By Diane Payne
March 24, 2016
Rally and Cry
This SRC meeting was preceded by a rally—sponsored by Parents of Wister, NAACP, PFT, APPS, PCAPS, and Parents United—in front of the school district administration building. Speakers addressed the district’s failure to provide the resources needed for thriving public schools. A large and noisy presence of Mastery supporters on the other side of the steps periodically disrupted the speeches of parents and community members, including the president of the local NAACP. Once inside the auditorium, a vocal contingent of the Mastery supporters occasionally ridiculed and disparaged teachers and parents of Wister, as well as those supporting their fight to keep Wister public.
What is noteworthy about this scenario is that it plays right into the hands of the corporate machine. This strategy of pitting community members against each other serves to secure the power and profit of the few over the democratic voice of all. Parents, students, teachers and community members all want the same thing; a fair, equitable and safe education for our children. Although we want the very same thing we find ourselves divided by a promise that some see as salvation for their child while others know is the handing over the democratic rights of every child. The corporate model promises what we all want for our children but comes with two costly price tags: the continued disinvestment of traditional public schools coupled with an alarming loss of democratic rights.
Eight members of APPS provided testimony at this SRC meeting: Diane Payne, Deb Grill, Karel Kilimnik, Carol Heinsdorf, Lisa Haver, Barbara Dowdall, Kristin Luebbert, and Robin Lowry. (To see videos of these presentation or read the transcripts, visit APPS members testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.) The testimonies called out the SRC and Superintendent Hite for a wide range of dereliction of their duties to safeguard public education.
Payne spoke to their failure to truly support Public Education in their many actions and policies. Grill, Kilimnik, and Heinsdorf all spoke on the comments of Commissioner William Green, made at previous SRC meetings, that the law forbids the SRC to take into account the financial situation of the district when voting to approve new charter schools. They pointed out that attorneys at the Education Law Center have publicly refuted Green’s statements.
Kilimnik also called out the commissioners for failing to be present at any of the meetings held at the seven schools targeted for takeover—but having three commissioners present at one school’s meeting on whether they would have to relocate.
Haver demanded an explanation of one particular communication between Commissioner Green and executives of the Philadelphia School Partnership on the Wister matter.
APPS received a copy of an email, through a right-to-know request filed last month, in which a PSP representative (Green admitted to a NewsWorks reporter that it was either Mark Gleason or Mike Wang) told Green that: “Several PSP board members intend to call Feather and Sylvia and encourage them to move for and/or support a resolution to transfer Wister to Mastery.” The email was dated SIX DAYS before the January SRC meeting in which Commissioner Simms unexpectedly introduced such a resolution. The email (whose greeting is “Hi, Bill”) highlights the ongoing cozy relationship between Green and highly ranked members of PSP (the billionaire-funded pro-charter advocacy group with easy access to the SRC).
Dowdall spoke movingly of the long and storied history of the Germantown schools which she attended—including Fulton Elementary, Roosevelt Middle and Germantown High—which the district has closed or converted or handed over to charters. Luebbert showed how the district has embarked on a systematic mission of disinvestment in the one remaining public institution—public schools—that still serve as anchors of their communities after the factories and jobs have left. Finally, Lowry’s heartfelt and heartbreaking remarks as a teacher under siege at Wister Elmentary School highlighted the district’s lack of concern for public school students, staff and families.
There was a lengthy list of 56 speakers, with about equal numbers speaking both for and against continued charter growth. Speaker Greg Paulmier, 12th Ward Leader (Germantown), informed the SRC that he has filed a complaint with the State Ethics Board as a result of the SRC’s actions in the Wister matter.
Cooke parent Danyelle Campbell presented a large posterboard petition with over 500 signatures of parents, teachers, students and community members demanding that the district keep Cooke public and not turned over to Great Oaks Charter.
Community member Rich Liuzzi called the SRC out for its neoliberal agenda in privatizing our district schools while failing to get behind the community school model which could strengthen our public schools.
Mastery supporter Esther Sawyer testified that Mastery has helped her to advance her career through enrollment in a Relay Graduate School. Using this as an accolade is further proof of the corporate model inherent especially in a charter chain like Mastery, as the Relay School has been extensively written about as a bogus, corporate, pretend venue of advancement. See the following links for articles on the Relay School.
Green and Jimenez, Rationalizations and Justifications
As soon as public speakers finished, Mr. Green put his spin on the issue of the Education Law Center’s recommendation that the SRC may indeed use “distressed district” financials as a legitimate reason to curb charter growth in the district. Actually, his remarks confused rather than clarified; he seemed to think that the public doesn’t understand that his comments reflect only his interpretation of the law.
Ms. Jimenez used her time to respond to Kilimnik ‘s remarks calling them out for attending an SLA meeting on relocation while failing to attend any meeting at Wister, Huey, Cooke, Munoz- Marin, Rhodes, Roosevelt, or Mitchell meetings on change that affect every aspect of the school’s existence. Ms. Jimenez made the irrelevant statement that the district did hold meetings at that school. Of course, Kilimnik’s question was: why did no SRC commissioners attend those meetings? Did Jimenez not pay attention or was she just trying, like Green, to confuse the issue?
The SRC performed its usual vote-in-lockstep on the pages of resolutions before them; and, as usual, with the exception of a few abstentions by Ms. Jimenez, all resolutions passed unanimously. A few questions were asked by Chair Neff and answered by Fran Burns on resolutions dealing with amendments to contracts, One resolution just posted that day was the sale of M. Hall Stanton to KIPP for $650,000. Real estate transactions around school closures are a source of worry. Our public school buildings are left to fall into ruin and students to languish this then justifies the district’s closure plans. The subsequent real estate transactions are a subject worthy of close scrutiny.
One Last Shady Development
Two days later, the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer announced: District settles suit over cameras. After years of litigation, at a cost of over $1.5 million in legal fees, the district finally agreed to pay $725, 000 to the district employee who was fired by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman after he blew the whistle on her no-bid contract to place cameras in district buildings. According to the Inquirer: “The resolution approving the settlement was not among those posted online in advance of Thursday’s meeting. District spokesman Fernando Gallard said it was added right before the session and was among documents available to the public at the meeting.”
What Gallard fails to explain is why the resolution was never posted with the other resolutions online, or why the SRC did not explain to the public the circumstances of this settlement. Because it was not available until the beginning of the meeting, no member of the public had any opportunity to comment on it or even ask a question about it. This is one more reason why APPS continues its fight to make the SRC obey the Sunshine Act.