Eyes on the Board of Education: February 25, 2021

by Lisa Haver

“In addition to having ending points and ending dates for the interim guardrails, the Board has adopted interim guardrail ending points for each year leading up to the ending date.” From the Board of Education’s Goals and Guardrails

Three new Board members will be seated at this remote Action Meeting.  Each will likely make a speech about their backgrounds, beliefs and positions on education issues.  In a democracy, people should hear this before casting their vote for the candidates they want to represent them.  But Philadelphians remain disenfranchised, in more ways than one. We cannot vote for our School Board members. The Mayor shuts the public out of the entire Nominating Process. City Council lobs softball questions at the nominees at its confirmation hearing.  Who is listening to the parents, students, educators and community members?

At its January Action Meeting, the Board cut off almost every speaker mid-sentence. The Board, apparently in agreement with member Julia Danzy, caught on a hot mic last summer complaining about how many people had signed up to speak, got busy finding ways to shut out District parents, students, educators and community members. Without a public vote, and without any prior notice or explanation, the Board cut back every speaker’s time from three minutes to two. The Board also limited the number of speakers at every meeting, no matter the number of Items on the agenda. They voted, again without explanation or deliberation, to abolish two more of its Committees, thus eliminating the venues that they established with the promise of more dialogue with the community.

The Board made sure that no one could sign up to speak in opposition to Dr. Hite’s building reopening plan, closing the window the day before Hite’s press conference. APPS sent a letter to the Board demanding that the speaker policy changes, implemented in violation of the state’s Sunshine Act, be reversed. We also told the Board that all business must be conducted before they embark on their next marathon conversation on the Goals and Guardrails. No public speaker should have to wait three hours to be heard. We received  no response.

March Board of Education Action Meeting:  Thursday,  March 25, 5 PM.  Check the Board website for updated information on how to sign up to testify.

Note: Diane Payne and Deborah Grill contributed to this report.

Action Items of Note

Find the full List of Action Items here. Note: The Board added 4 new items on Friday, February 19. Action items 19 to 22 deal with agreements with those providers who will perform COVID testing and staff vaccinations.

Action Item 8: Contract with Various Vendors – Furniture and Equipment for the New School on Ryan Avenue ($4,900,000 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:  [See District Item List for list of contractors]
  • Purpose:  Purchase of furniture and equipment for the new K-8 Elementary School on Ryan Avenue
  • Start date: 2/26/2021    End date: 2/26/2022
  • Compensation not to exceed: $4,900,000

District Description: The adopted and approved Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) includes the construction of the new Elementary School on Ryan Ave. The new 180,000 square foot building will open in September of 2021 as a K-8 school with a Science, Technology, Engineering , Art and Music (STEAM) focus. This theme will be integrated throughout the K-8 curriculum.  The new school consists of 70 classrooms (regular and special education), six (6) science labs, two (2) computer labs, two (2) art rooms (one of which will be graphic arts), three (3) music rooms (one of which will be a digital keyboard lab), and two (2) makerspaces (K-5 and 6-8), health suite, gymnasium, instructional material center (IMC), cafeteria and multiple administrative offices to provide support to parents, teachers and students. The project budget includes the purchase of new furniture and equipment for the newly constructed school.  Furniture will be procured from vendors who are a part of the PA Commonwealth Cooperative Programs. By using the identified vendors, we are guaranteed the lowest, most competitive price. The Office of Capital Programs has established a delivery deadline of July 1, 2021, to ensure all spaces are furnished in time for the opening of the new school. This work is in support of the Operations goal to provide safe and healthy learning environments for all students.

APPS Analysis:  According to the description, this new building will contain an Instructional Materials Center (IMC),a term which in the past described a school library.  Does this mean that the district will commit to staffing that IMC aka library with a certified school librarian? That  would show that the District is taking immediate steps to make sure the students in this school have a chance of fulfilling the District’s goal to have students reading on level by grade 4.  Studies done in 25 states have shown that students who attend schools with certified librarians score better on reading and writing tests than students in schools without library services. Low-income students benefit the most. (School Library Impact Studies)  A well curated school library collection provides students with print and online materials at a variety of interests and reading levels.  A school library has the depth and breadth of reading materials to meet all students’ literacy needs as well as an instructor who will teach them how to find and evaluate online and print information—a skill so much needed in these days of “fake news”.  The District now has fewer than ten school libraries staffed with a certified school librarian.  If the Board is sincere about providing students with a well-rounded and equitable education, it will make sure this new school, and every existing school,  has a school library staffed by a certified school librarian.

Action Item 9: Amendment of Contract for Professional Environmental Design and Testing Consulting Services ($8,000,000)   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, as follows:

  • With:  Batta, Inc., Vertex, Inc., REPSG, In., Criterion Laboratories, Inc., West Chester, Inc., G&C, Inc., Synertech., Inc., USA, Inc. 
  • Purpose:  Additional funding for professional environmental design and consulting services
  • Original Start Date:  6/22/2018         Current End Date:  6/30/2023
  • Currently Authorized Compensation:  $11,180,000
  • Additional Compensation:  The selected qualified firms will share from a pool contract not to exceed the additional aggregate amount of $8,000,000, for a total aggregate amount of $19,180,000.
  • Total New Compensation:  $19,180,000

District Description: The Office of Environmental Management Services is in need of additional  funding for professional environmental and testing services to support the  adopted Environmental Safety Improvement Plan. Environmental design and  testing services are required to comply with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHP), and the Philadelphia Asbestos Controls Regulations, and to address deteriorated lead-based paint surfaces and mold needing to be remediated in school buildings. The professional services include testing, laboratory analysis, design services, site inspection, quality assurance, and regulatory compliance monitoring for asbestos, lead and mold abatement and remediation projects. These contracts are necessary to support ongoing capital improvement projects, as well as day to day facilities management, maintenance and operations activities. Evaluations of services are performed and overseen by the Office of Environmental Management Services. The work is in support of the Operations goal of providing safe, healthy and welcoming learning environments for all students.  This items [sic] supports Board Guardrail 1: Every school will be a safe, welcoming, and healthy place where our students, staff and community want to be and learn each day.

APPS Analysis: Professional services including testing, laboratory analysis, design services, site inspection, quality assurance, and regulatory compliance monitoring for asbestos, lead and mold abatement and remediation projects are necessary measures to ensure safety in District buildings. But the results must be easy to locate and easily understood by District staff and families.  Members of the public continue to tell the Board about the difficulty in locating and interpreting information about building conditions.  Jerry Roseman, the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher’s environmental specialist of 35 years, has intimate knowledge of District buildings.  Engaging Mr. Roseman in a collaborative effort would go a long way in repairing trust in District’ efforts.

Action Item 11: Ratification of Contract Amendment with Parsons for District Facilities Master Plan ($1,574,584) The Administration recommends that the Board of Education ratify the execution and performance of an amendment of a contract by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, subject to funding, as follows:

  • With: Parsons Environmental and Infrastructure Group Inc.
  • Purpose: Additional services to complete a District Facilities Master Plan
  • Original Start Date: 5/15/2015
  • Original End Date: 9/19/2021
  • Amended End Date: 6/30/22
  • Currently Authorized Compensation:  $3,756,336
  • Additional Compensation: $1,574,584
  • Total New Compensation: $5,330,920

District Description:  The Office of Capital Programs has identified a need to request additional services from the Parsons Environmental and Infrastructure Group Inc. (Parsons) to conduct and complete a District Facilities Master Plan (FMP) by late Spring of 2021. The purpose of this work is to create a critical strategic plan supporting a Capital Campaign to address identified needs and promote investment in the Districts development of a long term multi-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Priorities of the CIP include maintaining the physical integrity of existing facilities, upgrades to meet code requirements and educational program needs, replacing systems that have exceeded their useful life, and the construction of new facilities and additions to meet changing needs.  The Parsons team will work in collaboration with the Office of Capital Programs, the Office of Facilities and Maintenance, the Office of Real Property, and the Office of the Superintendent of Schools. The scope of the work consists of the following six tasks to be completed by May of 2021: Project Initiation and Data Review, Educational Review and Programmatic Priorities, Educational Adequacy Assessments, Develop Standards for Ranking Building Needs, Preparation and Presentation of the Facility Master Plan and Public Engagement. The project will be managed by representatives of the Operations Division under the guidance of the Chief Operating Officer to ensure compliance with the defined scope of work. Success will be measured by Parsons’ ability to  meet schedule and produce timely submission of the deliverables.

APPS Analysis: “ Facilities Master Plan” is a term that strikes fear into the hearts of those who lived through the SRC’s devastating closing of 23 neighborhood schools in 2013. The Board has already begun to discuss closing more schools, along with staff layoffs.  The Hite administration launched its Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) last year. Those conducting the review have already begun to explore closing schools, including Sheppard Elementary in North Philadelphia.   In answer to one of its FAQs , “Who is helping with this review”, the District answers, “We are collaborating with community-based planning committees, district leaders, and national experts to consider data and identify options and recommendations.” The community-based committees were chosen by District administrators and are closed to the public. Are the District leaders collaborating with other District leaders? Which “national experts”? Does that mean the staff of Flo Analytics with whom the District has contracted? How can the Board justify outsourcing a $5.3 million contract to assess District facilities? Why can’t the Facilities Chief and his staff conduct a study? APPS urges the Board to reject this contract.

Action Item 12:  Change Order Summary-Various Vendors for $497,567 Action under consideration: 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:

With:  Robert Michaels and Associates, Inc., Devine Brothers, Inc., Jack Cohen & Co., Inc., Eagle I Electric, Inc., Lorenzon Brothers, McGoldrick Electric Inc., The Bedwell Company, Paramount Electrical Service, LLC, Hyde Electric Corporation, Ernest Bock & Sons, Inc., Lex Electric Company, Inc., Murphy Quigley Company, Inc., Dolan Mechanical, Inc., Mulhern Electric Company, Inc.

  • Start Date:  2/26/21       
  • End Date:  Through completion dates for previously approved contracts.
  • Compensation not to exceed:  $497,567    [See District Meeting Materials page for full list of contractors]

District 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. The Office of Capital Programs reviews, negotiates, and approves change orders subject to Board approval so that construction work is not interrupted due to change orders. This item is to pay additional amounts necessitated by change orders for ongoing construction.

APPS Analysis: Every month, change orders appear on the list of Action Items totaling hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars.  Every month a generic list is published containing each vendor’s name and the amount that vendor is receiving.  The description states: “Change orders occur due to design errors, design omissions, unforeseen conditions, and requests from the District to ensure completeness of the project.”  What is never shared publicly about  these Action Items:  who is responsible (District or vendor) and what necessitated the change order (error, omission, unforeseen condition). Why can’t the District clarify whether each one was a vendor error, District error, or some other reason necessitating the increase in spending?  We know from the Ben Franklin/SLA fiasco that the change order amounts were flagrantly mismanaged due to District failures and costing millions in additional spending.  Shouldn’t the Board monitor this more closely?