by Diane Payne
Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioners Estelle Richmond, Chris McGinley and Farah Jimenez were present for the entire meeting. Missing in action once again was Commissioner Bill Green. Green has been exhibiting a disdain for his position by failing to be present for part or all of five meetings since April. No other commissioner has had such an abysmal attendance record. Green has come in at the tail end of two meetings this year, after staff presentations and public speakers, but was still permitted to vote. He has left two other meetings early only to call in by phone much later, again, just in time to vote. This time he never showed, and no explanation was given by the Chair. Resolution B-1 Donation: $2,700,000 Ratification of Acceptance of Donation of Services and Resources from Temple University had to be withdrawn by staff because McGinley and Wilkerson abstained due to their Temple employment. That left the vote an unpassable tie of 2-2. This resolution was to accept “the donation of professional development services from Temple University to improve leadership, instruction and parent engagement of English Learners valued at $2,700,000 for the period commencing September 1, 2016 through August 31, 2021”
APPS once again calls on Chair Wilkerson to address the issue of the disappearing commissioner. If Green cannot or will not perform his duties, he should resign.
Eleven members of APPS attended the October meeting; two addressed the Commission on matters of defending public education. A number of other speakers called on the SRC to vote to dissolve itself now. When the first speaker, student speaker Samuel Dennis, requested the SRC introduce a resolution to abolish, Chair Wilkerson denied his request. The Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalition members, bearing signs, stood in solidarity. When Wilkerson refused, the members of OCOS loudly chanted “tick – tick – tick…” for the remainder of Samuel’s three allotted minutes, (during which Wilkerson tried to bring up the next speaker) symbolizing time running out for the undemocratic, unelected SRC.
Conduct Unbecoming to a Public Figure
Public school parent and Central High teacher George Bezanis spoke on school governance and laid out his case for why the SRC should vote to abolish itself. He pointed to Governor Wolf’s current poll ratings which are not encouraging. He cited two likely Republicans for the next gubernatorial election: State Senator Scott Wagner and PA House Speaker Mike Turzai. Both men have been vocal in their support for privatization and their antipathy toward union workers. The election of either of these Republicans would result in the appointment of SRC commissioners charged with carrying out their agenda–we could even end up with five more years of Bill Green. Bezanis held up a January 2014 Philadelphia Daily News issued the day that then-Governor Corbett, at the last minute, backed out of an appearance at Central, which would have been Corbett’s first visit to any Philadelphia public school. The front-page caption under Corbett’s picture said: Gov Gives the Central Finger. Bezanis noted that the same day Corbett nominated Bill Green and Farah Jimenez for the SRC and that they have been “giving Philadelphia’s public schools the central finger since then”. Bezanis was referring to the many votes both have cast supporting privatization, corporate influence, charter expansion and of course the cancellation of the teacher’s contract vote in 2014.
What Jimenez did next was an abuse of power and appallingly unprofessional conduct. After Bezanis sat down, Jimenez said, “ We have seen this speaker before. He knows nothing about me. He is a lazy thinker and orator….who often resorts to vitriol and personal attacks.”
Bezanis did not resort to any personal attack. Bezanis is a district parent and staff member speaking about the public voting record of two commissioners. Jimenez, on the other hand, is a public figure whose actions are open to public scrutiny, public comment, even public condemnation. She is a member of the governance structure that decides the educational future of our children. Members of the public do have the right and the obligation to speak up for what they believe their schools and their children need. Unfortunately, this SRC body is accountable to no one, lacks any kind of democratic checks and balances and fails any transparency test. Jimenez was wrong. She should publicly apologize to Bezanis and to the members of the public who witnessed her verbal attack on a public speaker.
The list of reasons for Jimenez’s resignation continues to grow, including her need to abstain from votes on charters represented by her husband’s law firm and her own leadership of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) which has business with the district.
Are the Days of the Unaccountable, State-Imposed SRC Numbered?
APPS members and other advocates for public education have long called for dissolution of the SRC and a return to local school control. Last year, about seventeen public school stakeholders (including advocacy groups, unions and faith-based groups) formed a coalition to push for the abolition of the SRC. The Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalition, of which APPS is a member, has conducted a campaign using a number of strategies: getting the message out in the media, speaking at SRC meetings, crafting creative actions to illustrate the importance of ridding Philadelphia of the SRC, and lobbying City Council, Mayor Kenney, and Governor Wolf. The SRC must vote to abolish itself by December 2017 in order to insure that it is out before the next gubernatorial election. The Public School Code outlines a specific timetable which must be followed. With little certainty regarding the outcome of the next election, Philadelphia can take no chances on a possible Republican governor. Hence the sense of urgency.
At this meeting, Chair Wilkerson called on Interim General Counsel Miles Shore to give a presentation on the specifics of abolishing the SRC under the the School Code and the Philadelphia City Charter. This did not appear on the agenda, and Wilkerson hastened to add that there would be no “decisions, deliberations, or timelines discussed” at this meeting. She was requesting public clarification of the process since it has come up repeatedly at recent meetings. (Thanks OCOS!)
Shore noted that under Section 696(n) of the Public School Code, the mayor would appoint a nominating panel of thirteen individuals. This panel would suggest three names for each of the nine school board seats, a total of twenty-seven recommendations. The mayor would then select nine individuals from these twenty-seven recommendations.
Shore noted that the Secretary of Education “may” agree to dissolve; the code does not “require” him to agree to dissolve. The drop-dead date for the SRC abolition vote is December 31, 2017. There are sections of the School Code which would no longer be in effect with the dissolution of the SRC including the prohibition on striking by district unions.
For the first time, there is a real sense that Philadelphia will finally be rid of the SRC. The time is now for the mayor to step up to the plate and have an honest discussion with all stakeholders in the city to determine the future of our local control. We will not accept decisions made at closed-door meetings of the usual power brokers. The people of Philadelphia have been disenfranchised long enough. We call on the mayor to be inclusive, representative and transparent as we move forward with this process.
Richard Allen Preparatory Charter Non-Renewal Recommendation
School district Charter School Office Director DawnLynn Kacer gave a presentation on the CSO’s non-renewal recommendation for Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School. The CSO rates schools in three categories: Academic Success, Organizational Compliance and Financial Sustainability. In the category of Academic Success, Richard Allen approached standards in 2014/15 but did not meet standards in 2016/17. (No explanation of how those are different, since approaching a standard means it has not been met.) For Organizational Compliance, Allen did not meet standards for either year. For Financial Sustainability, the school did not meet standards in 2014/15 and approached standards in 2016/17. (You can see the full CSO report here.)
Chair Wilkerson went to great lengths to assure the Richard Allen supporters that even if the SRC votes for non-renewal, that is only the first step in a process and doesn’t necessarily mean the school will close. Failing charter schools are afforded the opportunity of an extended process before being closed, but public schools, like Wister Elementary, are handed over to charter operators or closed with no requirement for public hearings or legal appeals.
One man speaking on behalf of Richard Allen noted that the Charter Schools targeted for closure were the independent, African-American operated schools – like Richard Allen. This speaker may have a point. Charter school networks like Aspira and Universal seem to be exempt from charter renewal timelines. Mastery has had several low-performing schools awaiting a decision on renewal for over a year. Last spring, the SRC failed to vote on the CSO’s non-renewal recommendation for many underperforming network charters; in fact, they have simply disappeared from the SRC’s agenda. When will the SRC vote on the charter renewals for Aspira Olney and Stetson, Universal Vare and Audenried—all of which were recommended for non-renewal by the Charter School Office on April 11, 2016?
Resolutions SRC 1, 4, and 5 passed unanimously in one voting block. SRC-4, non-renewal for Richard Allen, passed 3-1, with Jimenez the lone No vote. Resolutions A-1 through A-24, also voted on in one block, passed unanimously. Resolution B-1 had to be withdrawn by staff due to Bill Green’s absence. That left the vote an impassable tie 0f 2-2. Resolutions B-2 to B-21 were voted on in a block and passed with unanimous yes votes. Finally, IU-1 was also a unanimous Yes vote.
The SRC spent a total of $20, 431, 564.00 at this meeting.
Next SRC meeting: Thursday, November 16 at 4:30 PM in the 2nd floor auditorium at 440 N. Broad Street. Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM the day before in order to sign up to speak.