By Lynda Rubin and Deborah Grill
August 28, 2016
Public attendance was light. Chair Marjorie Neff and Commissioners Bill Green and Sylvia Simms were present; Commissioner Houston participated by phone for the first hour and voted on the first set of resolutions, SRC 1-15; Commissioner Jimenez participated by phone for the last twenty minutes.
Chair Neff began by explaining a change in the agenda which would allow those testifying on resolutions SRC 1-15 (except resolutions SRC 8, 11, 12 and 13–Mastery School renewals, which were withdrawn by staff just prior to the meeting) to be heard first, followed by those votes being taken in order to accommodate Commissioners Houston and Jimenez “who would be participating by phone”. However, when Interim Chief of General Counsel Miles Shore took roll, Commissioner Jimenez failed to answer. This regular practice of having SRC members participate by phone, without access to documents, previous testimony, or ability to fully take part in discussions, is one that should only be used only in the case of a true emergency.
Jimenez did not join the meeting until all of the speakers had finished giving their testimony. She did vote on the Education Support Services and Education Services resolutions. Jimenez said little until just before adjournment at which time she gave a three-minute diatribe against Lisa Haver, objecting to Haver’s “spewing vitriol” and aiming “slings and arrows” at her. Jimenez accused Haver of defending only the First Amendment rights “of those who agree with her”. Jimenez did not explain the reason for her remarks: that Haver and another APPS member had sent a letter to Jimenez questioning her appearance on MSNBC as part of a panel of “undecided voters”, during which Jimenez failed to identify herself as an SRC member or Republican party operative but did repeat several of Donald Trump’s talking points. Nor did she or the Chair give Haver a chance to respond. (See the video at the end of this post.)
Shore reported on matters discussed in the SRC Executive Session, as required by the PA Sunshine Act: personnel and employment matters, information and/or strategy on several litigation matters identified by name and docket number. Included was the APPS legal complaint on SRC violations against the Sunshine Act, filed in November 2014.
Unfortunately, it has become a common practice for some commissioners to be looking at their phones throughout the meeting. The most frequent offender, Bill Green, often has to have voting procedures and other details re-explained to him. He missed Chair Neff’s announcement about the change in order of speakers, and she had to repeat it for him. This practice is disrespectful to the other commissioners, to the Chair, to the Superintendent, and to public speakers. We educators know that it is common courtesy and practice in faculty meetings and professional development to turn off ringers and put phones away. The SRC, which controls a $2.3 billion budget and the future of our children and communities, should do the same.
Victory for PFT in PA Supreme Court—The Elephant in the Room?
Although it dominated news headlines that week, there was no mention of the PA Supreme Court ruling for the PFT, and against the SRC, that the district has no right to unilaterally cancel any labor contract. The decision did seem to be on the minds of some commissioners, in particular Bill Green who suggested during a staff presentation that because the contract stops the district from forcing teachers to attend professional development sessions on Saturdays without pay, the district was not able to disseminate information on trauma prevention. Teacher Kristen Luebbert informed the SRC, from her seat, that these types of unpaid training sessions fill up very quickly. Superintendent Hite directed Green’s attention to another well-attended unpaid summer PD session. Green’s tap-dancing around the issue took several minutes, until he uttered the dreaded “C-word”, at which time the audience erupted in groans and boos.
Green’s testiness was also evident in his interactions with Charter School Office officials Dawn Lynn Kacer and Meghan Reamer. Mark Manella, CEO of KIPP Charters Philadelphia, although he had already testified, stood up and spoke again after Green began to challenge the CSO officials on their findings on the KIPP re-application. Manella claimed that the CSO had misinformed the SRC about the projected start date for the new charter. Instead of ignoring or dismissing Manella, as he does with others who call out, Green engaged in conversation with him, then chastised the CSO representatives for what he said was inaccurate information and his “distress” at the turn of events. Green then said he would be changing his vote to approve the application. Kacer and Reamer calmly and steadfastly corrected him on the details, reading from the application and their report. Green then admitted that he had not been present at that day’s executive session at which the matter had been discussed, relying instead on a second-hand report. He then reverted to his original position that he would vote to deny.
Green asked for the floor in order to give credit to the SRC and to Dr. Hite and his team, citing several by name, for the passage of the state budget. According to Green, “the hard choices that you, and we, have had to make over the last three years…gave the legislators the confidence [that] the money…will be put to the best use of students and families…we would not have this opportunity if you had not assembled this great team…” It appeared that Green was attempting to snatch victory of the budget passage from the ashes of defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court.
Charter Resolution Votes
No resolutions concerning renewals of ASPIRA Olney, ASPIRA Stetson, Universal Audenreid or Universal Vare were posted. These matters have been postponed since May with no report of what is happening in negotiations as was detailed in this article in City and State PA. Also, see APPS letter to Mayor Kenney mentioned in the article.
Six resolution titles on charter renewal and amendments, with no text or description, had been posted online, but three—Mastery Gratz, Mastery Shoemaker, and Mastery Clymer—were withdrawn by staff just before the meeting. The resolutions allowing a change of location to Boys’ Latin and enrollment expansion to Russell Byers, in addition to the KIPP application reconsideration, were not published until the hard copy of the resolutions was distributed at the meeting. Lisa Haver asked Chair Neff for an opportunity to speak, saying that since they were not previously posted they were actually walk-on resolutions. Initially denied, she was allowed to come up and speak to the issue of having resolutions posted with adequate time for the public to read and understand these issues. Haver pointed out that the Byers’ resolution alone was seven pages, and that there is no way anyone could read it and be able to ask an informed question on it.
The Byers’ request was originally made in November 2015. In February 2016, the SRC gave the school the option of accepting a 3-year charter for a new school or withdrawing that application with the intention of submitting a new request to expand enrollment at the present location. This resolution included seven pages of terms and conditions, including composition and conduct of the board, recruitment procedures, admissions policies, back-fill policies, waiting list verifications, employee certifications, PSERS payments, ESL and special education programs. The SRC voted to approve with no discussion or deliberation, at least publicly.
No information about any of the charter resolutions was provided prior to this meeting. The only members of the public who have been able to see it, in the hard copy, were those who attended the meeting. As of this posting, none of these resolutions has been published online.
Kacer presented the CSO’s recommendation to deny the KIPP reapplication for an additional school. The CSO cited state law which requires a charter to open in the next school year. KIPP’s application had stipulated a start time in the 2017-18 or 2018-19 school year. KIPP CEO Manella, in his testimony, stated that KIPP had hired additional staff to handle the opening of the new school and had a13-year track record in Philadelphia. He claimed that KIPP had a waiting list of 3000, 500 for Kindergarten alone, and that the community was “desperate” for their services, in a seeming attempt to distract from the real issue at hand, their later than legally allowed possible opening date and delay in meeting a deadline. The question of how many times a charter applicant can reapply after being initially denied needs to be addressed, especially in light of the SRC’s failure to keep these procedures fully transparent.
The SRC voted to approve the request from Boys’ Latin Charter to move to another facility. Green questioned the need for the SRC to vote on this matter. Haver pointed out, when she was given time to address the walk-ons, that people in that neighborhood may have some concerns about having a school in that location, but since no one knew what the resolution said, they were unable to address them.
The SRC, as usual, approved the remaining resolutions in two bulk votes, A-1 to A-33, and B-1 to B-22, with no discussion or questions on any of them, including A-6 and A-7.
Resolution A-6 proposed a $625,00 contract with Foundations, Inc. to provide temporary executive staff to support the central office and/or schools on an as-needed basis. This raises the question of why the district can’t fill and keep its executive staff and why it needs to hire Foundations, an organization closely associated with State Representative Dwight Evans.
Resolution A-7 would pay $5 million over a 3-year period to InProcess Consulting LLC for “enterprise data analytics, reporting and dashboard solution tool (Business Intelligence tool)”. Carol Heinsdorf, who researched the company and the platform it will be using to store and manipulate student and school data, raised several questions in her testimony concerning student privacy and security issues as well as the company’s brief existence. Her concerns went unanswered, nor were they discussed by the SRC before the vote.
Harold Jordan of the ACLU and Alex Dutton of the Education Law Center spoke in favor of extending the moratorium on suspensions for K-2 students.
APPS members Lisa Haver, Lynda Rubin, Deborah Grill addressed recent public remarks made by Commissioners Green and Jimenez in public meetings and in the press, including Jimenez’s appearance on MSNBC. APPS member Carol Heinsdorf spoke on the resolution to hire yet another IT vendor, InProcess. Teacher Robin Lowry expressed her sorrow on being forced to leave her students and colleagues at Wister Elementary since the SRC handed it over to Mastery Charters. Commissioner Green responded to Lisa’s criticism of Jimenez by praising Jimenez and attacking Lisa personally.
Green’s Verbal Attack on Haver
Lisa Haver’s testimony addressed three issues: the secret negotiations that two SRC commissioners are currently conducting with ASPIRA officials in order to have that charter company maintain control, against the recommendation of the SRC’s Charter School Office, of Olney High and Stetson Middle schools; her request that Bill Green retract knowingly false statements he made about her in a news story on the ASPIRA matter and offer a public apology; concerns that she and a colleague had expressed in a letter sent to Commissioner Farah Jimenez about her appearance, in July, on national television as an “undecided voter”, her repetition of several talking points from the Trump campaign, her failure to renounce Trump’s racist, misogynist and xenophobic statements and the effect her behavior could have on the students and families of Philadelphia.
At the end of her testimony, Commissioner Green began what can best be described as a tirade against Haver. He pointed his finger at her, interrupted her when she tried to defend herself against the torrent of false statements he was making, and loudly and repeatedly ordered district staff to “turn off her mic”. It was a shocking display of bullying by a government official, of a member of the public who came to speak on public issues. (Green did not explain why he was taking part in private negotiations with Aspira or why the public was being shut out of this process.)