Eyes on the BOE: November 15, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

The nine members of the Board of Education, as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget, have undertaken the enormous task of trying to understand the workings of the School District of Philadelphia.  The issue of equity remains a crucial one in their decision-making. Parents at Board Committee and Action meetings have expressed their frustrations at not being heard, both as members of their school’s SAC and their Home and School chapter.  One parent of a Northeast elementary school student reported that the principal at her child’s school unilaterally and unexpectedly ejected the Home & School group and ordered them to remove all of their supplies from the parent resource room. Lack of equity rears its head when some Home & Schools can raise large sums (see BOE-33 (Acceptance of Donation from the SLA Home & School Association) to pay for extra-curricular activities and supplies when schools in struggling areas cannot.  BOE-29 (Occupational Advisory Committee Members for 2018-19 School Year) omits Strawberry Mansion from the list of schools to benefit from the District’s newly re-established Culinary CTE Program. Why? The goal of the Hite administration’s Anchor Goal 2 is to have 100% of 8-year olds reading on or above grade level). Does BOE-30 (Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Support Classroom Modernization of Pre-K-3 Classrooms) include every K-3 classroom in the District? Let us not forget that both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said that they expect to close 2 to 3 neighborhood schools a year for at least the next 3-4 years.  In light of this, we need to be aware of all real estate transactions being proposed, such as BOE-20     (Cooperation Agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for the Sale of Communication Tech and George Pepper Middle School). There are vacant District buildings across the city.  We continue to urge the Board to post either contracts with vendors or provide a link to the actual document so that the public can be aware of exactly what our tax dollars are buying. In August the Board posted a list of modifications to Summary Contracts. We supported that step towards greater transparency, and we need that to be part of all Board meeting materials.


December Action Meeting: Thursday December 20 at 5 p.m. To register to testify, call 215-400-4010 by Wednesday December 19 at 3 pm.

Action Items of Note


BOE 4: Approval of Personnel Terminations (Pending)

RESOLVED, by the Board of Education that the employment of the *following individuals* are terminated effective November 15, 2018, as recommended by the Superintendent.

*Names to be provided for public view immediately prior to the Board of Education Action Meeting on November 15, 2018

APPS Analysis: The names of the employees in question are omitted from this Item, as they were in last month’s Action Items. Action Items must be posted in full; if they are not, the public has no opportunity to make informed comments on them before passage. This is a violation of both the PA Sunshine Act and the District’s settlement with APPS resulting from our 2015 legal complaint about the District’s pattern of violations of the Sunshine Act. When APPS member Lisa Haver raised this at the October Action meeting, General Counsel Lynn Rauch responded that the Action Item was a personnel matter. While the Sunshine Act allows governmental bodies the right to discuss personnel matters in Executive Session, it gives no exceptions about public votes on those matters. APPS sent letters to the Board about this issue, so there is no reason why the information has been omitted once again.

BOE 9: Capital Award II for Various Locations–Herman Goldner Company, Inc.; Jack Cohen & Company, Inc.; Madden Electric Associates, Inc.p Paramount Electrical Services, LLC; J. Man–R. Finley, Inc.

$3,765,340.00/3-year 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 separate contracts with the lowest responsible bidders, subject to funding, as follows:


APPS Analysis: One of the contracts listed here is for Mastery Charter School at Wister (Paramount Electrical Service, LLC. – Electrical Contract Emergency Generator Replacement at Wister Elementary School – $86,000). Mastery conducted a hostile takeover of Wister Elementary two years ago, made final by a last-minute resolution introduced at the SRC meeting just minutes before the vote. The public has a right to know who benefits from these contracts and whether the district or the charter company is responsible for building management and major repairs. We have submitted a request this week to the Charter School Office for copies of relevant contracts with Renaissance charter school managers. We expect to receive that information before the next edition of Eyes, and we will share it then.


BOE 20: Cooperation Agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for the Sale of Communication Tech and George Pepper Middle School

To enter into a cooperative agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to the end of selling the former Communications Technology High School property and George Pepper Middle School surplus properties.

APPS ANALYSIS: These “surplus properties” were school communities until shuttered by the SRC five years ago. Both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have signaled their intention to close even more schools– 2 to 3 each year for the next few years.  We have seen the closing of neighborhood schools take many forms over the past five years. It can be an outright closing, after under-resourcing and the predictable shrinking of enrollment, followed by the rationale of under-utilization. Or it can be turning the school over to a vendor to run as a contract school as we saw at Vaux Big Picture High School. Communication Technology HS and George Pepper MS, both in Southwest Philadelphia, closed during the 2013 closing of 23 schools. Thousands of students lost their schools and had to find alternatives farther from home. During the turmoil several hundred students were never accounted for–they disappeared from the rolls.

There is scant information as to the details of this Cooperative Agreement provided in this Action Item. A question raised during a District staff presentation at the November 1 Finance and Facilities Committee meeting asked: “What are we trying to accomplish or solve?” The hypocrisy of the answer–“Use demographic trends and market data to inform decisions to retain or sell properties”–was jarring to those who followed the unsuccessful struggle to save Smith School in the rapidly gentrifying area of Point Breeze.  The grass-roots group Save Smith School fought for over four years to save their neighborhood school, both before the closure and after, even taking the District to court. They presented a demographic projection showing the need for an elementary school in their neighborhood as more young families move into Point Breeze. They identified the demographic trend before SRC members voted to close Smith School, and they used that information to try to stop the District from selling the building to a developer.  Another point made in the District presentation was: “Where possible, match proposed reuse with community priorities and planning”. Another example is Whittier School in the Allegheny West neighborhood, also closed in 2013. A local church involved with the school proposed using the empty building for subsidized housing. The minister lined up financing and toured the building with potential investors, but was turned down by the District with no explanation.The District has a track record of ignoring communities fighting to keep their schools open or proposing uses for vacant buildings. The public has been kept in the dark about plans for selling off empty schools in our neighborhoods. That’s  one reason why these contracts must be made available as part of the Action Item.

BOE 25: Contract with Sharon Ward, Policy Consultant

Amount: $120,000.00 for 10-month contract, with option for three  $12,000.00/month renewals

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…Analyze current education laws and regulations as well as the District’s educational policy priorities and make recommendations to improve their effectiveness.

Description: The School District of Philadelphia must constantly evaluate current state and federal legislation, regulations and policies promulgated by agencies such as the Pennsylvania Department of Education in order to ensure compliance with applicable laws and identify areas for needed change. The District seeks to enter into a contract with Sharon Ward in order to conduct this review, identify areas of law that could be amended, and propose changes that will improve the District’s ability to provide a quality education to all students.  The District does not have the internal capacity or expertise to handle this area of work, and it is more efficient and cost effective to engage a consultant to provide these service than to create permanent staff positions.

APPS Analysis: This Item popped up on the morning of Saturday, November 10. There are no qualifications or background information given for the person to be awarded a 10-month, $120,000.00 contract. There is no indication that bids were put out for this work.  There is no list of specific tasks to be completed. The Board should question this last-minute resolution and ask how the largest school district in the state, with a fully staffed Office of General Counsel, must now have to hire an outside consultant to answer questions about education law.

BOE 28: Amendment of Contract with the DT firm–Government Affairs

Total cost $174,000.00 for 2-year contract.

Description: The services of this contract are required to support the School District’s relations and interactions with public officials and perform general lobbying activities with the goal of increasing funding for the School District of Philadelphia, advancing policies and legislation that support the goals of the District’s strategic plan, Action Plan 3.0, and building positive relationships with state elected officials.  The DT Firm has provided sound guidance and expertise to the District for the last year, including assisting with the passage of AVI legislation that will bring significant additional funding to the District. The District does not have expertise in this area and it is more effective and efficient to use an established lobbying firm for this work.

APPS Analysis: We raise concerns similar to those about Action Item-25. We ask why the the District is hiring a lobbying firm to perform duties usually carried out by the District’s Office of External Affairs.

BOE-30 Occupational Advisory Committee Members for the 2018-19 School Year–Career and Technical Education Programs

Purpose: To appoint members to the School District’s Occupational Advisory Committees for CTE programs, and reporting CTE program additions and reductions.

The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to appoint business, industry, post-secondary and community members to the Occupational Advisory Committees of The School District of Philadelphia’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and to provide notice of changes to CTE program options for the 2018-2019 school years, as follows…from November 2018 through August 2019.

APPS ANALYSIS: According to the description, the state requires all state-approved CTE programs to establish Occupational Advisory Committees to make recommendations for program improvement as well as provide technical assistance. This item covers 11 programs at nine comprehensive high schools. What is striking is the absence of Strawberry Mansion High School which has a Culinary Arts CT program. Last Spring the Mansion Community found out that the District was taking steps to phase out the comprehensive high school. No 9th-graders were accepted for this current school year. Organized efforts from the Strawberry Mansion community resulted in the District putting more resources into the school. Those included: permanently appointed teachers instead of substitutes, hiring two Culinary Arts teachers, and creating a Task Force (that has had few meetings) for “stakeholder input”. If Strawberry Mansion HS has a Culinary Arts CTE Program, why are they not included in this Action Item? Is it because this neighborhood comprehensive high school really is being phased out–despite Hite administration claims that it is not?

BOE 31: Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation–Support Classroom Modernizations of Pre-K–3 Classrooms

Amount:  Amount up to: $1,999,747.00

Description:Funding from the William Penn Foundation will be used to support training and professional development for teachers in the use of the new equipment and learning centers that will result from the District’s ongoing renovation and modernization effort and to purchase additional equipment and supplies for use in these classrooms.  Foundation funding is sufficient to support this effort for up to a total of 375 classrooms over the next three school years (2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22). Evaluation results from the first year of implementation showed that teachers receiving the training showed statistically significant improvements in classroom instructional practices, and felt more confident and prepared in working with the new equipment and centers. Elementary schools are selected annually for the classroom modernization effort through a separate process, reviewed and approved by the Superintendent and the Board, which prioritizes those schools most in need of physical repair as well as enhanced instructional resources.

APPS Analysis: Many functions and services previously performed by District staff are now outsourced and dependent on funding from the William Penn Foundation and others. The Foundation has underwritten a large portion of Early Childhood Education curriculum, professional development, and services. Educating young children is a basic function of the District and should be publicly funded and controlled. What happens when this funding disappears? We need a reliable funding source that addresses this equitably so that every school can participate, not just a few selected by the boards of outside funders.

BOE 34: Acceptance of Donation from Science Leadership Academy Home and School Association for SY 2018-19. Amount: $25, 000.00

Description: This action item seeks authorization to accept a donation from the Science Leadership Academy Home and School Association to be used to fund after-school support activities including academic help and a rich extra-curricular experience. The funds will further allow for the necessary supplies and materials for operating SLA in the 2018-2019 school year. The activities, services, and materials the Home and School Association’s donation will fund support SLA’s goal of providing an enriching learning experience for SLA students.

APPS Analysis: It is encouraging to see a Home and School Association supporting its school so generously. Last month the Masterman Home and School donated $90,000 to fund extra-curricular activities at that school. Both donations are commendable. But the issue of equity raises the question of how many other school communities have such resources to provide for supplies and materials or for after-school activities. Philadelphia is plagued by high poverty; almost a third of our population struggles to put food on the table. The Board and the administration must consider this when passing these Action Items. How will the District provide for the schools whose parents do not have the same economic resources?

BOE 40: Ratification of Contract with Project Based Learning, Inc.

Amount: $129.000.00, 1-year contract

Description:  Project Based Learning, Inc. (PBLI) has provided professional and technical services for the Workshop School since 2013. The School District and PBLI worked together in the development and implementation of the Workshop School, which opened September 2013. PBLI, a non-profit organization, is focused on supporting the academic goals of the Workshop School. PBLI has generously agreed to provide support to the Workshop School at a reduced rate, supported by a grant received by PBLI from Spring Point Partners, LLC, for professional and technical services through the following positions: Case Manager, Postsecondary Transitions Coordinator, Fabrication Shop/Makerspace Coordinator, and Coordinator of External Partnerships. This contract covers 55.54% of the services; the remaining 44.46% is paid through the grant received by PBLI. Ratification is required because services needed to begin at the start of school on August 27, 2018; however, the contract final terms had not been completely negotiated.

APPS Analysis:  The Workshop School is one of the small project-based high schools providing District students with experiential learning. Project-based learning has been around since John Dewey. Only in recent years has it been marketed by non-profits. Teachers in Philadelphia have  incorporated this pedagogy without the financial engine driving these schools. It is wonderful to have the financial backing to enable an entire school to thrive. This $120,000 contract for Project Based Learning,Inc (PBLI) covers a little over 50% of the cost; Spring Point Partners, LLC, a “social impact venture” of the Urban Affairs Coalition supplies the rest. Both project-based schools, SLA and The Workshop School, are supported by non-profits created to underwrite their costs, thus making it a private-public venture. Where is the support for other schools seeking to implement different pedagogical approaches for their students? When talking about equity across the board how do we actually implement it? One of the positions funded by this contract is a “Fabrication Shop /Makerspace Coordinator”. Does The Workshop School  also have a library staffed by a Certified Teacher Librarian or will this Makerspace Coordinator replace this critical educational position?

See the full list of Action Items here.

[To view the Action Item in full, click on the “Online Item” icon on the right.]