by Karel Kilimnik
As the Board of Education continues threading its path through the thicket of District policies and funding challenges, we are witnessing several changes. There are now four Board Committees working to improve public participation: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, Policy, and Community Engagement. Board members are certainly more friendly and welcoming toward the public than their predecessors on the SRC. In addition, several changes have been made on the Board’s website page, although there have been some glitches. APPS members have met with Board staff and explained how the new format can be more user-friendly, a banner at the top of the page noting the changes and a guide to navigating the site. We appreciate the Board staff meeting with us, noting our concerns, and their assurances that changes will be made. Presently, we have found that clicking on “Action Materials” on the Board page raises a screen with choices between “Online Agenda” or “Download Agenda”. Clicking on Online Agenda provides a document with active links. Selecting Download Agenda provides the list of Action Items followed by their descriptions . There are only 23 Action Items this month.
The true test of this Board, of course, will be how they vote. Will they continue to question District spending, especially the outsourcing of services and staff? Will Board members listen to stakeholder concerns and act on investigating them?
Next Board Meeting: Thursday October 18 at 5 p.m. To register to speak. call 215 400 4010 by Wednesday October 17 before 3:30.
Resolutions of Note
BOE Action 1: Amendment of Board Policy 004.1 School Board Committees (REVIEW – NO ACTION)
“The Board of Education proposes a revision to its existing Policy 004.1 School Board Committees to provide clarity to the members of the public on the information included as part of the public record.”
APPS Analysis: Speakers provide testimony at each Board Committee meeting. We urge the Board to approve this revision to make the comments available within the minutes. The proposed Revision to Policy 004 states:
“By participating in committee meetings or by submitting written testimony in advance of meetings, members of the public acknowledge that their name, comments, and written testimony are part of the public record and may be made available with the minutes of each meeting. The Board must also make sure that all documents considered by the Board be made available to the public at the meeting. Documents were unavailable at both the Policy Committee and Student Achievement Committee meetings last week.”
“The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the School District and the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ District 1201 contains a two-tiered salary system that was negotiated during a time of significant financial constraints on the District. That salary system has made it difficult to attract and retain General Cleaners and Bus Attendants, as the starting wages for these positions are not competitive. By removing this two-tiered system for these positions, the District will be better positioned to recruit and retain individuals in these positions. The contract modification will apply to 383 General Cleaners and Bus Attendants hired between July 1, 2016 and October 18, 2018, and new hires. The total annualized cost of the contract modification will be $2,900,000, with a projected cost of $16,300,000 over the next five years. A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement will be filed with the minutes of the Board of Education. In all other respects, the Collective Bargaining Agreement will remain the same.”
APPS Analysis: In 2012, members of the custodians’ union 32BJ of SEIU, including bus drivers, maintenance workers, cleaners, building engineers, and bus attendants agreed to concessions worth $100 million in order to help close the District’s budget deficit. They had little choice as the Hite administration was threatening to lay off all 32BJ members and outsource their jobs. Many of these union members are parents of District students struggling to support their families with wages that took a significant nosedive with this contractual agreement. During this same time period the SRC sent millions into the pockets of vendors and outside contractors. Six years later, the District now finds that it cannot fill these positions because of the inadequate pay, barely above minimum wage. The District will be offering a starting wage of $13.32/hr, up from the current $9.18. Why is the District not offering a $15./hr, which many public and corporate entities (including Amazon) have instituted? The SEIU concessions were part of a long tradition of having workers take responsibility for financial decisions made by those making six figure salaries (e.g., the Chief of Staff makes $175, 000–more than Mayor Kenney). The Board must begin to ask these hard questions about District spending priorities.
BOE Action 21: Partners in School Innovation
“The School District will receive services from the Partners in School Innovation Transformation Initiative for school transformation and improvement. As part of this program, Partners In School Innovation will provide additional supports to three participating schools through targeted professional development to improve instruction in core subjects aimed at improving student outcomes. The value of these services provided by Partners in School Innovation to the School District is $985,000. The cost of these services to the School District will be significantly offset by a grant from the William Penn Foundation to Partners In School Innovation.”
APPS Analysis: Partners in School Innovations was founded in 1993 by Julien Phillips, a Peace Corps volunteer and McKinsey & Co partner,and Kim Grose, a Rhodes scholar and social justice advocate, with the stated goal of creating “a model to create systematic improvements in low-performing schools with the support of AmeriCorps members, or Partners.” But it took them over 20 years to realize that they should hire experienced teachers to achieve this. This non-profit is just one example of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Public schools are a foundation of democracy. When public funding is slashed, the vacuum is filled by foundations and philanthropists to position schools as charities, not part of the common good. If schools were properly funded this Non-Profit Industrial Complex would supplement rather than replace experienced professionals. According to the Partners in School Innovation website, the organization has almost $5 million in revenue. Ryan Stewart, former director of the District’s System of Great Schools, now serves as Partners’ Regional Director of the mid-Atlantic region. Partners in School Innovation has provided Professional Development in District schools prior to this Action. Where is the data showing their results? Why isn’t the Board posting the actual contract to inform the public? Exactly what will they be doing to earn the $265, 000 (“significantly offset by the William Penn Foundation”) proposed here?
How many of Partners’ staff will be placed in each school, how many hours will be spent in each location? As we continue to point out, there is a wealth of experienced teachers and other school professionals working in the District–why contract with outside agencies with no connection to the community or relationship to students?