Ears on the SRC – March 22, 2018

Click the picture to view the video.

Supporters of public education speak before the March 22nd SRC

APPS member Ilene Poses at 0:00
(Click here to read the transcript of Ilene’s testimony)
APPS member Diane Payne at 3:16
(Click here to read the transcript of Diane’s testimony)
APPS member Lisa Haver at 6:15
SRC vote on Resolutions at 8:02

Ears on the SRC: March 22, 2018

by Diane Payne
April 2, 2018


Three of the remaining four commissioners were present for this special budget meeting of the SRC: Chair Wilkerson and Commissioners Richman and McGinley.  Farah Jimenez departed the position abruptly and without explanation in January leaving four commissioners; Governor Wolf said he will not appoint a replacement.  Commissioner Bill Green has assumed a laissez-faire attendance record since April 2017.  It is not uncommon for Green to be absent, come in late in time to vote on resolutions (often totaling millions of dollars), miss staff presentations and public speakers, or leave early and call in to vote.  This is now the seventh time he has been absent since April 2017.  In the waning months of this lame duck SRC, Green continues to exhibit a pattern of behavior that would not be acceptable in the students whose welfare he has been charged to oversee.

 Six members of APPS were present for this meeting; three spoke in defense of public education.  To see their testimony see the video at top of this page.

 Budget: Resolution SRC-1

The focus of this meeting was the School District’s 2018/19 budget.  The first step in this cycle requires Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Uri Monson  to present an overview of the budget picture.

 There were only three resolutions on this agenda.  Resolution SRC-1 appeared on the agenda with only the title: Authorization of the Issuance of General Obligation Bonds, Series A of 2018,  with no accompanying text.  Monson did give verbal explanations about the good news of increased bond ratings which lowers the SDP’s debt obligation, freeing up money to be used for district capital improvements.  Text appeared on the SDP website under Resolution Summary afterthe meeting.  APPS has been crying foul about this practice for over a year.  When the SRC commissioners vote on resolutions that only have a title available to the public, and there is not even a reading of the resolution in full before the vote, that is a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act. The vote cannot be considered a legal vote. This same tactic is used with all votes on charter transactions–new applications, amendments, and evaluations. The SRC, under direction of the Office of General Counsel, began the practice of labeling all of these matters “quasi-judicial” only about a year ago, and uses that as a justification for hiding information from the public.  No explanation or examination of that change ever took place at an SRC Action meeting or  at any Policy Committee meeting.  The public has a right to know exactly what the members of this governing body are voting for and text should be provided at the time of the vote, not days later.

 This was the first time in many years that the budget presentation was accompanied by good news and guarded financial hope.  The district’s bond rating has improved which means that less money will go toward debt service and more money can go toward district capital improvements.  This good news was well received by all.

 Budget – Resolution SRC-2

Resolution SRC-2 titled Adoption of Lump Sum Statement was accompanied by a summary of the lump sum figures.  Superintendent Hite and CFO Monson gave the staff presentations.  Dr. Hite listed school successes and school investments.  It is gratifying to know that schools are seeing positive trends but sometimes the information presented in a powerpoint presentation stands in sharp contrast to testimony by community members and staff.  At the March 15th  SRC meeting, both a student and teacher from Furness H.S. testified that their budget showed a cut in the Bilingual Counselor Assistants (BCA) in their school which has a 53% ELL population, yet Hite noted in this presentation an increase in BCAs in the district. Where are the additional BCAs going?  How does this help the students at Furness?

 Monson noted that positive financial trends could lead to a more secure financial outlook, if the Mayor’s proposed budget is passed, including: a property tax increase, slowing of the wage tax reduction, increased city contribution, a portion of ride share revenue, and an increase in the local portion of the real estate transfer tax. Again, it is gratifying to see leaders taking steps to acknowledge and fund our schools.  However, APPS stands with the Our City Our Schools coalition (OCOS) in their negotiations with the mayor’s office to secure a funding solution that affects not just the working-class and middle-class citizens of Philadelphia but the more affluent and the business community as well.  To read more about this plan see A plan to fund Philly schools and them some starting this budget season in the Inquirer – February 27, 2018.

 Monson also noted the risks that have to be acknowledged in this budget plan.  The lump sum plan is dependent on the pieces of state and local government falling into place.  If those pieces fail to materialize, the rosy outlook is in jeopardy.

 At the conclusion of the staff presentation, Monson fielded questions from the commissioners. Chairwoman Wilkerson asked a critical question: will there be any school closures in this plan?  The answer was NO. However, recent developments, as noted in the Inquirer, highlight a sneaky, backdoor school closure of Strawberry Mansion High School. If the district calls it “phasing out,” does that allow them to not acknowledge it as a closure?  Again, rules and language change to get what the district wants without public input, public dialogue, or concern for public views.  A neighborhood institution is on the chopping block again without any public involvement.  A charter school – on the other hand – is entitled to hearings and appeals.  Why not our neighborhood schools?

 There will be an additional SRC meeting each month, along with public hearings in City Council, as the district finalizes its budget for the next school year.  Not included in either Monson or Dr. Hite’s presentation was any acknowledgment that PFT members had no raise for over 5 years and no step increases. That certainly contributed to the district’s healthier bottom line.

 Resolution SRC-3

The final resolution, Policy 406, addressed the process by which the district will handle mid-term charter amendments, as the Charter School Law fails to adequately address this issue. The policy committee first addressed this issue at the November 2017 Policy Committee meeting, and it was on the agenda last month for final passage. Charter operators and advocates were granted additional time to make their case that the proposed policy put them at a disadvantage and compromised their independence. A review of charter renewal evaluations clearly shows that is not the case. Charters are routinely renewed even though they fail to meet standards in academic, financial, and organizational categories (Boys Latin and Belmont Charter are just two examples.)

 All three resolutions passed unanimously.  To view the staff presentations and the resolution summaries go to the SDP website and for the Preliminary Five-Year Plan (FY19-23) and Lump Sum Statement (FY18-19). To see the video of the SRC vote on these resolutions go to the video at the top of this page and go to timestamp 8:02.

 Half of SRC Resigns

Just before this edition of Ears was posted, Mayor Kenney announced that his two appointees, Joyce Wilkerson and Chris McGinley, had submitted letters of resignation, effective immediately. The Mayor acknowledged that this move was made in order to have these two commissioners appointed to the new school board. APPS released the following statement last week:

 APPS Statement on Surprise Resignations and Replacements on SRC

The day after the schools closed for spring break, district stakeholders woke up to find out that major changes have taken place in the governance of the city’s public schools.

In a surprise move, two members of the SRC have resigned, and they have already been replaced by two people chosen by the mayor.  The governor has already named the new chair. No mention of these changes was made at last week’s SRC meeting.

These changes, planned and implemented without consultation of district stakeholders, serves to highlight the disenfranchisement of the people of the city when it comes to choosing those who make decisions on the future of the city’s public schools.  The mayor expects the public to pay the bills, including another increase in property taxes, but to have no say in how the money is spent. The stakeholders and taxpayers, apparently, are expected to play the role of passive observers watching as the pieces are moved around the chessboard.

The SRC will be approving a $3 billion budget in the coming months just before its dissolution. This lame-duck Commission will be voting on that budget.

The mayor will be appointing a new school board next week. In violation of the PA Sunshine Act, there have been no public meetings at which the people of the city could weigh in, pro or con, on the candidates, or to raise concerns about possible conflicts.

 Note: APPS published the biographies of these two SRC members in the second installment of its research into the biographies of the 45 nominees from which Mayor Kenney will choose the nine member School Board.