by Diane Payne
May 5, 2017
Present for this regular action meeting were Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Farah Jimenez and Bill Green. Commissioner Chris McGinley was absent.
The PA Senate continues to shirk its responsibility to fill the fifth seat by holding a confirmation hearing for Wolf nominee Estelle Richman. Unbelievably, that doesn’t stop House Speaker Michael Turzai, a Republican from western Pennsylvania, from telling the SRC what they should be doing on the issue of Charter Schools.
After the tenth public speaker, Commissioner Green left the meeting without explanation. Just as the last registered speaker—#58—was called up, Chair Wilkerson announced that Commissioner Green had joined the meeting by phone.
The fact that the SRC conducted most of its business on April 27th without a quorum calls into question the validity of all official actions taken. His absence for most of the public testimony only strengthens the appearance of a commissioner who does not value the voice of the public on matters of public concern.
SRC Prefers An Obstructed View of Their Actions
The SRC continues to stifle community engagement and give lie to their claims of “transparency” by forcing the APPS videographer to film in a busy and noisy part of the auditorium. Rather than allow him to stand against the wall, out of the way, on the left side, where he had been for years, they have actually moved chairs out of public seating areas so that he is blocking the view of those sitting behind him. The audio and video quality of our reports have been compromised.
Chief Talent Officer (CTO) Louis Ballardine and his Deputy, Katie Schlesinger, spoke on leadership initiatives for principals, specifically Resolution A-2, which proposed an additional $1.5 million contract with The New Teacher Project (TNTP). TNTP was founded by corporate reformer Michele Rhee and is now run by charter school operatives. APPS members Deb Grill and Karel Kilimnk testified about TNTP’s substandard quality and its lack of experienced educators on staff. Did that prompt any of the commissioners to question the wisdom of this expenditure by the “cash-strapped” district? No. Ballardine and Schlesinger said that additional resolutions would be coming up at future SRC meetings for more principal training programs. Will this be more money spent on corporate reform organizations?
Christine Grant, Assistant Superintendent of the district’s Opportunity Network, gave a presentation advocating for passage of resolutions totaling $140 million for several for-profit alternative schools. These schools offer educational opportunities to students who have been unable to succeed in traditional schools. Often these students are overage or are students who struggle with significant academic and/or behavioral issues. What was hard to discern from this presentation was how to judge the schools’ claims of success. These schools may very well be great places for students running out of alternatives, but where is the data to assess these claims? It is difficult to find information on the district’s website about these schools. However, recent news reports have highlighted discipline concerns at alternative types of schools.
Every year, the district asks the students, parents and teachers at these schools to fill out a survey to obtain feedback from each stakeholder group. None of the 24 schools in the Opportunity Network met the threshold for response to the survey.
Some of the schools did get some teacher feedback, but none got student or parent feedback. Schools in the Opportunity Network are excluded from School Progress Reports (SPR), so there is no data to view there. Ms. Grant did mention that they would be including an Alternative Education Report (along the lines of an SPR) starting next year. However, claims of success should be accompanied with evidence of the pathways used in judging these claims. This evidence should be easily viewed on the district website.
Resolution Block Voting
Forty-six resolutions were voted on in four block votes. All were approved unanimously.
The SRC approved a total of $197, 408, 080 in spending at this one meeting.
Changing the Rules
Resolution SRC-7, posted less than two days before the meeting, enacted a temporary change of board policy 006 to limit public speakers at the upcoming May 1st special SRC meeting on Charter School Renewals. The SRC passed it without comment or explanation. The SRC continues to claim that transparency is important when at every turn this body violates the PA Sunshine Act and finds new ways to impede or limit public engagement.
This is the second time in three months the SRC has temporarily changed this policy. As Lisa Haver said in her testimony, “The policies of a governmental body should not be changed on a whim.” The SRC oversees a $2.8 billion dollar budget and is subject to all the requirements of the Sunshine Act. In spite of a Commonwealth Court settlement with APPS on this very issue, the SRC persists in violating that settlement and the law, once again shutting the public out.
Upcoming SRC meetings
In addition to the hastily called May 1 charter renewal meeting, there will be action meetings on May 18th and 25th. To speak at an SRC meeting, call the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 215-400-4180 by 4:00 p.m. the day before the meeting. Meetings are held at 4:30 p.m. in the 2nd floor auditorium at 440 N. Broad Street.