Ears on the SRC – May 19, 2016

SRC 5-19-16

By Diane Payne

May 23, 2016

 APPS Presence

APPS members continue to bear witness to the actions of the state-imposed School Reform Commission.  Whether the meeting is crowded or sparsely attended, we testify every month on crucial issues, not the least of which is the SRC’s lack of transparency and public accountability. APPS members were present to call “shame” on the SRC when it convened its stealth meeting to cancel the PFT contract. This month APPS members Karel Kilimnik, Diane Payne and Robin Lowry spoke on a number of issues. To view their testimony, go to APPSphilly.net.

Among the public speakers was a dedicated group of Penrose School parents from Southwest Philadelphia. They voiced their anger and frustrations at both the district administration and the Penrose school administration’s failure to support their hard work toward redesign.  There is never a penalty for district’s failures but schools are labeled and then closed, turned over to charters, and subjected to the chaos and churn of the turn-around model.

SRC Rejects Charter Office Report, Changes Procedure to Hold Up Non-Renewal of Renaissance Schools

After watching the machinations and manipulations of the SRC over the past year, in particular the meetings which have taken place this April and May, it is clearer than ever that the SRC will do whatever it takes to create and maintain charter schools at the expense of public schools.

Last month the SRC was set to vote on resolutions for non-renewal of four Renaissance charters: Universal Audenried, Universal Vare, Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson. Dawn Lynn Kacer, Director of the SRC Charter Schools Office (CSO), presented her report outlining the academic, financial, and managerial issues which led her office to recommend non-renewal. Commissioner Green interrupted the proceedings several times for various points of order and to question Michael Davis, head of the Office of General Counsel, about the ramifications of voting or abstaining. The resolutions for non-renewal were tabled until the following month.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Green openly tabulated the possible votes on the non-renewals. He then abstained so that there would only be two affirmative votes, resulting in “no action” once again. Green made no mention of the City Controller’s report, issued the day before the meeting, which also contained many criticisms of the Aspira and Universal schools. In April, Green said he did not think the SRC should vote on the issue until the Controller issued his report.

Observers were surprised to see that Aspira was allowed to have attorney Kenneth Trujillo make a special presentation to the SRC. He originally identified himself as a “special master”, then as “oversight counsel”, but said he was not a representative of Aspira. It was never made clear who Trujillo represented or why he was speaking on the Aspira resolution. Trujillo was a candidate for mayor in last year’s primary election; Pedro Ramos, former SRC Chair, was a partner in the firm of Trujillo, Rodriguez and Richards until recently. Trujillo was listed as a speaker, but was not limited to three minutes; in fact, the SRC engaged in a 15-minute long dialogue with him. The SRC did not explain why Aspira was permitted to offer additional information after the CSO made its recommendation, nor did they say how they came to the decision, before the meeting, to withdraw the non-renewal resolution for the Aspira schools.

Commissioner Jimenez then stated that Aspira had made academic progress, although she cited no data on either of the schools in question. She said that she did not want to close an “academically successful” school because of the behavior of the adults who manage it.  Apparently Jimenez believes that once a school is placed into the Renaissance program, it will remain a charter no matter how much malfeasance is conducted by the adults who run it. Questions have been raised by the public and by City Council members on how Jimenez can be effective when she has to recuse herself from so many votes due to possible conflicts of interest.   Last month, Jimenez took a position as Director of the Philadelphia Education Fund, an organization which has as its mission influencing the policies of the school district.

Commissioner Simms asked Kacer whether her office had used the SPI in its evaluation, even though the district has not used the SPI for three years.

There is a very clear double-standard when the SRC decides the fates of charter and public schools. No parent from Cook, Huey or Wister was permitted any special representative or given any more than three minutes. In fact, there really is no legal procedure, as we found out when we requested copies of the Evaluation Committee Reports from the three schools—only to be told by the district that “no such reports exist”.

More Corporate Reform Measures

Resolution A-2 Donation: $33,000 Acceptance of Donation from Philadelphia Schools Partnership – Tuition for Relay Graduate School of Education – National Principals Academy Fellowship. 
This resolution passed unanimously, with no questions or discussion.  The Relay Graduate School is not an accredited institution of higher learning; it was created by corporate entrepreneurs including one of the founders of KIPP.

Resolution A-4 Donation: $306,210 Acceptance of Grants/$438,885 Acceptance of Donation from the Philadelphia Schools Partnerships – Building 21, James Blaine Elementary, William D. Kelley Elementary and Science Leadership Academy. 
When PSP throws money at something, you can be sure there will be a corporate reform to follow. We will stay tuned to see what kind of professional development, assessment materials, training, and coaching will follow.

Resolution A-5: $70,000 Grant Acceptance from the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern N.J. – Partnership Coordinator. 
The resolution states: “This funding will result in the matching of external corporate and volunteer resources to the actual and current needs of schools.”  We are living in an age where terms like non-profit, foundation, volunteer are disguised to mean corporate take-over and corporate reform.  Our schools should not be a charity.  They deserve fully funded, equitably resourced schools that will provide the educational environment and professional staffing our children deserve.

Resolution A-35 Operating Budget: $42,000 Contract with Kelly Services – Substitute Staffing and Management. 
Even though the failed contract with Source4Teachers left schools reeling in stress and chaos, the SRC has decided to go the out-sourcing route again.  Working with the PFT to develop improved substitute services is anathema to the SRC’s mission of privatization…so buckle up Philly schools…let’s see how this new company will measure up.

Next Meeting

A second Action Meeting is scheduled for this month on May 26, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street.  At least some of those Charter School Office non-renewal recommendations will be voted on at this meeting.  To register to speak you must call the SRC office at 215-400-4180 by 4:30 of the day before the meeting.