by Karel Kilimnik
The August Agenda continues the ten-year spending spree of the Hite administration that sends money out of the District and into the coffers of consultants and contractors. This agenda includes a $175,000 contract with Old Sow for a School Leader Coach (Item 43); a $371,000 contract with Partners in School Innovation (Item 40); and a $129, 870 contract with SupportEd, LLC. The services enumerated in Item 40–professional development, teacher coaching services, school leadership development—used to be provided by in-house staff. Central office staff have been systematically diminished, along with knowledge of curriculum and ability to provide consistent, informed, and relevant support. In the past, people rose through the ranks into top administrative positions. Some started as parent volunteers and classroom assistants before gaining college degrees. Others rose from teacher to principal to regional supervisor but came up within the District, not imported from elsewhere. Teachers and other school staff spent decades in one school, forging bonds with families and each other. Today, increasing staff turnover, following the corporate model of disruption for disruption’s sake, continues to destabilize school communities. Is this really what we want for our students and our District? These two contracts for professional development may seem small, but they represent the ongoing commitment by this administration to undermine the experiences, education, and knowledge of educators. Given what we continue to experience as we make our way through this pandemic, instability and erosion of trust undermines academic progress. Years ago there was robust professional development in the District provided by teachers, principals, and other school staff familiar with both the District and the city. College credits were often granted, sometimes stipends given to purchase resources to be used in classrooms. Philadelphia is home to a wealth of museums, archives, libraries, environmental centers, and nature preserves. Decades ago, this helped to create the original Parkway School, a place where students engaged in hands-on learning. Instead of nurturing educators to grow and share, there is now a full-fledged thriving business sector. One recent example: the District contracted with consultants eager to create financial opportunities instead of hiring local educators from the Melanated Educators Collective and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee who are already offering anti-racist work in schools.
Dr Hite, a 2005 graduate, appears on the Broad Superintendent Academy website. Founder Eli Broad told Diane Ravitch ten years ago that he didn’t know anything about education but he did know management. Lack of management skills, Broad said, was the biggest problem in education. Broad spent some of his immense wealth to privatize public education in Los Angeles and in other cities, whether through charter schools or outsourcing services and resources. Many of the senior District staff on the “Our Leadership” page have attended the Broad Academy. The Board has approved funding Broad Resident positions for the past three years. Broad Residents come to districts with a perspective that sees education as a business, a transaction between providers and consumers. Actually, education is a human right, not a commodity. Infusing this market-based perspective into District leadership undermines public education.
The Board continues its speaker suppression policies, limiting the number of student and adult speakers and allowing only two minutes to speak.
September Action Meeting: Thursday September 23, 2021 at 4 PM. Check the District website for updated information on attendance and how to sign up to testify.
Diane Payne, Deborah Grill, Ilene Poses, Kristin Luebbert and Lisa Haver contributed to this report.
Action Items of Note
For complete list, go to Board of Education/ Meeting Materials on the District website.
Action Item 4: Authorization of Keystone Opportunity Zone
The Board of Education, upon consideration of the request of the City of Philadelphia, hereby resolves to consent that, subject to and contingent upon approval by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of the extended designations, all real estate taxes imposed on real property located in the designated Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZ) identified below are abated, and a person or business subject to realty use and occupancy tax with respect to real property located in the Zones may claim one hundred (100%) exemption from such tax, all subject to the conditions set forth in City of Philadelphia Bill No. 190848, and further subject to the agreement of the City of Philadelphia that, with respect to applications for extension pursuant to Act No. 79 of 2008 (the “Act”), amending, Act No. 92 of 1988, the Keystone Opportunity Zone Act, and 1237, Act No. 16 of 2012, the City shall provide notice to the Board of Education at the time such application is submitted, and of the date of the application and identify of all properties for which exemptions and abatement are sought in such application; provided that no property shall be included in any Zone unless the owner of such property has entered into an agreement for “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (“PILOT”), containing such terms and conditions as will provide for the maximum payment amount permissible under Section 310 of the Act, as amended; and further, the Board of Education hereby authorizes and directs the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform such PILOTs, which PILOTs shall be separate agreements between the School District of Philadelphia and property owners and between the City and property owners…(read full Item on District website)
APPS Analysis: At the September 20, 2018 Action Meeting, the Board approved Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties that included 100 parcels. Many public speakers at that meeting (and the August meeting) challenged the notion that properties located in gentrifying or productive areas of the city should be included as KOZs. KOZs receive 10 years of tax abatements for developing properties in high needs, blighted parts of the city. Yet developers gain tax breaks from properties that only a flawed system would consider blighted. Philadelphia remains the poorest big city in America, but Philadelphia’s developers thrive. Many also questioned the lack of transparency about who developed the score card used to rate properties up for KOZ consideration; why all properties do not specify who is developing it; and why these decisions are often made so hastily. This month, two questionable properties are on the agenda: 4101-23 Market Street in the Penn/Drexel campus area, and 1325 Beach Street, a riverfront property that appeared on the September 20, 2018 agenda. Why is it on the agenda again? Curbed Philadelphia says of the Beach Street address: “Mapping the building boom along the Delaware River. Big changes are coming to the Delaware River Waterfront. Everything from an 11-acre park at Penn’s Landing to a massive residential village in Pennsport.”
This Board should vote NO on both of these properties. It is time to stop rewarding developers while nothing changes for most Philadelphia residents.
Action Item 5: Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School – Request for Location
Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School has submitted a request to the Board to change the location of the Charter School from its current building at 1420-22 Chestnut Street to a building at 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Charter School will continue to be authorized to serve 600 students in Grades 9-12. Evaluation Of This Amendment request has been completed by the Charter Schools Office and can be accessed here. The Charter Schools Office has recommended that the Board of Education approve the the amendment to change the Charter School’s location. The Board of Education will consider this location change amendment request.
APPS Analysis: With every vote on charter business, the Board violates the state’s Sunshine Act. The Board’s item description does not include the formal agreement for location change that they will be entering into with this charter school, operated by IBEW Local 98. Not long ago, Philadelphia Electric and Tech charter proposed moving to a new facility on American Street. Why this new request?
Action Item 12: Extension of Agreement for Services with Dentrust P.C, DBA DocsHealth for COVID-19 Testing ($6,000,000)
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform an amendment of a contract, subject to funding…With:
- Dentrust P.C.
- Purpose: Extension of agreement for COVID testing on a monthly basis through the start of the school year to end no later than the end of October in order to ensure a smooth transition to vendors selected from Competitive RFP Number: NG10058 – COVID Testing Program Administration
- Start Date: 5/3/2021/Current End Date: 10/31/2021
- Amended End Date: 10/31/2021
- Currently Authorized Compensation: $800,000
- Additional Compensation: $6,000,000
- Total New Compensation: $6,800,000
Description: As part of our effort to protect the health and safety of our employees and students, this contract will provide on-site asymptomatic employee COVID-19 testing at District work sites, manage Stationary Mobile Sites for student and employee symptomatic testing, and provide supplemental support to the School District in its efforts to test students in its schools as necessary and support a smooth transition to vendors selected through a competitive procurement process. Extension of the agreement for COVID testing on a monthly basis through the start of the school year, to end no later than the end of October, will help to ensure a smooth transition to vendors selected from Competitive RFP Number: NG10058 – COVID Testing Program Administration… (Read full Item on District website)
Action Item 13: Contract for Services with TBD for COVID-19 Testing (Pending)
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding…With:
- Purpose: To provide on-site employee COVID-19 testing for District work sites, manage Stationary Mobile Sites for student and employee symptomatic testing, and provide supplemental support to the School District in its efforts to test students in its schools as necessary for the 2021-2022 school year.
- Start date: 9/1/2021
- End date: 8/31/2022
- Compensation not to exceed: $30,000,000
To ensure the health and safety of our employees and students, this contract will provide on-site asymptomatic employee COVID-19 testing at District work sites, manage Stationary Mobile Sites for student and employee symptomatic testing, and provide supplemental support to the School District in its efforts to test students in its schools as necessary. COVID testing directly supports the Board of Education’s Guardrail 1 to ensure a safe and healthful space for students and employees. A robust testing program can boost students’ and employees’ confidence about returning to schools… (Read full Item on District website)
APPS Analysis: Many teachers are justifiably more concerned with conditions inside of school buildings and classrooms than they are with asymptomatic Covid testing. Teachers are currently seeing huge class sizes on their rosters, making even 3 feet of distancing impossible. Most buildings continue to have significant ventilation problems and many are extremely overcrowded. This amount of money could be better spent on lowering class sizes by hiring more teachers and support staff and amelioration of ventilation issues.
Item 18: Change Order Summary, Various Vendors ($1,009,308)
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform amendments of contracts to account for change order modifications to on-going construction projects at various locations, as follows…
Purpose: To pay additional amounts necessitated by change orders for ongoing construction projects
Description: This action item is to approve modifications to active construction contracts for new construction, major renovations and life cycle replacement projects approved in the Capital Budget. The change order process addresses modifications to contracts for work that is added, deleted, or otherwise modified from the original project design and scope of work. Change orders occur due to design errors, design omissions, unforeseen conditions, and requests from the District to ensure completeness of the project… (Read full Item on District website)
APPS Analysis: Action Item 18 proposes change orders in contracts for ongoing work, totaling $1,009,308, distributed to eighteen contractors. Change orders are the expenses incurred when unanticipated construction demands arise. They are a normal part of building and remodeling as any homeowner who has undertaken a home project knows. The question with the District is one of transparency and accountability. When the District posts Action Item change orders, only generic information is provided: the name of the school, the name of the contractor, and the area of work–plumbing, electrical, etc. Specific information is never provided: who generated the change order, the contractor or the District? What created the need– unanticipated challenges or human error? As stewards of taxpayer money, this Board needs to demand full accountability in order to adequately monitor District funds. The total amount spent on change orders this school year has reached $7,333,803.
Item 39: Adoption of Academic Calendar SY21-22 (As Amended)
Resolved, that the Board of Education authorizes the School District of Philadelphia to adopt the amended Academic Calendar for school year 2021-2022 as attached.
Purpose: The modification of the academic calendar is needed to add Full Day Professional Development/School Closure dates throughout the year. The dates are: September 29, 2021, October 27, 2021, December 8, 2021, February 9, 2022, March 9, 2022, and April 6, 2022.
APPS Analysis: The District, having not planned professional development days in advance so that they could be approved along with the rest of the school calendar, is asking the Board to amend the calendar only a week and a half before the first day of school in order to add six full days of professional development. These six dates are all Wednesdays, which makes this proposal a significant change from previous years. In the past, professional development has been scheduled using half days on Fridays, a much less disruptive schedule for both instruction and child care. This proposed change adds another last minute scheduling burden and additional costs to the plates of parents who are already struggling to find child care to accommodate the changes to school start times, and belies the district’s concerns about “learning loss” by taking up even more instructional time than in a typical year.
Action Item 40: Contract with Partners in School Innovation – Professional Development ($371,000)
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding, as follows:
- With Partners In School Innovation.
- Purpose: To provide professional development, teacher coaching services, school leadership development, and other supports for the purpose of school transformation.
- Start date: 8/20/2021/End date: 6/30/2022.
- Compensation not to exceed: $371,000… (Read full Item on District website)
APPS Analysis: The item states that Partners in School Innovation (PSI) “… is essential to build the capacity of teachers and leaders, as well as strengthen adult learning systems in ways that build a culture of continuous learning and growth for adults and children.” Nowhere does Partners in School Innovation explain how they will help students achieve and learn. This contract pays PSI $371,000. There was a time when professional development in the District meant a successful educator sharing with other educators ways to teach place value, decoding skills, use of text to support positions or make inferences; and staff would actually learn something. Couldn’t the money allocated to PSI be better spent using the expertise of Philadelphia educators? How does Partners in School Innovation really benefit the students? PSI started work in the district in September 2015. What are the metrics to show their success? Having participants fill out a survey does not provide hard data showing how the academics of students improved.
Action Item 41: Contract with Demetrius Weaver – Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, $50,000
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding…With Demetrius Weaver. Purpose: Provide coordination and collaboration of partnerships, as well as help students with postsecondary bridging and experiences that will help them gain insight into their college and career goals. Start date: 8/1/2021/End date: 6/30/2022.
APPS Analysis: In the June 2020 Eyes we wrote: “Would students in all District middle and high schools benefit from access to a school-based Partnership Coordinator? This is the second Item, the first in August 2019, that funds this position at SLA-Beeber. As noted in the Introduction, all three SLA schools receive support from Inquiry Schools, a non-profit that grew out of the original SLA school established in 2006. Chris Lehmann, founder of both SLA and Inquiry Schools, drove the creation of two additional SLA Schools, SLA-Beeber and SLA Middle School (SLAMS). We do not question the mission or achievement of these schools, but we do question why some schools receive more support than others.” Those questions have yet to be answered.
Action Item 43: Contract with Old Sow Coaching &Consulting LLC, School Leader Coach Training, $175, 000.
The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding…with Old Sow Coaching & Consulting, LLC…for Training and professional development for school leader coaches and Assistant Superintendents… (Read full Item on District website)
APPS Analysis: The District should not need to hire a coaching and consulting company to train the people they have hired to coach their newly hired coaches. Was it not part of the requirements that the new hires have job expertise and experience in coaching leadership? They should already have the knowledge and ability to coach “new, struggling and aspiring leaders.” Other than the founder Kristen Olson, the Old Sow Consulting website lists no actual employees. The website describes the company as “a group of collaborators and journeyers,” and posts pictures of individuals and company logos as collaborators. None of these collaborators are from the area; none have any real experience in a school building or an urban school system. Several have worked primarily with charter schools and non-profits; one focuses on psychotherapy, “So(U)L coaching” and “spiritual direction”. Another focuses on school redesign and competency-based education. There are two links to a course at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. Corporate ed reform language abounds on the consultant websites.
One wonders why the district is outsourcing principal training individuals who have never worked in a school setting as either a teacher or administrator. How can one effectively train individuals to coach principals when they have no real knowledge of what a principal needs to be successful?