by Karel Kilimnik

Almost one-fifth of January’s Action Items address the ongoing toxic schools crisis.  The Board will be voting on contracts to outside vendors totaling approximately $40 million– this month alone. Toxic conditions in the city’s schools are being discovered every week. Most district buildings were built when the dangers of lead and asbestos were not fully understood. But that does not excuse the years of inaction after those dangers became clear.  Essential reading includes the June 2019 Inquirer Series on Toxic Schools , in which a team of investigative reporters created three sections based on interviews and data:  Danger: Learn at your own risk;  Hidden Peril; and Botched Jobs. Since schools opened in September, lead and asbestos has been discovered in more schools, resulting in the growing demand from parents, students, teachers, and community members to fix them. Time and again the District has failed to listen to stakeholders. Contractors who performed shoddy and incomplete work are rehired; much of the construction takes place during school hours. Contractors have failed to safely dispose of contaminated materials or to adequately cordon off work areas, and their completed work does not pass environmental testing. On January 20, the PFT held a press conference  announcing its intent to seek a remedy through the courts as the District has failed to work with the union to correct the situation. This edition of Eyes focuses on the issues raised as seen by the many contracts awaiting approval.

For years teachers and parents have complained of toxic conditions in their schools, only to have their concerns fall on deaf ears. As SLA parents and students have pointed out in Board meetings and town halls, it wasn’t until SLA students were placed into the  Ben Franklin High School building that the issue finally got the District’s attention. The number of concerns has steadily increased, as has the Hite administrations apparent failure to hear warnings of those parents and students. There are so many looming costs, both hidden and visible: fear of future health crises, current respiratory ailments exacerbated, lead poisoning, missed days of instruction, heightened anxiety and tension, threats of truancy citations to parents keeping children home and out of harm’s way.  Students from some of these schools, including Ben Franklin High and Peirce Elementary, have been temporarily relocated. The latest band-aid applied by the District is having McClure elementary students going on field trips for part of the day, causing great disruption for parents who have to pick them up at various times of the day.

One question raised by APPS members at a number of Board meetings is when the District will carry out lead and asbestos inspections at the city’s 87 charter schools, many of whom are in former District buildings. In fact, all Renaissance charters are in District-owned buildings. Do those children not matter? Charter schools have been allowed to hide information about finances and real estate deals, but this is different.  This concerns the health of children. The craven disregard by Mastery schools for the students at Douglass elementary, doing nothing while brown water flowed from sinks and water fountains that had already failed lead tests, clearly shows that the District must take charge.

District funds, most from its Capital Budget, must now pay for relocation, raising the question of which building and refurbishing projects have been put on hold.  Those Items include Leadership Academy (Item 29, Change Order Summary, Various Vendors, Ben Franklin/SLA High Schools, $548,076) and Peirce Elementary School (Item 34, Ratification of License Agreement with Unit Three Falls Center LP). One alternate location proposed for Peirce was the Pratt Early Learning Center. But the discovery of asbestos in that building forced its closure until the end of the school year, dispersing 80 preschoolers into other programs.  Ben Franklin, SLA, and Peirce may all have been relocated into healthier environments, but escalating stress and uncertainty for students, families, and teachers continues to mount. Has the District sent in extra academic and counseling supports to help those students? Young children depend on routines and consistency–were any provided to the Pratt families to help their children adjust to a new place with different adults and classmates? These are some of the hidden costs we have yet to see the Hite administration address. McClure has been opened, then closed; dates for re-opening pushed back again and again.  Breakfast and lunch are available for those students at various locations while the District attempts to fix the problem. How is the District supporting these students academically as well as emotionally while their education is interrupted. Will they be forced to take the same standardized tests at the end of the year, and will those test scores be used to judge them and their teachers and their school?

Parents, students, educators and community members continue to raise important questions. What if we had a superintendent and Board members who worked with them to develop a plan to abate the asbestos, lead, and other toxins? What if there were professionals on staff down at 440 whose expertise could be used to remediate these problems rather than repeatedly contracting with vendors and consultants ( Item 9, Ratification of Contract with Drexel University for Environmental Safety Consulting )? These issues are not going away anytime soon–why keep throwing money at vendors when you could have people in the central administration who know what to do?  The Broad-trained Superintendent Hite has implemented the corporate vision of disruption and churn while diminishing central administration offices during his eight-year tenure. Rather than building and supporting internal management staff, he has contracted with outside management consultants (Item 51, Contract with JMT for Capital Program Management for $20,000,000 and Item 26, Contracts with Acer Associates, LLC; Viva Environmental Health & Safety, LLC; and Pennoni Associates, Inc. – Professional Environmental Design and Testing Services for $11,180,000).

Reviewing these items raises a number of issues, including whether the District will be training its custodial staff to handle environmental issues: Item 26, Contracts with Acer Associates, LLC; Viva Environmental Health & Safety, LLC; and Pennoni Associates, Inc. Professional Environmental Design and Testing Services for $11,180,000) ; Paint and Plaster Stabilization and Item 27, Contract with Diamond Huntbach for Paint and Plaster Stabilization for $4,300,000) and Asbestos Removal  Supplies (39.Contract with Various Vendors – Asbestos Removal Supplies.

Where is the long-range plan for the District to both identify problems and  maintain safe conditions? At its January 16 meeting, Finance and Facilities Co-chair Lee Huang told the public that the Board “stands behind” those demanding safe schools and that those responsible would be held accountable. Obviously, that has not happened. None of the people who ignored the problem and repeatedly lied to the community–to their faces at Board meetings–have been fired or demoted. We need parent, student, and teacher voices to be heard. The District’s Environmental Safety Improvement Plan,  posted on the District website, describes forming an Environmental Advisory Board. How will that Board be formed? Who will be invited to serve? We need a well-thought out plan to address toxic schools that includes stakeholders.  Students have spoken at Board Meetings concerning their fears of illness from exposure to toxic elements including asbestos and lead paint. Is the District working with the City Health Department on a collaborative approach?

What if…

…the Hite administration undertook a coordinated effort to engage stakeholders in creating a plan to identify and resolve environmental problems? We need a commitment from city and state and elected officials to implement a roadmap. Why have we heard nothing from Mayor Kenney since this crisis began? This could be used as an opportunity to bring people together to fix a problem that is not going away. Experts are part of the solution but so are parents, students, teachers, and community members. Let us come together to envision a safe and healthy environment for students and school staff.
February Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday February 27, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday February 26, or fill out the speaker form the Board’s webpage.

Action Items of Note

To see the full Item Summary, go to  https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/meetingmaterials/

Instead of Hiring Contractors, Board Should Hire Experienced Staff to Rebuild Infrastructure 

Item 51: Contract with JMT for Capital Program Management ($20,000,000) (Added 1.16.20) Operations – Procurement – Contracts

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 a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: JOHNSON, MIRMIRAN & THOMPSON, INC.
Purpose: Capital Program Management firm for $500 million bond-funded capital improvement projects
Start date: 2/1/2020     End date: 1/31/2023
Compensation not to exceed: $20,000,000
Location: All Schools
Renewal Options:  Yes Number of Options: 2
Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1
Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $7,000,000

Description: The Office of Capital Programs has identified a need for a program management team to oversee the District’s $500 million capital bond. The Program Management team will be responsible for overseeing projects including HVAC, electrical, paint and plaster and other capital improvements in schools throughout the District. The vendor was selected by a committee of subject matter experts through a publicly competitive RFP process. The vendor will be evaluated by the District based on its adherence to timelines, quality of work and communication with stakeholders. This contract will help to meet the Operations goal of providing 100% of students with a safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environment.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Other   Provide 100% of students with a safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environment.Funding Source(s):
FY20: Capital FundFY21: Capital Fund
FY22: Capital Fund
FY23: Capital Fund
Office Originating Request: Operations – Procurement

Item 9: Ratification of Contract with Drexel University for Environmental Safety Consulting ($20,000)   

Action under consideration The Administration recommends that the Board of Education ratify the execution and performance of a contract by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, subject to funding, as follows:

With: Drexel University
Purpose: To provide environmental safety consulting services through Dr. Arthur Frank, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health
Start Date:  11/1/2019           End Date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $20,000
Location(s): Administrative Offices
Renewal Options:  No

Description: As the District is actively addressing asbestos in its schools, it also is seeking information and expert advice from Dr. Arthur Frank, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. Dr. Frank is a global expert on environmental and occupational safety and has conducted extensive research on asbestos exposure. He will meet with District staff to advise on asbestos health hazards and risks. He will also provide content for informational videos that will be shown on PSTV, the District’s television broadcast channel. A ratifying action is requested because Dr. Frank was quickly engaged in work for the District in November 2019 prior to Board approval due to the urgency of the District’s asbestos challenges.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported:  Other Action Plan 3.0 calls for clean, healthy, and safe schools conducive to teaching and learning.
Funding Source(s):  FY20 Operating
Office Originating Request: Superintendent

APPS Analysis:  How did the District select this particular consultant to award this retroactive contract?  Did the District work with the City Health Department to find a consultant? Drexel is among the large nonprofits in Philadelphia who refuse to pay PILOTS (Payments In Lieu of Taxes)–why not donate this expert’s services to the District?

Asbestos Remediation

Item 22:  Capital Award for Various Schools – Associated Specialty Consulting, Inc.; Delta/BJDS (WBE); Diamond Huntbach; Pepper Environmental Services; Prime Group Remediation ($3,000,000)    Operations – Capital Programs – Capital Awards Board of Education Meeting Date:  1/30/2020

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 separate contracts with the lowest responsible bidders, subject to funding, as follows  With: Associated Specialty Consulting, Inc.;Delta/BJDS, Inc.;Diamond Huntbach Construction Corporation;

With: Pepper Environmental Services, Inc.;Prime Group Remediation, Inc.
Purpose: General Contracts for asbestos abatement Start date: 1/31/2020 End date: 1/31/2022
Compensation not to exceed: $3,000,000 Separate Compensation by Vendor:
All entities will be paid out of the aggregate amount not to exceed $ 3,000,000
Location: All Schools
Renewal Options:  No

Description: The Office of Environmental Services has identified a need for a contract to provide immediate response capabilities to initiate and complete emergency asbestos abatement, on an as-needed basis, throughout the District. Using a pool of qualified firms is the most efficient way for the District to complete emergency asbestos abatement activities in order to meet the project timelines.The approved firms’ services will be evaluated based on their ability to meet project milestones and remain within the approved budget.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Other   Provide 100% of students with a safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environment
Funding Source(s): FY20 Capital Budget

Item 39:Contract with Various Vendors – Asbestos Removal Supplies ($250,000)    Operations – Procurement – Contracts

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 a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: All-Tex, Inc.;APE Companies;Aramsco; Supreme Safety, Inc.; The Safetyhouse.com
Purpose: Supplies and equipment for the proper removal of asbestos
Start date: 2/1/2020          End date: 1/31/2021
Compensation not to exceed: $250,000

Separate Compensation by Vendor: All entities will be paid out of the aggregate amount not to exceed $250,000
Location: All Schools
Renewal Options:  Yes Number of Options: 2
Duration of each option to extend: Years: 1
Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $250,000

Description: The Department of Environmental Services has identified the need for suppliers of asbestos removal supplies. The Department of Environmental Services employs environmental staff who are specially trained and licensed to perform asbestos abatement, mold remediation and lead-based paint removal work at various District schools. For this work to be performed safely and in accordance with all applicable occupational safety and health regulations, specific protective supplies and equipment must be used, which the awarded suppliers will provide. Examples of these items include filtered respirators, air filtration devices and dehumidifiers, industrial high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuums, glove bags, encapsulating paints and sprays, decontamination equipment, portable showers and protective clothing. Fulfillment of the asbestos removal supplies will be monitored on an on-going basis by environmental staff. Purchases of these supplies supports the District’s goal of providing 100% of students with a safe, healthy and welcoming learning environment.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Other   Provide 100% of students with a safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environment.
Related resolution(s)/approval(s):   December 13, 2018, No. 24
Funding Source(s):
FY20 Operating
FY21 Operating
Office Originating Request: Operations – Procurement

How Did the Ben Franklin/SLA Project Go So Wrong?

Item 29: Change Order Summary – Various Vendors – Ben Franklin/SLA High Schools ($548,076)    Operations – Capital Programs – Other

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, subject to funding, as follows:

With: Smith Construction, Inc.;McGoldrick Electric Inc.;Dolan Mechanical, Inc.
Purpose: To pay additional amounts necessitated by change orders for ongoing construction projects
Start Date: 1/31/2020        End Date: Through completion dates for previously approved contracts
Compensation not to exceed: $548,076

Separate Compensation by Vendor:
Smith Construction, Inc. – General Contract Major Renovation and Co-Location at Franklin, Benjamin High School – $282,291
McGoldrick Electric Inc. – Electrical Contract Major Renovation and Co-Location   at Franklin, Benjamin High School – $250,639
Dolan Mechanical, Inc. – Plumbing Contract Major Renovation and Co-Location at Franklin, Benjamin High School – $15,146
Locations:  Franklin, Benjamin High School; Science Leadership Academy (SLA)

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.

Anchor Goals: Operations Anchor Goal – Other – Provide 100% of students with a learning environment that is safe, healthy, and welcoming
Funding Source: FY 20 Capital Budget
Related resolutions(s)/approval(s):  Item a-7, June 21, 2018; Item A-11, August 16, 2018 
Office Originating Request: Operations – Capital Programs [bold added]

APPS Analysis: This multi-year project is yet another example of a major project gone awry. During the planning stage, parents and staff repeatedly asked whether the District had a “Plan B” in the even the project was not finished on time,  only to be told that none was needed. Again, the Hite administration could have avoided this mess, and the growing costs to fix it, if they had taken the parents and teachers seriously. 

Professional Environmental Design and Testing Services ($11 million)

Item 26: Contracts with Acer Associates, LLC; Viva Environmental Health & Safety, LLC; and Pennoni Associates, Inc. – Professional Environmental Design and Testing Services ($11,180,000)    Operations – Capital Programs – Contracts

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 a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: Acer Associates, LLC;Viva Environmental, Health, & Safety, LLC;
Pennoni Associates, Inc.
Purpose: Contract for professional services for environmental oversight and design
Start date: 1/31/2020                              End date: 6/30/2023
Compensation not to exceed: $11,180,000
Separate Compensation by Vendor:  All entities will be paid out of the aggregate amount not to exceed $11,180,000.
Location: All Schools
Renewal Options:  No

Description: The Office of Capital Programs is requesting additional firms for professional environmental design and testing services for the implementation of Capital Improvement Program.  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, on an as-needed basis. Contracting with these firms supports the Operations goal of providing 100% of students with a safe, healthy and welcoming learning environment.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Other   Provide 100% of students with a safe, healthy and welcoming learning environment
Related resolution(s)/approval(s):  June 21, 2018; A-57
Funding Source(s): FY20-23 Capital Budget $11,180,000
Office Originating Request: Operations – Capital Programs

Relocation Costs 

Item 34:  Ratification of License Agreement with Unit Three Falls Center LP    Operations – Facilities – Other

Action under consideration The Administration recommends that the Board of Education ratify the execution and performance of a License Agreement, through the Superintendent or his designee, for the use of a building and grounds, as follows:

With:  Unit Three Falls Center LP
Purpose: To enter into an occupancy agreement for portions of a building for the students and staff of Peirce Elementary School Start Date: 12/02/2019 End Date: 6/30/2020
Location:  3300 Henry Avenue, Three Falls Center
Rent not to exceed: $755,457 at $97,227 per month; Security Deposit: $74,868; and utilities and maintenance costs

Description: In response to an urgent need to relocate the students of Thomas M. Peirce Elementary School due to environmental concerns at the school, the School District, based on recommendations from the Peirce Elementary Parent Taskforce, determined to relocate the students to the site of 3300 Henry Avenue, Three Falls Center.  The School District will pay for all cleaning supplies, janitorial and custodial services, IT services, and security services for the Premises during the term of the occupancy agreement. Ratification is requested because of the immediate need to relocate Peirce Elementary School students to the Premises, and, based on this immediate need, the School District has negotiated and executed the license agreement.

Anchor Goal(s) Supported: Other – Provide 100% of students with a learning environment that is safe, healthy, and welcoming
Office Originating Request: Operations – Facilities