by Diane Payne
November 27, 2017
All five Commissioners were present for this historic meeting of the School Reform Commission. Resolution SRC-3— Recommendation of Dissolution of the School Reform Commission was passed at 7:35 p.m. with a 3-1-1 vote. Commissioners Wilkerson, Richardson, and McGinley voted in favor, Commissioner Green voted against, and Commissioner Jimenez abstained. This joyous occasion ended sixteen years of state-imposed control of our city’s schools. There were cheers, hugs, dances, and high-fives when the resolution passed. The tireless and persistent effort of the Our Cities Our Schools coalition of parents, teachers, students, unions, and community advocacy groups made this happen. [See APPS’ statement on the end of the SRC and what should come next.]
Our City Our Schools (OCOS) and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) organized a celebratory rally outside district headquarters just before the meeting. APPS co-founder Lisa Haver addressed the crowd, along with Councilwoman Helen Gym, State Senator Vincent Hughes, PFT leaders, parents and community members. There was much to celebrate on this new day, one that signaled the end of a state-imposed system that brought austerity and corporate reform for a perfect storm of devastation to the city’s public schools
Having worked for the preservation and improvement of public education for over five years as an organization, and for many years as individuals, APPS members know that this is not the end of challenges for our school system. We will continue to advocate for the what other districts in Pennsylvania have had for many years: schools that provide the education our children deserve governed by a democratically elected school board.
Some of the Philadelphia news outlets and their coverage of this important event:
Defenders of Public Education
Ten members of APPS attended this meeting; nine of them spoke in defense of public education. To view their testimonies and other defenders of public edcation, go to APPSPhilly.net and click on Supporters of public education celebrate the demise of the School Reform Commission.
Green Explains No Vote, Jimenez Justifies Abstention
Commissioner Green, who missed all or part of five SRC Action Meetings this year, took the opportunity to make a lengthy statement explaining his No vote on return to local control. In short, Green doesn’t think Philadelphians are ready for local control. Green gives lip service to fiscal responsibility, but he continues to ignore the warnings from district CFO Uri Monson that charter expansion diverts more money from public schools every year.
Commissioner Jimenez felt the need to make a speech about why she was taking no stand on the issue—just before declaring that she had “no choice” but to abstain.
Block Voting and Speeches—But Little Discussion
The SRC’s practice of voting on resolutions in large blocks, with little or no deliberation, continues. A total of twenty-eight resolutions appeared on this meeting’s agenda. The commissioners lumped resolutions A-1 to A-15 into one vote, resolutions B-1 to B-10 into a second vote, a vote on SRC-1 and finally the “memory maker” vote of SRC-3. Four votes, twenty-eight resolutions, no discussion, and a total of $9,768,510 spent.
Grants totaling $3,609,154 were accepted. In this age of manipulation of public policy through the largely unexamined actions of nonprofits and philanthropies, all grants and donations should be examined carefully for conditions and hidden agendas. The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) proposed a $160,000 grant to “…fund the salary and benefits for two grade teachers at Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS) …” for the 2017-18 school year.
The $2.7 million grant from Temple, (postponed from October’s meeting because of Green’s absence) was approved. Universities are becoming more influential in curriculum and spending decisions in the district. Careful examination of how our tax dollars are spent, and guarding against hidden agendas that come with grants and donations, remain crucial, no matter who gives money or what the stated purpose may be.
The District Cannot Afford New Charters
After years of operating under a somewhat self-imposed bare-bones budget, and teachers getting no raise for five years, district leaders now say the district is experiencing a period of fiscal solvency. The district has enough money to pay its bills with a slight fund balance for this year and next. But, CFO Uri Monson predicts there will be a deficit beginning Fiscal Year 2019 and growing at least through FY22. Monson has stated for the record during budget hearings, SRC Action meetings, and in City Council that the single biggest drain on the district budget is payments to charter schools.
Given this impending fiscal crisis, one would think that the SRC would monitor charters closely to make sure that tax dollars are being spent wisely. APPS members have been asking since April 2016—when the SRC voted to postpone votes on their renewals— about seven Renaissance charters whose 5-year terms expired over a year ago: Aspira Oney and Aspira Stetson; Universal Audenried and Universal Vare; Mastery Clymer, Mastery Shoemaker, and Mastery Gratz. The SRC’s Charter School office, providing an extensive list of academic and financial violations, recommended non-renewal for all four Aspira and Universal schools and renewals with conditions for the Mastery schools. The Commissioners feel no need to address nor explain the abdication of their duty in bringing these schools’ charter renewals to a vote. Why should they when they are accountable to no one?
Apparently empowered by the SRC’s decision to fund their schools despite their inability to perform, Aspira, Inc. has submitted applications for two new charters. The charter experiment has been a failure in Philadelphia, especially costly to the communities who have lost neighborhood public schools. Questions about charter operators gaming the system financially, academically and organizationally go unanswered.
Next SRC Meeting
The next SRC Action Meeting is scheduled for December 14, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. in the 2nd floor auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street. (This public information had been available on the front of the home page of the district’s website until they “improved” the website. You now have to click three times to find the date of the next SRC meeting.) To register to speak at this meeting you must call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 on the day before the meeting.