by Diane Payne
June 3, 2017
This regular Action Meeting of the SRC had been scheduled for the specific purpose of voting on the FY 2017-18 budget. In the three days before the meeting, however, several items were added, including the unannounced reconsideration of Deep Roots charter, whose application was rejected 3-1 in February. All five commissioners attended.
Eight APPS members gave testimony in defense of public education.
SRC’s Willful, Continuous Violations of the Letter and Spirit of the Sunshine Act
The 2016 Commonwealth Court-ordered settlement of the suit brought by APPS after SRC violations of the Sunshine Act stipulates that resolutions must be posted two weeks prior to each meeting. Unfortunately, there have been repeated violations of this settlement agreement by the SRC. The resolution summary for May 18 was not posted in time. Some resolutions have only a title, but no description, which was the case for all of this meeting’s resolutions with one exception. In the case of the charter school resolutions, the SRC now designates every charter amendment—new applications, renewals, amendments—as “quasi-judicial’, then uses that unexplained designation as justification for 1) not providing full resolutions and 2) discussing charter business in executive session instead of in open meetings. APPS has repeatedly questioned the legality of hiding information from the public regarding the crucial actions on charter school applications, but the SRC continues to stonewall. This SRC changes policy on a whim (the number of speakers at the May 1st meeting was limited to 24 total, and half were from one school), breaks its own rules (conducting the April 27th and May 1st meetings after Commissioner Green left the meeting in violation of policy 006.1), and ignores the Sunshine Act—all the while paying lip service to transparency and community engagement.
The Deep Roots Charter Sham
This issue alone shows the depth of the corruption of the SRC. Their actions before and during the meeting on Deep Roots leave no doubt that it has, and will, put the interests of charter operators and investors before those of the students, parents and communities.
The SRC waited until three days before the meeting to post a resolution (with no text, just a title) to vote on a revised Deep Roots application—which has yet to be released by the district. There was no explanation of why this charter company was back only three months after it had been rejected. In fact, the Charter Office director acknowledged that there were “no substantive differences” between the first application and the revision.
APPS’ Deb Grill repeated many of the same points she made in February about the obvious inadequacy of Deep Roots’ curriculum, teacher recruitment, ELL resources, etc. She noted, again, that Logan Blyler, the school’s projected instructional leader, has only five years teaching experience, all in charters. He has no principal or administrative certification, although he is allegedly pursuing one at the “School Leader Fellow” program with Jounce Partners, a program comparable to that of Relay Graduate School. Jounce’s program is new, untried and lacks any evidence of success. Deb reminded the commissioners of the intense, scripted teacher coaching plan which can only result in high teacher attrition. Those teachers, in the revised application, would actually be paid less to work a 12-month year with only short breaks. Deep Roots’ mission statement says it will teach “motivated” students without addressing how to motivate the others.
The new proposal increases the allocation for nursing services to $30,000. Nursing services are outsourced with an unnamed health services provider to provide mandated health screening and other services in the Pennsylvania School Code. A nurse will be at the school several days a week. To pay for this, they reduced the salary of teachers from $50, 00 to $47,500. This includes an extended year for students and teachers of 188 days and 20 days of professional development for teachers.
The application actually invokes both Restorative Practices and No Excuses models without acknowledging that they are contradictory; this was cited by the hearing examiner in January as an indication that the application was a cut-and-paste from other charters, particularly KIPP. Deb asked whether those commissioners who had worked with Deep Roots board member Sophie Bryan would recuse themselves. Bryan served in several high-ranking positions in the district, including the Superintendent’s and Charter offices. She also served as Green’s chief of staff when he was in City Council. (No one abstained when the vote was taken.)
Karel Kilimnik told the SRC that Deep Roots’ application had “holes big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through”.
SRC Perpetuates Expensive Farce
The SRC approved Deep Roots by a vote of 4-1, with Dr. Chris McGinley casting the lone No vote. In a 4-minute comment, McGinley gave several reasons why he would not vote to approve. None of the other commissioners responded to his concerns, and as usual, there was no public debate.
The actions of the commissioners just prior to the vote raises several concerns. Commissioner Green, who voted to approve Deep Roots in February, said he was not sure how to respond to the roll-call because he was looking at a resolution “to approve with conditions”. This was news to the audience, as no resolution had been posted or distributed, and no conditions were ever mentioned. Lisa Haver called out, “Can we get a copy of that resolution?” Chair Wilkerson did not respond. Wilkerson hurriedly called up Ms. Kacer to read the conditions, none of which had anything to do with the academic program. One stated that the school had to have by-laws. Why would a new charter applicant, for a school not yet in operation, already need conditions?
Green then asked what the “legal ramifications would be” if the SRC voted to deny the application. Keep in mind that Green has said, at almost every charter approval meeting, including the one he chaired in 2014, that the SRC could only consider the merits of the application itself, not any other factors such as the financial health of the district. Perhaps more disturbing were the comments from new Commissioner Estelle Richman. Seemingly echoing parent activist Tomika Anglin, who called for the SRC to make a new PFT contract a priority, Richman twisted those words to somehow justify voting for Deep Roots. Richman said she was voting to approve so that the district would not have to pay for lawyers if the school appealed a denial because the district’s priority should be getting the teachers a new contract. (Please don’t ask us to explain, because we don’t follow that either.)
Leaving aside the fractured logic and lame justification of Richman’s remarks, the vote sends a clear message to future applicants: the SRC will approve any application, no matter how bad, so that the district won’t get sued in the case of denial by both SRC and the state. Education activists will need to inform Richman, maybe at the next meeting, of how many millions the SRC has paid lawyers to persecute district employees (the latest being Marianne Kennedy) and file gratuitous appeals. Richman has also attended all budget hearings, so she has heard CFO Uri Monson say at every one that the biggest driver of increased district costs is more charters. The icing on the cake: the June 15 Resolution Summary proposes spending an additional $8.5 million for outside legal firms.
Finally, if fear of the state charter school appeal board’s decisions drives their votes, does it not make this whole process meaningless? The CSO and the charter agree to conditions that may be moot if a charter is approved on appeal. But…those conditions are simply what the school must do in order to follow the law. What a farce! What an expensive, convoluted, farce that is played out with public tax dollars and at the expense of children in both the public schools and the charter schools.
Postscript: APPS emailed a request, just five days after the meeting, for a copy of the Deep Roots revised application, which was never released and on which there were no pubic hearings. Not only were we denied, we were told that it would be handled as a Right-to-Know request, which takes months to process. Is this what the SRC means when it says it has a commitment to transparency?
More SRC Charter Cheerleading
Resolution SRC-5 presented another resolution, with no text and no description, for an adjudication for a charter amendment which was denied at a previous meeting. Laboratory is one of the schools created by Dorothy June Brown, who was indicted for embezzling millions from school coffers. The problems and shortcomings of Laboratory have been reported in the local media for years. At the May 1st meeting, when this application was unanimously denied, at the conclusion of the vote, Commissioner Green encouraged the Laboratory staff and parents to resubmit their proposal. He was a cheerleader for Laboratory, but district schools on the chopping block get no similar treatment. No praise, encouragement or second chances are afforded our public schools slated for closing— just ask Wister Elementary parents.
Expensive Lease Agreements
Resolutions A-1 and A-2 both proposed revisions for lease agreements for Center City special-admission high schools. SLA students spoke against the resolution because it ensured their future at the present location for only two years, not four. This issue is another example of poor planning on the part of past and present district leadership. When former district CEO Paul Vallas sold the SD HQ at 21st and the Parkway, he also sold off 55 No. 22nd Street, the present location of SLA, because he deemed it too expensive. Now the district is paying $1.5 million in rent for SLA, and $1.2 million for Constitution, in addition to the schools’ budgets. The leases for these center city schools are expensive. The district now has viable schools with students and staff fighting for continuity but faced with the uncertainty of when, where and how a move will affect their mission and goals.
The $2.8 billion dollar budget passed unanimously. Community member John Tremble pointed out that the SRC was passing an inadequate budget that does not address the inequities in state funding of Philadelphia public schools.No word about a new teacher contract.
Save Our Schools!
Have you heard Dr. Hite say at the SRC and in City Council that he intends to close three more schools a year—for at least the next five years?
Please attend the APPS Community Rally on June 15, 3:30 PM, before the SRC meeting. Please come to speak out about the affects of the closing of your community school has impacted your community. Our students have been traumatized enough!
If you are a teacher or parent from a school that was closed, we are urge you to sign up to speak at the June 15th SRC meeting after the rally about the how the closing of your school affected our children and their community. If you know of a student who might be interested in speaking, please let us know.
To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14th.