under the Chief of Schools department failed to answer Fix Lopez’s question. All three Items passed unanimously.
Items 63 and 64: Withdrawn without explanation by Charter School Office (CSO). These Items recommended renewal for two American Paradigm schools: General Birney, a Renaissance elementary school in Logan, and Tacony Academy Charter, a K-12 school. As with all Charter School renewal transactions, negotiations are conducted in secret between the individual charter operator and the CSO. APPS members continually testify about this lack of transparency, the failure of the Board and CSO to adequately address these concerns, and the ongoing violations of the Sunshine Act pertaining to the Board’s secret votes on charter school items. APPS member Payne submitted written testimony asking about the failure of both the Board and CSO to consider these issues when automatically renewing these charter schools. The Board also fails to attach the price tag of these renewals–tens of millions for each school.
Item 40: Withdrawn.
Item 60, Community Academy Charter School renewal: Passed unanimously.
Item 61, KIPP Philadelphia Charter School Renewal: Passed unanimously.
Item 62, Global Leadership Academy Charter School renewal: Passed 7 – 1, with Fix Lopez dissenting.
President Wilkerson identified the Action Items for a block vote. She referred to this group of Action Items as the “consent agenda”. She did not explain what that term meant.
Block Votes on Action Items 3-11, 15-39, 43-50, 65-67: All Items passed. Fix Lopez voted No on Items 6, 8, and 44 so those three passed 7-1. All other Action Items passed with a unanimous vote.
Fix Lopez voted No on three Items that expand SDP’s promotion of corporate influence in our district. Item 6, PSP expanding its corporate influence to Girls High; Item 8, Teach Plus, Inc.; and Item 44, MOU with National Training Network, Math Professional Learning and In-Classroom Coaching for math teachers. Item 44 is supported by the Neubauer Foundation; that should raise a red flag. It seems Fix Lopez is the only remaining Board member aware of and concerned about corporate disruption of schools.
The Action Meeting adjourned and the Intermediate Unit convened. The Board unanimously passed the one Intermediate Unit item, and the Board adjourned for the night.