By Deborah Grill and Lynda Rubin
In the week just prior to the June 16th meeting, the SRC added 10 new resolutions to the over-130 already posted. They also withdrew, without explanation, 7 resolutions for charter renewals. Commissioner Farah Jimenez was not present at the meeting, neither in person nor by phone.
Although renewals for Aspira Stetson and Aspira Olney were not on the agenda, Stetson students were in attendance. PA Representative Angel Cruz and Aspira Chairman Fred Ramirez were on the speakers list to speak in favor of the Aspira renewals; neither showed up. Lisa Haver asked whether they were taking part instead in the private meetings which Aspira attorney Kenneth Trujillo had alluded to and that the district had acknowledged were taking place.
Chair Marjorie Neff began the meeting by announcing the results of the on-line survey regarding a change in the starting time of SRC meetings. Neff has never explained why it was necessary to change the long-standing 5:30 meeting time. The choices were 1:30, 4:30 and 5:30. Neff said that a little over 50% of the respondents voted for 4:30. This will make it more difficult for parents and community members who work until 5:00 or later to attend the meetings. At the end of the meeting, Neff mentioned that the scheduled 5:30 PM Thursday June 30th meeting was changed to Friday July 1 at 10 AM; again, she gave no reason. She told APPS members after the meeting that she expects there will be some resolutions on charter renewals. We will monitor the resolutions for that meeting. [As of Monday morning June 27, no resolutions for the Thursday meeting yet posted on SDP website]
APPS members Lisa Haver, Barbara Dowdall, Lynda Rubin and Deborah Grill spoke on a number of issues.
Parent Robin Dixon Roberts spoke about the SRC’s new SAC policy, in particular, the fact that the online copy of the policy to be voted on was password-protected and not available for the public to read. Wister teacher Robin Lowry questioned why money was being spent on Arena Strategies, a lobbying firm whose team members come from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and whose Executive President is on the district’s Charter School Advisory Board. Central High School teacher Galeet Cohen spoke about the increasing financial burdens teachers have been under due to the district’s refusal to negotiate fairly with the PFT. Ms. Cohen respectfully called out Commissioner Green on the disrespectful remarks he has made about public school teachers from his seat on the SRC.
[You can watch video’s of these speakers and read transcripts of their testimony on APPS webpage.]
Nina Bryant, who identified herself as the Education Committee Chair of the Eastwick Community Network, spoke about Penrose Elementary, which has recently become part of Superintendent Hite’s Redesign Program. She expressed concern about some of the changes to be implemented, including a STEM curriculum, after attending a parent/teacher/student meeting at Penrose. In fact, the implementation has been put on hold because some roles had been changed, thus requiring further teacher preparations as well as additional visits to schools which had gone through the same process. Parents at that meeting voiced concern about changes in the school climate and culture.
Ms Bryant questioned the SRC about why many of the Penrose teachers would not be returning for the 2016-2017 school year, including those who contributed to the redesign plan. She told them that the teachers were the “biggest advocates” of the school’s children. She said that the parents even asked the principal if he would be willing to step down in order to keep their teachers.
Penrose is now the third school, joining Tilden and Carnell, at which “redesign” means forcing out teachers for no reason and without due process. (When Blaine Elementary and Kelley Elementary in North Philadelphia were “transformed”, most of their teachers were forced out.) Is Hite’s Redesign Program for the benefit of the children and the community—or is it just one more way to create churn and instability?
Dr. Hite, in answer to a question by Commissioner Green, said that he was “deeply disappointed” that the members of CASA had voted to reject the proposed contract. CASA’s statement, released the day before, made clear that the issue was not salary and benefits. The reasons for rejection included deteriorating conditions in the schools, being held accountable without needed resources, and Hite’s decision to increase highly paid staff at 440 instead of restoring staff to the schools.
Hite said that the proposed contract included a lump-sum payment which would be taken off the table if the contract is not signed by the end of the fiscal year; that is, by the following week. It seems Hite does not hear, or does not want to hear, what the principals are trying to tell him. It’s not about the money—it is about trying to do their jobs in the face of the obstacles placed in their path by his administration.
Russell Byers Charter School was granted a 5-year renewal “with conditions”. Charter School Office Director Dawn Lynn Kacer reviewed the CSO report: Byers approaches standards in Academic Success and Organizational Viability and Compliance; it met the standard in Financial Health and Sustainability. One issue was Byers’ low percentage of students in poverty (36% as opposed to the District’s 65%). In addition, Byers Charter did not meet some standards in Special Education. The CSO cited problems with providing services required by student IEPs, lack of professional development for the special education staff, and inadequate reports to the State.
Chief Academic Officer Cheryl Logan was brought up to answer Commissioner Green’s question on the future of Kenderton Elementary. Last month, Young Scholars, who had been given control of Kenderton less than three years ago, announced that they were pulling out of the school because of the high cost of educating students with special needs, leaving the parents scrambling to figure out what the future of the school would be. Logan reported that: the district is currently conducting an audit of the school climate and culture; it is assembling teams for academic support services and special education services; the district will keep class size in grades K through 12 at a maximum of 21; the district will apply all interventions which YS has been using. Logan noted that Kenderton has a large number of low-incidence students and that their placement in Extended School Year programs in district schools will have to be arranged. District officials have met with the school staff with the intention to keep them on as district employees where possible; the district will help those who may need emergency certifications.
Dr. Hite said that the district can’t take official action until Young Scholars surrenders their charter. [Kenderton announced its intention to surrender its charter five days after the SRC meeting.]
The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia
Chair Neff asked Donna Frisby-Greenwood, President and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, to answer questions on Resolution A-74, in which the district contracts with the Fund, at a cost to the district of $400,000, to “perform direct project oversight of its strategic fundraising activities”. This resolution is an extension of Resolution A-21 from March 2015, in which the district paid $240,00 to the Fund: “The School District of Philadelphia will provide $240,000 in budgeted, one-time funding to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia to support initial capacity building. Thereafter, the Fund will provide the above-described services at no cost to the School District.” [italics added]
Ms. Frisby-Greenwood said that in the past the Fund was only a fiscal agent, but now additional staff must be added, and a more robust website developed, because the development function has been turned over to the Fund by Dr. Hite. She also said that paid staff for the Fund had increased from 1.5 to 2.5, and that the $400,000 is seed money which will be matched by donors.
APPS had sent an email to Ms. Neff prior to the meeting asking her to explain two things about this issue: First, why is the Fund taking money from the district? And why, when the original resolution said it was a “one-time” payment, is the Fund taking $400,000 more from the district? Isn’t it called the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia? These questions were not answered by Ms. Neff or Ms. Frisby-Greenwood.
[See Lisa Haver’s April 2016 commentary on the Fund in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook]
The next SRC Action meeting is Friday, July 1, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street. You must sign up to speak before 4:30 PM the day before. Call 215-400-4180, and identify yourself as a community member when asked your affiliation.