Ears on the SRC – February 8, 2017

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by Diane Payne
February 14, 2017

Ears on the SRC: Special Meeting February 8, 2017

This special meeting of the School Reform Commission was held for the sole purpose of voting on the three remaining charter school applications. A total of five applications were submitted to the district by the November 15th deadline, but the Metropolitan Philadelphia Classical and the Wilbur Wright Aerospace and Aviation Academy applications were subsequently withdrawn. The three remaining applicants were Deep Roots Charter School, Friendship Whittier Charter School, and KIPP Parkside Charter School.

Commissioners present included Chairwoman Joyce Wilkerson, Commissioners Farah Jimenez, Bill Green, and Christopher McGinley. Governor Wolf’s newest appointment, Estelle Richman, has not yet been confirmed by the State Senate, but she did attend the meeting as an observer.

Hearings to analyze the applications were held in December and January by the Charter School Office (CSO) with outside hearing officers overseeing a panel for each applicant. The only notice for these hearings were buried on the district website, so APPS members were not present at the December hearings. However, one or more APPS members attended the January hearings for four applicants (Wilbur Wright Aerospace withdrew before the hearing process, Metropolitan withdrew after).   APPS’ Research Committee has written analyses of each charter based on the application itself, information given at the hearing, and independent research.

The CSO also had significant concerns about each of the remaining three applicants. Their reports can be found here on the School District website.

Resolution from the Floor
The SRC voted to approve a resolution to amend the speakers policy for this meeting only. The number of speakers was capped at 24. This policy had actually been implemented before the SRC voted to approve. The resolution was not posted before the meeting or on the resolution list distributed, thus it is considered a “resolution from the floor”. The Sunshine Act settlement between the SRC and APPS stipulates that the public must be given an opportunity to speak on any new resolution. However, no opportunity was given for the public to speak on this. That is a clear violation of the Settlement Agreement.

Bearing Witness
The meeting was sparsely attended, with a total of seventeen speakers. Six spoke in favor of approval of one of the three charters; eight, including one Temple professor and seven APPS members, spoke against approval of any additional charters. One reason echoed by those opposed was that the district simply cannot afford any more charters. The statement repeated by Bill Green over the past two years that the SRC can only consider the merits of each application, and cannot consider the financial health of the district, was refuted by Temple professor Susan DeJarnatt and most of the APPS speakers. Questions asked by APPS members again went unanswered. Chair Wilkerson said questions would be addressed at the end but never were. As the SRC continues the demise of our public school system through the proliferation of charter schools, it appears the only group bearing consistent witness and consistently speaking out on behalf of high-quality, equitable public education for all is the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS). Please go to APPSPhilly.net to see and/or read the testimony of APPS members.

Charter School Office representatives Dawn Lynn Kacer and Megan Reamer presented a short overview of each applicant and answered questions from the commissioners. The choice in each case was for the commissioners to vote to approve or deny the charter. However, the SRC made an exception for KIPP, which it has done in the past.

Deep Roots
The first applicant considered, Deep Roots Charter, proposed to serve the Kensington/Harrowgate community with a K-8 school serving 540 students. Most of the commissioners expressed concerns. Farah Jimenez was concerned about financial aspects, Joyce Wilkerson about inadequate financial planning and ELL service. Newly appointed Commissioner Christopher McGinley questioned the charter’s plans for ELL students, its proposed budget, using martial arts as PE, using two diametrically opposed behavior plans, and the charter’s proposed leadership team. This application was denied by a vote of 3 to 1. Although he did not argue with any of those concerns, Bill Green voted to approve. In a questionable move, he addressed remarks to the charter representatives present, encouraging them to reapply soon. Green’s chief of staff, both at the SRC and at City Council, Sophie Bryant, is listed as a founding member of Deep Roots and would be on the school’s board if it were to be approved.

Friendship Whittier
Friendship Whittier Charter proposed to serve the West Allegheny neighborhood with a PreK-5 school serving a population of 695 students. Again, Bill Green extolled the virtues of this charter and encouraged them to reapply while the other commissioners noted concerns. Chair Wilkerson cited holes in the application concerning location, community support, and grounding in PA charter law. Ms. Jimenez noted that they failed to provide a thorough application. Mr. McGinley seconded Wilkerson’s concerns. The vote was 3 to 1 to deny.

KIPP Parkside Charter
The KIPP charter chain, which currently operates five schools in Philadelphia, proposed opening a K-8 serving 860 students in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia. Bill Green made a motion to approve the application with amendments. The CSO outlined the amendments as follows: opening as a K-4 with 500 students, add grades if they reach academic targets for two consecutive years, do not give preference to children of the faculty or children of KIPP graduates, and only one school in a facility.

Commissioner McGinley proposed an amendment to this motion. The amendment was to delay the opening of KIPP Parkside. The reason he gave for this amendment was that KIPP requested a delay in the opening of a previously approved charter application that was granted last month. That delay would place KIPP in the position of opening two schools in the 2018/19 school year with the approval of today’s application. He stated that KIPP admitted to having limited administrative capacity and so he proposed KIPP delay today’s application until the 2019/20 school year.

Marc Manella, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia, was allowed to stand up in the audience during and answer questions and offer explanations during this discussion.

The vote on McGinley’s amendment was approved and the vote on the amended KIPP application was approved unanimously. The KIPP Empire continues to grow in Philadelphia even though, as noted by two APPS speakers, two of the KIPP schools are presently in the Intervene category on the district’s website.

The Role of SRC Commissioners
The state-imposed SRC was established, nominally, to safeguard our public schools. Yet, at every turn, we witness the decimation of our public school system through the annual approval of more charter schools. The destabilization of neighborhood schools also results from the continual implementation of whatever fad turnaround method is invented for that year (Redesign, Transformation, Internal Turnaround, Contract Schools, etc) and through the passage of resolutions that squander our resources and promote further privatization and out-sourcing. Bill Green was a cheerleader for all three charter operators at this hearing. He encouraged the companies to reapply in spite of their flawed applications. Even though seven different speakers pointed to the financial harm our public school children will be left to bear again and the other avenues that could be considered not one commissioner acknowledged this issue. It is way past time for local control.