Ears on the SRC: February 16 and 18, 2016

SRC 2-18-16 #!By Diane Payne
March 5, 2016

APPS Ears on the SRC: February 16, 2016

This special meeting of the SRC was another jam-packed one—35 speakers listed.  The final vote on twelve new charter applications was the sole agenda for this meeting.  Farah Jimenez acted as Interim Chair; Marge Neff was on medical leave but present by phone.

City Councilwoman Testimony

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Chair of Council’s Education Committee, spoke in favor of granting Southwest Leadership Academy another charter; she also gave a brief shout-out to Belmont Charter.  With current funding rules imposed by the state, increasing charter school seats causes additional financial harm to children remaining in public schools.  Blackwell, in her brief testimony, failed to explain how her support of two more charters does not hurt the public schools in her district and in the entire city.

The Battle of Public v. Non Public (Charter) Continues

Because of the failure of the SRC to carry out the very job it was created to do-improve the financial and academic stability of Philadelphia’s public schools-we see communities divided, sometimes bitterly, over charter versus public schools.  This SRC meeting continued that division.  One inescapable difference is the money spent by charter companies on marketing and organizing: dinner, tee shirts, and bus service were provided for parents and students in attendance.  Question:  where does that money come from?  Taxpayer dollars?

APPS Speakers

 Two APPS members addressed the SRC and public at this meeting; both can be viewed, full transcripts read, on this website at APPS testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, 2016

Lisa Haver and Diane Payne both questioned the SRC about the financial harm that any charter school approvals will cause to children remaining in public schools as well as pointing out the abdication of their duties to provide good public schools in our city neighborhoods.

Final Vote

Chair Neff voted NO on all charter school applications.  In the end, three applications were approved, Esperanza Elementary Charter School, KIPP North Philadelphia Charter School and Russell Byers Academy Charter School.  Three more charter schools approved which will further weaken our system of democratic, quality, PUBLIC schools in our own neighborhoods.

APPS Ears on the SRC: February 18, 2016

The auditorium at 440 was crowded with a full list of 46 registered speakers. The community division of charter school supporters and public school supporters was again in full evidence. This community division is a sad manifestation of shameful district policies that fail to support and build up our neighborhood schools and instead creates a multi-tiered system of education that creates haves- and have-nots in a system devoid of democratic voice and principals.

APPS Speakers

Four APPS members addressed the SRC and the public at this meeting; all can be viewed, and full transcripts read, by going on this website to APPS testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – February 18, 2016

Coleman Poses used the district’s own data to support his assertion, made at a previous SRC meeting, that it made no sense to use Wister as a turnaround school and hand over management to Mastery Charters. He asked the question: “Why would the SRC turn over the operation of a school to a company with a negative record in working with similar schools?”  No answer provided by the commissioners at the meeting or on SDP website.

Karel Kilimnik pointed out that the approval of more charters causes financial harm to children in district public schools.  She asked the question: “What criteria is being used to determine the suitability of a school for Renaissance conversion?”  No answer was provided by the commissioners at the meeting. Dr. Hite did tell Karel later in the meeting that he would respond to her within the week as well as posting the information on the SDP website.

However, she never received any response and nothing has been posted on the website.

Lisa Haver stated that on Feburary 1st, APPS delivered a letter, addressed to SRC Chair Marjorie Neff, formally asking that the SRC rescind the motion to reinstate the Wister turnaround.  Five solid points were made in support of this request.  Since Chair Neff has failed to respond to this request, Haver stated that APPS has filed a Right to Know request on this topic.  No answer was provided by the commissioners at the meeting or on the SDP website.

Carol Heinsdorf spoke on the appearance of impropriety that is inherent in all SRC actions that result in a breach of public trust.  Her testimony was packed with examples and ended by requesting the SRC be “…relieved of its duties and control of the district returned to Philadelphia citizens.”

Commissioner Green’s Remarks at Conclusion of Public Speakers

Commissioner Bill Green made a point of agreeing with remarks of two pro-charter speakers, including those of Quibila Divine, sister of Commissioner Sylvia Simms. Some observers questioned why he made a point of siding with the one of the individuals involved with the proposed Mastery turnaround of Wister who refuses to disclose the nature of her business connection with the pro-charter organization Citizens Consulting Group

In addition, he addressed one speaker, Ms. Adams, who opposed the Wister turnaround by telling her that a Renaissance charter is a public school.  Mr. Green, we can agree that Renaissance charters are funded with public tax dollars but it is very debatable about how public any charter school really is.

Remarks of Commissioner Farah Jimenez

At the conclusion of the public speakers, Ms. Jimenez made a point of stating that she wished to “set the record straight” regarding the granting or denying of any charter school application.  She declared that the SRC is not able to consider the fiscal condition of the School District of Philadelphia when making these determinations.  APPS members, along with many members of the community, challenge this position on both moral and legal grounds.  It is simply a convenient cover for the real business of the SRC: to turn as many neighborhood schools that time allows into private, corporate fiefdoms.  Ms. Jimenez seems not to have heard Chair Neff when she explained her “No” vote on the turnarounds of Jay Cooke Elementary and Samuel Huey Elementary with her statement that this is still “a zero-sum game”. In fact, Neff has voted to deny all new charter applications since her appointment in 2014.