by Diane Payne
March 20, 2017
All four appointed commissioners—Chair Joyce Wilkerson, Dr. Christopher McGinley, Farah Jimenez, and Bill Green—were present at this regular action meeting of the SRC. Governor Wolf’s appointee for the fifth seat, Estelle Richman, attended as a member of the public. The same Harrisburg legislators who continue to impose this state-controlled system on the people of Philadelphia have held up Richman’s confirmation for several months. But they have no problem rushing through bills to restrict abortion (SB-3), to weaken union protections (SB-166), and to punish Philadelphia for being a sanctuary city ( SD-10).
There were 32 pre-registered speakers and two speakers for the two walk-on resolutions which were not posted before the meeting. The 2016 Commonwealth Court-ordered settlement between APPS and the SRC stipulates that resolutions must be posted two weeks prior to each meeting. The SRC must allow members of the public to sign up, at the meeting, for any resolution posted just before or during the meeting. These stipulations, which were adopted as official rules of the SRC, insure that the letter and the spirit of the PA Sunshine Act are honored.
Eight members of the Alliance spoke at this SRC meeting. APPS members continue to question the priorities of the SRC, bring to light district policies that further privatization, and expose the wasteful spending of scarce dollars on “initiatives” that fail to fulfill the district’s mission of making every school a quality school.
Of the 30 resolutions proposed, one was withdrawn and one passed 3-1. The remaining 28 passed unanimously.
Chair Wilkerson opened the meeting by introducing the two walk-on resolutions. Resolution SRC-4 established an advisory committee, which will meet four times a year, on school policy, to be chaired by Commissioner McGinley. Dr. Hite and two other members of the SRC will sit on the committee. Wilkerson stated that it was being established to further “transparency and accessibility”. Committee members will review policies before taking actions and hear presentations by experts before voting on resolutions. The first meeting is scheduled for April 6th at 9:00 a.m. at 440 N. Broad Street.
Once again, this SRC gives lip service to transparency and accessibility. Which teacher, student, working parent or working community member can be present at a 9:00 a.m. weekday meeting? How accessible and how transparent can this really be? APPS members will attend this meeting, and we will see whether its true purpose is to have those representatives of corporations and foundations, already influential in issues of ideology and privatization, in the room.
APPS member Lynda Rubin pointed out in her public comments on this resolution that up until last year, the SRC held Strategy, Policy, and Procedure forums once a month. Without notice or explanation, the SRC discontinued them. Those meetings were held at 5:30 so that stakeholders could attend, which they did in large numbers at most. Lynda noted that the 9:00 a.m. time would exclude most members of the public. Bill Green replied, inexplicably, that it is their hope they will get “specific feedback from the school communities.” Neither he nor Wilkerson said that there would be any effort to recruit people to attend. Commissioner McGinley stated that the 9:00 a.m. time was chosen to accommodate his schedule as he teaches classes in the evening. Based on our experience, this appears to be another exercise in window-dressing that will result in few new voices being heard.
Resolution A-19, the second walk-on, proposed extension of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Mayor’s Office of Education on the community schools initiative.
Both resolutions passed unanimously.
Remarks from the Superintendent
Superintendent William Hite spoke about the district’s Diversion Program which has replaced the “Zero-tolerance” policy in place for several years. Zero-tolerance did not allow for administrators to use their best judgment on a case-by-case basis, thus resulting in devastating and long-term consequences for many students, including those in elementary schools. Many were transferred, even arrested, for minor infractions. This diversion program allows administrators to consider each young person’s situation and the circumstances behind any incident before taking serious action. This has resulted in a significant drop in arrests and has succeeded in slowing the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Dr. Hite noted the grant acceptance listed in resolutions B-1 ($200,00 from Children’s Hospital), B-2 ($200,000 from 12 PLUS), and B-3 ($150,00 from Junior Achievement of Southeastern PA). All of these grants will support programs to support high school students in after-graduation transition services.
Finally, Dr. Hite announced the district’s “exciting recruiting campaign to hire up to 1,000 new teachers.” He did not explain why the district was embarking on another recruiting campaign (at a cost of $160,000) only one year after the last one. Nor did he give any figures for how many teachers were resigning or retiring early at the end of this school year. There was no acknowledgment that the lack of a new PFT contract for over four years, the 5-year wage freeze, lack of staff support and resources, and suspension of step increases will make this recruitment effort a difficult one. Not to mention the overall lack of respect for teachers and other professionals under this administration. There is a serious disconnect between what Dr. Hite says and the reality of the day-to-day conditions in our school buildings.
SRC Voting Practice
Anyone who has attended or watched an SRC meeting has witnessed the SRC’s practice of voting on resolutions in blocks of ten or fifteen rather than individually. Contracts for over $171,000,000 were approved at this one meeting (including one for $60 million), but fewer than five were discussed before the public—only because APPS members raised concerns about them. Lynda Rubin, in her testimony, asked the SRC, as we have for years, why there is almost no deliberation on most resolutions. She received no answer.
More Public Dollars to Private Vendors
APPS continues to raise the issue of the SRC’s spending priorities. Every month brings more contracts and grants for outsourcing of services long provided by experienced district staff. This month saw the passing of two meaty resolutions that are part of ongoing initiatives in the area of literacy and math professional development.
Resolution B-6 gives $3,140,674.03 to Carnegie Learning, Inc for summer institute math professional development and math specialists. The district has outsourced teacher-led professional development and district math specialists to a company that has ties, as parent Alison McDowell testified, to the Department of Defense in computer generated learning models that are worrisome for a number of reasons. This is another example of the SRC’s enabling education vendors to get a foot in the door with one program as they expand into others including data mining and embedded assessment. Last year, the SRC approved an allotment of $10 million for unproven blended learning programs. So we weren’t surprised to hear Dr. Hite announce that several of his “Priority Schools’ will be instituting blended learning into their curricula.
Resolution B-7 gives $15,305,269.68 to Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) for K to 3 literacy services. Although CLI does good work, this program should not be inserted in lieu of the core services lacking in most schools. Every school should have a certified school librarian in a functioning school library. Every school should have professional literacy coaches on staff to teach proven programs like Reading Recovery.
Relay [FAKE] Graduate School of Education
Yes, they did it again. In spite of Relay’s reputation for providing inadequate services, the fact that it was not founded by alumni of accredited institutions of higher learning but by three charter operators, their lack of experienced educators on staff, the absence of a research library, and the narrow curricula that focuses on practice to the exclusion of learning theory and research—the SRC voted to approve a $150,000 contract with the Relay Graduate School of Education to train 20 teachers. It was a clear choice of ideology over quality. Even the fact that their application to operate in Pennsylvania was denied by the PA Department of Education didn’t stop three commissioners for approving yet another contract with Relay. Dr. Hite’s justification for recommending Relay was that they offered the lowest bid and that they promised diversity. Commissioner McGinley, before voting against, said that he questioned the quality of services they have provided.
Several speakers testified against this resolution, including APPS’ Deborah Grill, who referred to it as “the McDonald’s of teacher training”.
Community Fights to Stop Sale of Smith School
Alison Stohr spoke on behalf of the Save Smith School coalition which is fighting the sale of their beloved school building. This Point Breeze group represents the concerned and involved community members fighting for to have their voices heard. Ms. Stohr asked the SRC whether they even considered asking the people who live there how this sale would affect them. Some of the SRC members did respond to her, and although Resolution A-10 was withdrawn, it appears that the sale and redevelopment of this property will move forward.
English Language Learners
Three speakers addressed concerns about the district’s failure to adequately serve those students who are English Language Learners. The district’s failure to provide in-school translators puts students and parents at a disadvantage and often results in their being ignored by administrators and policy makers. Speakers Kristina Moon of the Education Law Center, retired teacher Cheri Micheau, district staff member Jennifer Pour all asked Dr. Hite to place more bi-lingual and multi-lingual staff in schools.
Whatever happened to Aspira Olney?
Several staff members from Aspira Olney testified that the management of that school has consistently failed to bargain in good faith with union members. This represents just one of the many issues, from sexual harassment charges against Aspira CEO Alfredo Calderon to misuse of taxpayer funds, that have been documented in several newspaper and television reports.
APPS has been fighting for months to have the SRC resolve these issues. We have written letters to the mayor and the governor. The renewals for Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson should have been voted on two years ago. After the resolutions were posted last May—in which the Charter School Office outlined over 25 reasons for denial—there has been no action. Poof! The resolutions disappear and the SRC feels no need to explain why to the members of the public who pay to keep these low-quality schools operating.
The SRC has also disappeared renewal resolutions for two Universal schools and three Mastery schools. Two parents of Mastery students spoke about the virtues of the schools, including one parent from Clymer elementary. Clymer is one of the three schools whose renewal has been held up for almost a year. The SRC should have taken that opportunity to explain why, if Clymer is the high-performing school this parent spoke of, they would not renew the school’s charter. Another issue swept under the rug, with no questions asked by the media or political leaders.
NB: The next SRC meeting will be held March 23, 4:30 p.m. at 440 N. Broad Street. To register to testify on any issue, call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. the day before. The SRC should hear the voices of the parents, students, and educators who must live with the consequences of their decisions. Please consider registering to speak and sharing your story.