by Lynda Rubin
Eight of the nine Board members and the two student Board representatives were present. Leticia Egea-Hinton was absent. The meeting began with a beautiful performance by the Central High School String Quartet, with string specialist Matt Roberts, under the direction of Ben Blazer.
General Counsel Lynn Rauch announced that the Board met in executive session on October16 and October18 to discuss the following: “personnel and employment matters, purchase or lease of real property, investigations, quasi-judicial proceedings, privileged and confidential matters and information and strategy about litigations”. She then cited the legal matters by name and docket number.
Superintendent’s Report Addresses Community Concerns
Superintendent William Hite’s report indirectly addressed concerns about barriers to parental involvement raised prior to the meeting by email and phone call and reflected in the number of speakers on the issue. He encouraged parents to join SACs but did not directly address parents’ specific concerns until later in the meeting. There is some contradictory and confusing language on the District website that implies that parents and community members have to provide clearance information in order to attend meetings at their schools.
Dr. Hite also addressed the District’s solution to the lack of full-time nurses and substitute nurses. He stated that three of the four vacancies had been filled and that the District was now using Kelly Services, the same company the District contracted with two years ago when it outsourced substitute teacher services. Dr. Hite said that his administration intended to hire additional companies to find substitute nurses. In fact, Action Item 16, later passed by the Board, contracts with Bayada Services to fill per diem and long-term nursing substitutes. In response to strong lobbying by nurses and parents, the District will now give access to the medical information of the students they are serving on any day, whether permanently appointed to one school or not.
Student Representatives Report
Julia Frank, one of the Board’s two student representatives, reported that they are on Instagram and Twitter as “PHL student reps” and will soon have their own webpage on the District website. The student reps will have outreach and engagement meetings with their peers around the city. One outreach plan they have adopted is to support SEIU 32BJ around wage increases.
Speakers on Barriers to Parents Participation
Four speakers addressed the topic of possible barriers to parent participation: Home and School President Shakeda Gaines, parent and district teacher Katrina Clark, Baldi Middle School parent Kristine Owens, and District parent Amina Blake. Their comments covered the historic and current importance of local Home and School Associations, including the extensive fundraising and volunteering to support school staff and programs, helping other parents to volunteer, advocating for parents and students, and building a strong school community. Speakers strongly asserted that SACs can’t replace Home and Schools Associations in purpose or support for schools. SACs deal with school policy decisions and are run by the school district; Home and Schools are directed by parents. Ms. Owens reported that Baldi’s principal sent a letter to the school’s Home and School leaders that the organization no longer had access to the school or any of its resources; he would recognize only the SAC. Ms. Blake stated that the current policy as stated on the District website disenfranchises parents by requiring that parents who tried to attend more than one meeting must meet the 8-step clearance process for volunteers. Ms. Gaines explained the need for a new Parent Organization Policy and reminded the Board that HSA’s should be respected and seen as partners in school culture. She said that even after all of the support and fundraising by HSAs, “an HSA can be disassociated if they say to school staff anything about their child’s school health or take a strong stance for their children’s education”.
Dr. Hite responded that he had heard from various individuals about Policy 916 on volunteers and admitted that there “was some confusion” in the policy. He said that the Board’s Policy Committee should be taking up the policy “soon” for revisions and invited the public to submit their concerns. (The Policy Committee will not be meeting until January 10, 2019.) He reassured the speakers that any complaints about parents’ lack of access to their children’s schools will be handled by District staff.
Speakers on Need for Full-time Nurses in Schools
Long-time District Nurse Peg Devine told the Board that low pay and lack of respect from administration were some of the ongoing problems for school nurses and that those conditions made it difficult for the District to recruit and retain experienced nurses. District Nurse Eileen Duffey testified that Hite administration officials are not listening to suggestions of current nurses who have expertise and first-hand knowledge of the needs of students and the lack of necessary resources.
Several parents of children with severe medical conditions expressed anger about the District’s failure to staff all nursing positions. One parent said that her child has cystic fibrosis, and while the school staff is very supportive, that doesn’t replace the services of an on-site certified nurse. Her son’s medicine has not always been given on time; in fact, one day it wasn’t given to him at all. She urged the Board to provide “competent caring nurses in all of our schools, all of the time for all of our kids.” Another parent whose child has Type 1 diabetes angrily told the Board that she had contacted school officials nine months before the beginning of the school year to discuss her child’s needs and to have a 504 plan put in place, yet there was no signed 504 plan in place on the first day of school. She told the Board that she has had to familiarize six different rotating nurses about her child’s complicated needs; still, one of them gave her child the wrong dose, which could have killed her.
Committees Report to Full Board
Co-chair Lee Huang announced that the third meeting of the Finance and Facilities Committee will be held on November 1 at 10:00 am. At that meeting there will be an update on facilities remediation and leveling of classes from a financial perspective. A calendar will be distributed at the November meeting with the topics to be covered at future committee meetings.
Co-Chair Chris McGinley reported that the issue of Multiple Charter School Organizations (MCSO) was discussed at the October 11 meeting of the Student Achievement and Support Committee, along with the school selection process and the PA Comprehensive Plan. McGinley urged the public to sign up to speak at one of the five hearings to be held in Harrisburg (on November 7, 16, 26, 27, and 30) by the PA Department of Education on new cyber charter school applications. Co-chair Angela McIver announced that the main topics for the November 4 Committee meeting will be the charter application process and the comprehensive state plan.
Chair Wayne Walker reported on the October 11 meeting of the Policy Committee where current District policies were reviewed and amended and new policies were introduced. Polices discussed at the Committee Meeting are given a first reading at a Board Action meeting, then voted on at the next Board Action meeting. These policies are posted on the website under Board of Education committees and include suggested changes. Public comment may be given at the committee meetings and/or when presented at Action Meetings. The Policy Committee, which meets quarterly, will hold its next meeting on January 10, 2019.
Co-chair Julia Danzy announced that District Partnership and Community Engagement Committee will hold its first meeting on November 29. She gave notice that applications will be taken from the community to serve on its 12-member Parent and Community Council; those applications are due by November 9. That Council will hold only two public meetings every year. The District website lists the responsibilities of the Council, among them to serve both public and charter schools as a link between school communities and the Board, to be champions of public schools by building relationships and to share “positive news” about the city’s public schools.
(Full information on actions and minutes are available on the Board of Education/Committees page of District website. Videos of the meetings are also available to watch online.)
Board Fails to Inform Public of Meeting Actions
For some reason, the Board only made three copies of the Action Item Summary available, and those were not on the table with the other meeting documents. Just before the Board vote on the Items, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver stood up and objected to that and to the fact that one Action Item was posted just prior to the meeting but that the Board was not allowing anyone to sign up to speak on it. Those are violations of both the PA Sunshine Act and the 2016 settlement with APPS. Lisa also said that the Action Item omitted crucial information. General Counsel Lynn Rauch responded that the Action Item was about a personnel item, which Lisa pointed out was irrelevant. Filling in the information after the meeting is a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act and a falsification of the public record. (The names were added the next day to the Action Summary online.) APPS has written letters to the Board explaining that these actions are illegal. Lisa spoke in opposition to this new practice both at the Board meeting and at Committee meetings where no Speakers List was available. In addition, the Policy Committee did not distribute the policies under consideration at the October 11 meeting.
APPS Co-founder Karel Kilimnik noted that the Board is no longer contracting with Cambridge Education in the SGS process; their faulty reports were heavily criticized by APPS members. She did question the Board’s contracting with Temple University staff to conduct focus groups rather than using District staff. This decision has reinforced the parents’ perception that the District has failed to support their schools and that District staff is not listening to them. She also asked why the terms of the $20,000 contract with Temple University for their part in the SGS (System of Great Schools) meetings wasn’t put before the public or voted on by the Board. Board President Joyce Wilkerson agreed to post the contract online and to make it public but did not say that the Board would vote to approve the contract.
In addition to the speakers about parent organizations and nurses, students, parents and community representatives spoke on a variety of issues. One parent complained that the bus picking up her autistic son has been late many times; she has been late for work on those days because no one calls to inform her. A former educator and grandparent of a Kindergarten teacher spoke about the problems of overcrowding, especially in early childhood grades when personal attention is critical. Parents and teachers alike spoke about the disruption and trauma of leveling of teachers and its deleterious effects on student learning and the disruption to the entire school program. (Leveling has been abandoned by many school districts around the country, especially suburban districts.) PFT/WE Caucus member Jesse Gottschalk spoke passionately about teachers being an informed and willing resource; he asked the new Board to actively engage with teachers, rather than be in opposition to them, on ways to improve schools. Board Member Angela McGiver invited Jesse to attend the next Student Achievement and Support Committee meeting. Chris McGinley later said that the subject of leveling will be addressed at the Student Achievement Committee in January.
Attorney Reynelle Staley from the Education Law Center, which handles many special education cases, expressed concerns about the Board’s voting on a $100,000 donation for special education when last year’s cost was $600 million. She reported that the Ed Law Center was suing the state for its lack of education funding to the District and districts across the state. Staley also pointed out that charter schools serve fewer special education students than District schools as a whole and that the special education students charters do enroll have fewer severe disabilities requiring lower costs, although the payments from the District to the charter school is the same amount regardless of the cost to meet the child’s needs. She also pointed out that charter schools are not actually required to use the money for special needs services as the District is. Thus, every time the Board provides charters with funding for children with special needs, the Board is actually giving that charter a general subsidy that they can use any way they like. APPS member Ilene Poses sang her testimony as usual (this time to the tune of Matchmaker, Matchmaker) about how each year Dr. Hite uproots another group of SGS schools with staff and principal turnarounds, new edu-vendor run programs and temporary influx of supports. Parent and Special Education Advocate Cecilia Thompson asked that the Board look into the Change Order requests from vendors with existing contracts. She noted that vendors sometimes abuse this “adjustment” to a contract they already agreed to and have signed simply to get more money.
Restoration of Signs Honoring Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre
The highlight of the night for many was the testimony of parents, educators and community members from the We Are Mansion group who have been fighting to maintain Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive high school and to have restored the signage for the Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Educational Complex. Although the group has had several testy exchanges with Dr. Hite at previous meetings, several of the group’s members individually thanked Dr. Hite for fulfilling his pledge to have the sign honoring Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre restored to Strawberry Mansion High School as a memorial to her and as educational motivation to the students at Mansion. Dr. Hite was very touched by their brief ceremony. Included in the We Are Mansion group were Mansion SAC President Tanya Parker, retired District principal Dr. Catherine Blunt, and Karel Kilimnik. This signage had been created to honor Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre as a pioneer in Philadelphia public education. In 1931 she applied unsuccessfully for a teaching job in the public schools, an unsurprising outcome since the schools were not hiring African-American teachers above the elementary school level. Ten years later, Dr. Hayre returned and was hired as the city’s second African-American junior high school teacher. Dr. Hayre went on to be the city’s first African-American high school teacher, first African-American principal, first female African-American district superintendent, and first female president of the Board of Education.
The Board approved a charter amendment allowing Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter (FACTS) to move in the beginning of 2020-2021 school year from 1023 Race St. to a building to be constructed at 421 N. 9th Street. The Board passed 22 agenda items regarding contracts with vendors for both personnel training by edu-vendors and maintenance services by outside contractors. The Board approved Action Item 22, a $265, 000 contract with Partners in School Innovation Transformation Initiative for additional supports to 3 schools for “targeted professional development”. Note the following language from the Action Item: “The value of these services provided by Partners in School Innovation to the School District is $985,000. The cost of these services to the School District will be significantly offset by a grant from the William Penn Foundation to Partners In School Innovation.” The William Penn Foundation awards grants so that the School District can do business with certain companies. What is William Penn Foundation’s interest or connection in Partners in School Innovation? Edu-vendors have complicated interests and alliances, unknown to the public, which get them in the door of underfunded school districts.
The Intermediate Unit, which met immediately after the Board meeting, passed a continuation of a contract with Elwyn Services to pay for early childhood supports.