by Diane Payne
June 4, 2018
All four sitting commissioners were present for this meeting. Three members of APPS and several community members spoke in defense of public education, including six who opposed Dr. Hite’s plan to close Strawberry Mansion as a comprehensive high school. They cited reasons why the Strawberry Mansion community needs to keep a high school open in the rapidly gentrifying area.
Commissioners Attempt to Justify Failing to Carry Out Their Public Duty
Two Commissioners offered justifications for voting to approve charter schools despite having serious concerns about them. Commissioner Fran Burns read a statement at the beginning of the meeting about the SRC’s approval of another Franklin Towne Charter school. Chairwoman Estelle Richman, along with Commissioner Burns, admitted that there were several areas in which the Philadelphia Hebrew Charter School (PHCS) application was deficient–just before voting to approve it.
At the previous meeting, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver asked the Commissioners to explain why they approved the Franklin Towne Charter Middle School (FTCMS) re-application after it had denied virtually the same application in February. APPS had sent the SRC a letter asking for an explanation but received no response. Haver pointed out that FTCMS had failed to address concerns raised by the Charter Schools Office (CSO) in over thirty areas. Burns said she had an explanation but would not answer until the next meeting (even though Haver had ceded most of her time so the SRC would answer then). At this meeting, Burns said that she voted to approve even though there was serious concerns because she felt the “conditions” imposed by the CSO addressed those concerns. That is, a charter operator can submit a seriously flawed application, not once but twice, and the CSO will rewrite it for them, adding conditions that the charter company had not yet agreed to, paving the way for the charter to begin to collect tax dollars.
What Commissioner Burns failed to address: the fact that Franklin Towne Charter had already begun the appeals process to the state Charter Appeal Board (CAB), signalling that the school would not agree to the conditions. In fact, General Counsel Lynn Rauch had announced at the beginning of the meeting that the SRC had discussed FTCMS’s appeal in Executive Session earlier that day. Never has any charter operator appealed an approval vote–why would they? FTCMS, whose political connections are well known, seems to be testing the waters, for their own benefit as well as the benefit of other charter investors, to see whether the CAB will allow them to be granted a charter with no conditions about enrollment size, ESOL and Special Ed regulations, student diversity, and a host of other issues. The SRC thought that it could play the system by approving an admittedly inadequate application while, in essence, rewriting the application. But the SRC got played. The outcome of this appeal could have disastrous consequences for the district’s public schools.
At the end of the meeting, just prior to the Hebrew Charter vote, Richman and Burns echoed each other’s statements that they had serious concerns about this application. So why not vote to deny? They said that they were afraid of an appeal to CAB, so, they would approve the application with conditions. They know that nothing is stopping PHCS from taking the same action that Franklin Towne has. Richman went so far as to say her concerns included: the severely limited resources available, that this school does not represent options we should be putting those limited resources into, and this neighborhood is not in critical need of another charter school (charter school saturation). Of course, these are all reasons that APPS members cited during the year’s charter application process–and in past years’ hearings . Why does fear of an appeal guide their vote and not the strength or merit of the application nor the financial harm caused, nor the need for an additional charter school? And none of these excuses mean anything after they voted to deny APM just minutes later. Did they already know APM would not appeal? No way to know, as the re-application process is not a public one. Isn’t it the SRC’s duty to protect student interests and taxpayer dollars by voting for what is right and just and not what they fear?
District Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson gave his final presentation on the budget for the 2018/19 fiscal year. The SDP budget is based on projections, as are the budgets of all agencies dependent on city and state funding.
Commissioner Green questioned Monson on what the city has done to fund this budget, which he characterized as “an illusion based on shifting sands” just before voting No. As a former City Councilman, Green is aware that city and state budgets are no guarantee of funding. He did not allude to the fact that the State Legislature won’t pass a budget for at least another month; most of the district’s funding comes from Harrisburg, not the City of Philadelphia. He asked whether any City Council member had proposed a tax increase to fund schools (taking the opportunity to call out Councilwoman Helen Gym, who has criticized Green’s record). Does Green read the papers or listen to the news? Mayor Kenney had proposed a property tax increase in March; Council is expected to vote on it later this week. The Green Screen failed to hide the truth. Neither he nor Monson mentioned that “…City Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced a bill that would end the break for real estate taxes owed to the School District of Philadelphia, effectively halving the abatement. She said the Council isn’t seeking an end to the development incentive but rather, reform.” Changes to Philly construction tax break under review
What Green never mentions are his efforts, or lack thereof, on behalf of funding for the schools. Did he testify on behalf of funding at City Council? Has he trekked to Harrisburg to lobby for fair funding for Philadelphia? Has Green protected existing funds by voting against charter school applications and renewals, especially when concerns are present and poor performance is noted? Does Green vote against resolutions that spend money on low-quality graduate schools like Relay and TNTP? The answer to all those questions is NO.
Charter School Free-for-All Continues
Four charter school resolutions were on the agenda. As usual, no text or description was posted online or distributed at the meeting. The resolutions were not read into the record before the vote. These are all clear violations of the PA Sunshine Act.
SRC-5 Proposed Action on Revised Charter Application – APM Community Charter School (Updated 5.24.18)
SRC-6 Proposed Action on Revised Charter Application – Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School (Updated 5.24.18)
SRC-7 Application for Charter Renewal – Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages (Updated 5.24.18)
SRC-8 Proposed Charter Amendment – Ad Prima Charter School (Updated 5.24.18)
SRC-5 considered the resubmission of APM’s applicationto open a new charter school. APM has no prior experience running a school, and the application contained numerous flaws and deficiencies. It was denied in February and denied again at this meeting. Although APPS is happy that this flawed application was denied it does beg the question: why no SRC fear of this school appealing to the state charter school board?
SRC-6 was the resubmission of the Hebrew Philadelphia Charter application. This application has been submitted by charter operators from New York. It was denied in February and approved today. Two commissioners, Burns and Richman, voted to approve despite serious concerns. Dereliction of duty?
SRC-7 presented the renewal application for Laboratory Charter school. For some reason, Laboratory is listed by the district as one school despite the fact that it has three different locations: a K-3 in 19131, a 4-8 in 19131, and a K-8 in 19123. How many charter schools have multiple locations in various parts of the city yet are listed as one school? The vote on Laboratory had been tabled since April 2017, when the CSO recommended non-renewal, citing a long list of failure to meet standards in academic, organizational, and financial categories. The CSO stated that Laboratory had addressed most of its deficiencies, but since this is another area in which the public has no oversight, there is no way to verify this. No detailed information was presented about the school’s financial condition. One remaining area of concern is the fact that ten of the eighteen IEPs reviewed were not compliant. This is no small matter, and it is an indication that other issues are not being resolved. Ignoring that, the SRC voted to approve.
SRC-8 considered Ad Prima charter’s request to relocate one of its schools to a neighborhood across the city. (Ad Prima is another charter with two separate K-8 schools which the district lists as one). This amendment would allow them to move one K-8 school from 3556 Frankford Avenue in Kensington (19134) to 8034 Thouron Avenue in East Mt. Airy/Cedarbrook (19150). The new location is 8 miles from the present one and approximately a one-hour commute. Questions were raised by APPS members at the meeting, but since there was no staff presentation except for a very brief one just before the vote, and no deliberation about it at this or any previous meeting, it is difficult to address specific issues. Lisa Haver, in her testimony, asked whether the parents or community members in Cedarbrook had been surveyed or even notified about the fact that a charter would appear directly across the street from Edmonds Elementary at 8025 Thouron. They had not and would not be. Building conditions were cited as a reason for the move, yet district students struggle daily in buildings with similar issues. Why do charter schools have the advantage of moving when district schools do not? Schools should be anchors in their neighborhoods. Why can charter schools uproot neighborhood anchors?
To add to the confusion, representatives from Deep Roots, at this meeting and the previous one, indicated that they wanted to move into the building Ad Prima would be moving out of. We can only assume that Deep Roots will submit a request for an amendment for relocation–even though they haven’t even opened the school. Why are charter operators negotiating with each other? Why is a charter school that has yet to open its doors already requesting a move? Yet another scene from the Wild West of Philadelphia charters.
Voting and Next Meeting
There were thirteen resolutions on this meeting’s list. SRC 1-3 (proposed budget) passed 3-1 (Green dissenting). SRC-4 (Calendar change) passed unamimously. SRC-5 (APM) was denied in a 3-1 vote with Bill Green the sole vote to approve. SRC-6 (PHCS) was approved 3-1, Commissioner Neff dissenting. Both SRC-7 (Laboratory renewal) SRC-8 (Ad Prima’s move) both passed unanimously, as did the remaining five resolutions.
The SRC spent $25,304,595 at this meeting. This included another $116,250 to the unaccredited TNTP school for principal coaching.
Deborah Grill’s testimony transcript for the SRC meeting of April 27, 2017 | APPS (concerns about TNTP)
The next SRC meeting is scheduled for June 21, 2018.(Call 215-400-4180 by 3:30 PM the day before in order to sign up to testify.) This may be the last meeting of this failed, state-imposed SRC.