Eyes on the Board of Education: January 17, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Budget Issues

The largest single allotment in the District’s budget goes to the 87 charter schools. Although there are no Action Items on this month’s agenda regarding charters, the Board will consider three new applicants next month. The Board must remember these facts when they decide in February:

  • The District cannot afford any more charters.
  • The Charter School Office is seriously understaffed; it has only 12 staff members to monitor 87 schools.
  • Our review of renewal evaluations shows consistent barriers to enrollment, lack of due process when students are accused of infractions, and expulsion for minor infractions such as uniform violations.
  • Many if not most charters pay rent and management fees to private companies; the Board has no control over those costs.
  • Neither the Board nor the public has access to the financial records of the Real Estate/Management companies which profit from the charter system, thus they have no control over those costs.
  • Administrative salaries and compensation are decided by the boards of the individual charters, not the Board of Education.  Ten charter CEOs, according to the most recent tax information, are paid over $200,000 in salary and compensation–and all of those schools have SPR Achievement ratings which place them in the Intervene category.
  • Charters do not offer “choice” to parents. The charter school chooses its students.
  • The PA Charter School Law has been called one of the worst in the country by many, including PA Auditor General Anthony DePasquale.

According to Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz, the US has the highest rate of economic inequality among “any of the advanced countries”. Gains achieved over the last fifty years have gone almost exclusively to the top 1%.  The destruction of “The American Dream” is felt deeply in our public schools where resources are scarce, union collective bargaining rights are rolled back, and teachers are blamed for this situation even as their wages and buying power diminish. Students suffer in toxic buildings with inadequate resources. . In 2013 the SRC passed Dr. Hite’s Doomsday Budget, resulting in massive layoffs of counselors, teachers, and other support staff. Our District is still reeling from the $1 billion budget cuts implemented by former Governor Corbett. The District is now led by a Broad Academy-trained superintendent. Eli Broad, an advancer of free-market ideology and policies,  is one of many uber-wealthy “philanthropists” pushing their corporate education agenda in public school districts across the country. Experience and degrees in education are secondary. Self-proclaimed innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit will suffice. Charter school proliferation at the expense of traditional district-run schools has been an important strategy in the corporate education agenda of privatization. Relationships in the school community have become secondary to competition and technology.

Ongoing Website Issues

Board of Education members are government officials with a stated commitment to  “…provide our diverse audiences with information that is relevant, timely, and easily accessible.”  If so, then why is navigating their website so complicated? It’s akin to wandering through a labyrinth in search of the exit (or information in this case).

Some questions:

  • Why is information dated prior to 2015-16 still not posted? When the City of Philadelphia made its transition to a new website, users were given the option of using the previous format or the new one. We suggested that the District do the same, but that fell on deaf ears. We were told that it would take about a year to fill in the older documents, but they remain unavailable.
  • Older documents can only be obtained by filing an official Right to Know request, which can take over 5 weeks to process.  It is also an unnecessary waste of staff time to search for information that should be online.
  • Why is nothing posted from the October and November Action Meetings?

The District has a fully staffed IT Department. If  they cannot resolve these issues, they should demand a refund from the vendor that sold them this program. These are public documents that, as the Board acknowledges, should be “easily accessible”. They are not. What is being done to remedy this situation?

Good Working Conditions Keep Teachers–Not Another Expensive Marketing Campaign

In December, we reported on the press conference held by the Philadelphia School Partnership in which they unveiled their new venture to direct applicants for teaching positions–district, charter,and private–to a website created and controlled by that private organization.  Both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney appeared at the event, held in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall. One Board of Education member was present, but when APPS members later asked other Board members how this came about, they responded that they were unaware of this new recruitment system.  In the interest of providing some context, here is a quote from December’s Eyes on the Board of Education:

“Why is the Superintendent of a public school system handing over control of one of its most important functions to a private organization? Is the District Office of Talent now accountable to the Board of PSP?  PSP was created in order to carry out the privatization and charterization of the district. The news media unquestioningly repeats PSP’s identification of itself as a ‘non-profit’ that funds schools. PSP is on record as saying the district’s teachers make too much money. [In 2013] PSP lobbied then-Governor Corbett to withhold funds from the School District unless PFT members took a substantial pay cut and surrendered long-held collective bargaining rights.”

This month, Action Item 3 proposes diverting District funds to a marketing firm to recruit teachers “with a fully integrated plan encompassing radio, digital, and outdoor media channels”. How about building a District where teachers can commit to spending their careers? An essential component of Dr. Hite’s transformation plans ( Acceleration Network, System of Great Schools, Priority and Focus Schools, School Redesign Initiative, etc.) is forcing teachers to reapply for their positions. This constant turmoil creates a level of instability that cannot be fixed by hiring a marketing company.

More Outsourcing

Health Services for Students (Action Item 8) proposes outsourcing these services.  School Nurses provide crucial services every day to students and their families. Were they consulted on this Item?  Action Item 11 would award a contract to WestEd to provide professional development. Again, can’t those services be provided by experienced District staff in the Office of Multi-Lingual Curriculum? Action Item 12 highlights the dearth of school librarians staffed by certified school librarians.  Will the Board make a commitment to bringing back school libraries–or will only students in suburban districts have them?

Next BOE Action Meeting: Thursday February 28 at 5PM.  To register to speak call 215 400 4010 by Wednesday February 27 at 3 or fill out the form on the Board website.

Action Items of Note

Action Item 3: Contract with Magnum Integrated Marketing – School District Recruiting Marketing Campaign (Talent – Contracts)

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: Magnum Integrated Marketing, LLC (Magnum)

Purpose: To support recruitment of teachers and school based support staff through a marketing campaign strategy to targeted candidates with a fully integrated plan encompassing radio, digital and outdoor media channels.

Start date: 1/18/2019; End date: 1/17/2020

Compensation not to exceed: $400,000

Location: Administrative Office(s)

Renewal Options:  Yes

Number of Options: 1       Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1

Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $400,000

Description: An integrated approach to marketing/advertising is critical to allow us to recruit and hire earlier and maintain strong overall applicant volume throughout the hiring season. The fully integrated marketing solution that Magnum offers will streamline messaging and have an improved impact with our targeted audiences. We are seeking to reach to new teachers, experienced teachers, and teachers of color in all subject areas, as well as applicants for school support positions. Getting our message out as early as possible will help us attract the highest quality applicants. The School Reform Commission, through Resolution A-15 dated January 18, 2018, authorized the District to contract with Magnum for an amount not to exceed $490,000 for recruitment marketing and advertising services for the period of January 19, 2018-January 19, 2019, with two (2) one-year options to renew the contract through January 19, 2021, but did not specify the additional maximum expenditure per option period.  Accordingly, as the District plans to exercise the option to renew, it seeks approval of an additional expenditure of an amount not to exceed $400,000 for each option year.  Renewing the contract allows the District to avail itself of Magnum’s deep expertise in marketing and advertising in the Philadelphia area and Magnum’s strong client references and capability to devise and implement a successful market strategy.  The Talent Office actively monitors the reach and impact of the marketing efforts using metrics supplied by Magnum as part of the contract. [bold added]

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Anchor Goal 1 – 100% of students will graduate ready for college or career, Anchor Goal 2 – 100% of 8-year olds will read on or above grade level, Anchor Goal 3 – 100% of positions are filled by great principals, teachers and employees

Related resolution(s)/approval(s):  January 18, 2018; A-15

Funding Source(s): FY 19-21- Operating

Office Originating Request: Talent

APPS Analysis: The  banner on the Magnum Integrated Marketing website proclaims its mission of “Building Brands that Drive Revenue.” Their other clients are businesses, mostly restaurants and casinos. Education is not a business, as much as the corporate education world wants us to believe that.  Education is a human right. The Broad-trained Superintendent Hite, for the past six years, has continued to outsource services and provide financial resources to the private sector. Whether it’s this Action Item to recruit educators or to turn Substitute Services over to a private vendor or to outsource Special Education services to businesses such as Catapult, Dr. Hite seems to be on a mission to shrink the unionized workforce. If the Board votes Yes on Action Item 3, and renewal options are approved in the near future , the District will be paying a total  of $1,290,000 to a marketing firm for services previously performed by District staff–recruiting teachers. Why are so many teachers leaving every year? Could it be their working conditions have become intolerable? the five years spent without a contract? administrators creating untenable school climates? under resourcing of schools so that essential resources and services have been stripped away? What if the District focused on creating an institution where relationships were primary? A teacher who left education because of untenable work conditions describes finding a District where the Superintendent focuses on relationship building and happily returns to the work she loves – teaching children.  What if the District became a magnet for supporting educators instead of blaming them and moving them around like pieces on a chess set?

Action Item 8: Contract with PolicyLab – Assessment of Health Services   

Student Support Services

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:  PolicyLab

Purpose:  PolicyLab will conduct an assessment of the scope, functions, and organization of health services for district students aiming to identify strengths and opportunities for enhanced access, coordination and efficiency of service delivery within the district and city health services systems.

Start date: 1/18/2019; End date: 12/31/2019

Compensation not to exceed: $65,000.00

Location: Administrative Office(s); All Schools

Description: PolicyLab will conduct an external review of health services systems in comparable school districts; review the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) organization of health services; review non-district health services systems which could benefit SDP systems serving district students; and conduct qualitative interviews with district leadership, school-based health services staff, and other relevant stakeholders.  The work products produced will be the identification of best practices and innovative practices in the organization of health services for school district students inclusive of a policy and practice synthesis and recommendations.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Anchor Goal 1 – 100% of students will graduate ready for college or career

Funding Source(s): FY19 Operating; FY20 Operating

APPS Analysis: First question for PolicyLab researchers should be “Have you ever worked as a School Nurse?” Nowhere in this terse description is there  any mention of actually including those closest to students and their health needs in this process of determining “best practices and innovative practices.” This District has had a stormy relationship with its nurses, having laid off over 100 in December 2011–just before the holidays. It has taken a strong and sustained organizing effort to finally ensure that every school has a school nurse. However, these positions are sometimes filled with substitutes or nurses forced to cover while assigned to other schools. School nurses build relationships and trust with students and families. They have intimate knowledge of what works . Rarely are their opinions sought and implemented. Has the District consulted with the local chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses for assistance with this Assessment of  Health Services Student Support Services before seeking out contract awardees whose primary field is not school-based?

Action Item 11:  Contract with WestEd Professional Development for EL Instruction    Academic Support – Contracts

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:  WestEd

Purpose: Professional development

Start date: 1/18/2019; End date: 6/30/2021

Compensation not to exceed: $542,000

Location: All Middle Schools; All High Schools

Renewal Options:  No

Description: WestEd’s Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) will provide professional development and coaching services to ESL and content teachers of record in core subjects (math, science, social studies, English) who teach English Learners in grades 6-12 on the QTEL framework for three consecutive years.

QTEL is a research-based instructional model that provides both elementary and secondary educators with the tools they need to accelerate language development, academic literacy, and disciplinary knowledge of English learners.

Professional development services include a week-long summer institute for approximately 120 teachers in June 2019 and June 2020. Both summer institutes will be open to all ESL and sheltered content teachers in grades 6-12.

In addition, starting in spring 2019 and continuing through the 2020-2021 school year, the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs will select three secondary schools to receive targeted and intensified instructional supports, including professional development sessions for principals and leadership teams, professional development and on-site coaching for teachers, as well as webinars and online learning forums to support each school in implementing the QTEL framework with fidelity. All schools that serve students in grades 6 through 12 will have the opportunity to apply. The Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs will select schools based on the percentage of students who are English Learners and the commitment from staff to attend summer institutes and participate in follow up PD/coaching.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Anchor Goal 1 – 100% of students will graduate ready for college or career, Other   Policy 138 – English Language Development / Bilingual Education Program (Programming Section)

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): March 15, 2018; B-2

Funding Source(s):  Categorical – Title III

Office Originating Request: Academic Support

APPS Analysis: WestEd follows the pattern of vendors seeking contracts from the District, initially donating its services (in that case partially funded by the William Penn Foundation) in a February 2018 SRC Resolution (A12).  There is a District Multilingual Curriculum & Programs Office of the District. Why aren’t they providing Professional Development? The Central Office used to provide ongoing support to ESOL teachers as well as leading workshops.  APPS members have testified that this training should come from central office staff instead of being farmed to outside vendors. Our English Language Learners need competent, consistent support as they build their Academic Skills.

Action Item 12: Amendment of Contract with Free Library of Philadelphia – Support for federal (USDE) Innovative Approaches to Literacy Grant Award   

Academic Support – Amended Contracts

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: Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Purpose: Continuation of access for all participating students in grades K-3 to the Free Library’s curated database of children’s e-books

Original Start Date:  10/1/2016ll Original End Date:  9/30/2019

Currently Authorized Compensation:  $320,954

Additional Compensation:  $5,990

Total New Compensation:  $326,944

Location: Anderson, Add B. School; Barry, John Elementary School; Bryant, William C. School; Elkin, Lewis School; McDaniel, Delaplaine School; Kelly, John B. School; Ludlow, James R. School; Meade, General George G. School; Morris, Robert School; and Sullivan, James J. School

Description:  The District’s Federal Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant enables 10 elementary schools to offer supplementary literacy activities for K-3 students and their families, including free access to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Tumblebook software application. The Free Library’s Tumblebook software allows students and families to access thousands of e-books, videos and other literacy-related activities both at home and in the classroom.  Approval of this amendment will allow for continuation of use of the Tumblebook software for participating students and families in the ten previously-approved schools through September 2019. Schools were selected based upon a history of low 3rd Grade PSSA reading scores in accordance with the federal guidance.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Anchor Goal 2 – 100% of 8-year olds will read on or above grade level

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): November 15, 2016; B-7; April 26, 2018; B-7

Funding Source(s): FY16-19 Categorical

Office Originating Request: Academic Support

APPS Analysis: This Action Item would benefit ten schools–but what about the other 204 district schools? This Board has created Committees to examine critical needs in the District (Finance & Facilities; Policy; Student Achievement and Support; and District Partnership & Community Engagement). The issue of equity comes up in almost every committee meeting.  The Student Achievement and Support should address the issue, perhaps by creating a special task force, to reverse the loss of school librarians and school libraries. School libraries were the heart of many schools, providing opportunities for developing library and research skills, independent reading, and family engagement. Some have been replaced by volunteers with good intentions but who are not trained as certified school librarians. Dr Hite’s Anchor Goal # 2  (100% of 8-year old students will read on Grade Level ) would be easier to achieve with school libraries.