Ears on the November 19th SRC

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by Diane Payne

The November 19, 2015 meeting was a jam-packed event with 71 speakers. The anger from parents and community members of Cooke, Huey and Wister, trying to save their schools from being turned over to charter companies, was felt by everyone in the room. A number of teachers and students, whose schools have been thrown into chaos due to the SRC’s outsourcing of substitutes, expressed their frustration with the district’s decision not to cancel the Source4Teachers contract. It is not possible to include every facet of this meeting, so a few highlights will have to suffice.

Unanswered Questions

At each meeting, questions are put to Superintendent Hite and to the members of the SRC, most of which go unanswered. Here are some of the questions which were asked last Thursday:

APPS member Diane Payne asked which positions and accompanying salaries were being approved in SRC Resolution A-1. The wording of the resolution noted “the following positions” but there was none listed. No answer. (This actually would have been an easy question because an APPS member discovered later in the evening that a separate list noted those positions but no one from the SRC bothered to clarify.)

Diane also asked the SRC, for the second month in a row, to explain why the district is placing employees from Mastery Charters as teacher coaches in district schools. She requested that they provide the written proposal that Mastery submitted before the SRC’s vote to approve the contract in August. No answer.

APPS member Karel Kilimnik asked why the SRC would need to hire outside people to staff the district’s charter office as proposed in Resolution A-19? No answer.

Karel also asked whether Commissioner Farah Jimenez is still in charge of the Charter Office. This is important information as the next round of charter applications has begun. No answer.

(In October, APPS petitioned Governor Wolf to remove Jimenez from the SRC because of a number of possible conflicts of interest due to her voting and deliberating on issues which involved Mastery Charters. Her husband works for the law firm which represents Mastery and KIPP schools.)

SRC and Jimenez Try to Silence APPS Member

APPS member Lisa Haver had registered to speak on Resolution A-18: Settlement of Civil Action brought by APPS and Lisa Haver for SRC violations of the PA Sunshine Act. This resolution, which had been posted on the SDP website until Thursday morning, was withdrawn without notice by SRC staff just before the meeting. When Lisa began to speak, Commissioner Jimenez interrupted her to tell her that she could not speak on a resolution which had been withdrawn. (It is worth noting that this is the THIRD MONTH in a row that they have posted this same resolution, then withdrawn it at the last moment because no settlement had been reached.) Lisa insisted that since the SRC office did not call her to inform her it was withdrawn she had every right to present her remarks. The crowd in the room agreed–with chants and bells–which helped convince Commissioner Jimenez that it would in fact be best to proceed.

A question….who is Chair of the SRC? Farah Jimenez or Marjorie Neff? Why, exactly, was Jimenez calling the shots while Neff sat in silence?

So many questions and so few answers.

Commissioner Green Doesn’t Disappoint

After the failed attempt to shut APPS member Lisa Haver down, Commissioner Green indulged himself in yet another of his now-expected rants. This time he complained that speakers were signing up to speak on resolutions to get to the top of the list, but were actually speaking on general topics. Problem is, the speakers were all speaking on the resolutions. Did Green not hear that and did he not hear their questions about those resolutions? Once again, Mr. Green was off base. Maybe he was not focused on speakers’ remarks because he was doing something on his phone, as he is seen doing at every meeting? He tweeted out complaints about speakers during the meeting. Appropriate?

Hite Says He’s Right

In preparation for the SRC meeting, all district staff received a letter from Dr. Hite (that very day) explaining why Source4Teachers would continue to be a Source4Pain for students and teachers. In his presentation to the SRC meeting, he again stood behind the outsourcing of subs and eradication of union jobs which saw the sub rate plummet from 66% to 11%.  He acknowledged that this company has been a big disappointment, but said, with a straight face, they have somewhat improved. He further stated that he was removing the long-term sub portion from their contract: those positions would again be filled by the district. His justification for not cancelling Source4Teachers’ contract is that it would create too much instability. Dr. Hite, do you have any idea what is going on in our school buildings?

 Charter Reauthorization

Two troubled charter schools came up for reauthorization: Ad Prima Charter School, Resolution SRC-4 and Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School, Resolution SRC-5. Both were approved for renewal although, in an unusual display, two commissioners actually did vote against renewal and even asked some questions.

It was particularly shocking that the charter school office’s presentation promoted renewal in spite of alarming transgressions on the part of Ad Prima including a list of 30 areas to improve while Community had a list of 7 areas to improve.

Ad Prima was one of the schools founded by Dorothy June Brown, who was prosecuted for embezzling $6.3 million of the schools’ funds.  The SRC approved renewal based partly on the fact that the school now has a new Board of Directors.  In a recent development, a judge excused Brown from further prosecution because, according to her defense lawyers, she is suffering from dementia.

When asked why, in light of the long list of problems with Ad Prima, they were promoting renewal, the Charter Office representative’s answer was that the school was working to make amends. So, there you have it. A charter can make a mess of educating our children by not just squandering money but stealing it (and where has that $6.3 million gone?).  All they have to do to satisfy the SRC is promise to make amends and their charter is renewed.

In Conclusion

APPS members whose testimony was not only passionate but informative included: Barbara Dowdall, Alison McDowell, Peg Devine, Karel Kilimnik and Coleman Poses. The written testimony and video of these speakers is available for viewing on this web page. Stay tuned for December’s SRC meeting.  Eyes on the SRC will give us insight into the worrisome resolutions on that agenda. Also, we need to stay focused on what is happening with Cooke, Huey and Wister.

 

The testimony and transcripts of members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools at the November 19, 2015 meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.