Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting: February 21, 2019

by Diane Payne

Lee Huang and Leticia Egea-Hinton co-chaired the meeting; Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson were also present. Board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Chris McGinley attended the meeting.  Two APPS members attended the meeting; one spoke in defense of public education. Minutes of the previous meeting were approved. This meeting was held at 4:00 p.m. in response to community requests for a more public-friendly meeting time.  Huang indicated that they would try to schedule “some” of the F&F meetings at this time. The meeting was well attended and featured seven public speakers. Once again, it was difficult to hear Board members and District staff. Several requests were made from the audience (as have been made at previous meetings) for presenters to speak into the mic, which went mostly unheeded. In addition, the wall speakers were on the lowest possible volume.  The PA Sunshine Act states that meetings are not public if the public cannot hear the official business being conducted. Is “transparency” just a buzzword for the Board or will they make sure that the public can hear and participate at all meetings?

(Meeting agendas and power-point presentations can be viewed on the SDP website by going to the BOE page and clicking on “meeting materials.”

Presentations by Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson

Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Update: This first presentation highlighted the 2nd quarter’s actual fund balance compared to the projected fund balance.  Unfortunately, the balance is 26.1 million less than projected.  The reasons for this difference, as explained by Monson, are two-fold: the revenue impact of the City’s “tolling bill” and increased payments to charter schools.  (More on the charter school payments under “Speakers Comments” below.) Monson reported that once the City and State release proposed budgets and revised revenue estimates, the SDP baseline budget will be updated, and either priority investments or potential cuts are added.

There was no explanation offered regarding the City’s Tolling Bill.

President Wilkerson made a facetious comment to City Finance Director Rob Dubow, who was in attendance,  that “we want our money back” from the TRAN (?) but that too went without explanation.

Review of Assessment Appeals Process:  In the past, the District has not appealed property assessments which seemed too low even though all PA school districts may do so.  This year, the District hired two firms to identify potentially low-taxed properties for possible appeal. The District paid a one-time fee of $2,020,944 and gained $1,881,015 the first year and will gain $3,845,332 year two and thereafter.

ERP Update:  ERP is an acronym for enterprise resource planning.  This is the systems and software packages used to manage every aspect of District operations. The current system is about 20 years old and out of date.  Monson advised the Board that the anticipated roll-out times need to be adjusted. The original timeline set July 1, 2019 for Finance rollout and January 1, 2020 for HCM (payroll and HR) rollout. Monson stated that the adjusted rollout date is July 1, 2020 for both Finance and HCM.  Monson identified “staff depth constraints” (euphemism for staff shortages?), the transition of a two decades old system, and the need for comprehensive staff training as prerequisites for this project to successfully go live. Monson noted that failing to do so would bring possible serious consequences and could necessitate extending the deadline. The additional cost for this extension is $4.5 million dollars, increasing the cost of the total project to $52.4 million dollars.

Facility Renovations and Remediations:  Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd

Lead Paint Stabilization & Plaster Repair:  Floyd’s presentation listed 6 “substantially complete” projects and 6 “active project” locations.  Her report showed the results of a staff survey, submitted by 74 District staff, on the completed projects. Floyd did not say how many surveys were distributed.  Of five survey topics listed in this presentation, one topic was positive and the remaining four were critical. Also omitted from the report was the total number of schools currently needing lead paint remediation.  Later, in response to one public speaker, it was acknowledged that it will take five to ten years to fully complete this work.

Heating Season Progress:  Facilities and maintenance staff meet weekly to discuss heating conditions and to prioritize repairs.  95% of boilers are operating, that is, two or at least one boiler operating in every school. Floyd noted that temperature control and distribution continues to be a challenge across the district.  Twenty-nine heating repair work orders remain open as of this meeting.

Design and Construction Project Update:  There are currently 68 projects assigned to a design professional and 39 active construction projects.  The Ryan Avenue project, now in the design phase, was included in the presentation (but not included in the PowerPoint). Floyd noted that their office reached out to the community for input on two possible placements of the school on the designated property.  She referred to two community meetings–February 19th and 21st–and to an online survey available until February 28th.  Floyd did not provide any information about where those meetings were held, what district personnel were present, nor how many community members attended.  There also was no information on where or how to access the online survey. Our search of the District website provided this informational flyer.  This flyer lists the community meeting for March 2nd.  Floyd’s presentation on this topic is not included in the PowerPoint so it is hard to tell where or why there are conflicting dates.  It is also unclear why there seemed to be a lack of details in this presentation since it has been a contentious issue in the Mayfair community for many months.  Mayfair families with Kindergarten and first-grade children experienced significant upheaval when the District decided to bus their children to a renovated wing of Austin Meehan Middle School.   Community members have testified at Board meetings about their ongoing and unanswered concerns about meaningful community involvement.

Environmental Remediations:  The District’s Office of Environmental Management and Services responded to nineteen Indoor Environmental Quality “events” in January: 12 mold, 2 asbestos, and 5 “other.” District Staff attended one school-based meeting at Parkway Center City in January and tested 1,279 electrical outlets, 48 are still waiting for repair.  It is unclear whether “responding” to 19 events means all were satisfactorily remediated.

Chair Huang raised questions about consistency among design contractors due to so many different projects using different contractors.   Floyd did note that the District has $1billion in deferred maintenance expenses, thus adding to the challenge of this department’s efforts.

Public Speakers

The first two public speakers challenged the Board on the closure of the District-owned property containing the Sayre Recreation Center in West Philadelphia.  The pool has been closed and is the only venue in that part of the city for countless community swimming experiences, including lifeguard certifications. The closure of this needed public space leaves this neighborhood without access to pool-based community activities, further adding to a sense of economic abandonment.

Two members of the Healthy Schools Coalition addressed the toxic conditions in our school buildings and the lengthy wait time for abatement, apparently due to financial limitations. Both speakers urged the Board to do something about the inadequate custodial staffing and the related salary issues (custodians were forced to give significant givebacks in their last contract).  The speakers pointed out that schools lack adequate custodial staffing levels and that the woefully low pay scale of these workers hinders recruitment and retention. Children and staff are subjected to unsanitary conditions every day in many buildings. The speakers pointed out that a properly cleaned and maintained building at least reduces exposure to toxins until they can be fully abated. (This is when the five to ten-year timeline for lead abatement was noted.)

Speaker Cecelia Thompson, a longtime advocate for children with special needs,  addressed four action items and asked specific questions about the benefits and protections in each item.  She did receive some acknowledgement, but in each instance the responses failed to provide the benefit or protection she was seeking.  Her issues included: no free internet for families, no current remote locking of buildings in the case of an emergency, no reduction in response time to problems. She also asked Ms. Floyd to follow-up with an answer to the question about training of school police to insure positive use of grant money from the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

APPS co-founder Lisa Haver spoke about the monumental expense of remediating toxic schools compared to the expense that would be incurred if the Board approved three new charter applications.  She reminded the Board that all three applications contained serious deficiencies and questions, all outlined in the Charter School Office reports. (These reports can be viewed here on the SDP website and then by clicking on the evaluation report for each school.)  Haver noted that the SDP would spend close to $119 million over 5 years just for these three schools.  Will the Board approve these applications despite the evidence of poor academic records, a gaming of student demographics, complicated and opaque financial transactions, eye-popping CEO and administrative salaries, and the ongoing harm to existing public school students–as noted in Monson’s report of a negative fund balance in part due to increased charter school payout?  Haver urged the Board to vote NO on each application.

Julian Terrell,  Executive Director of Philly Student Union, was the final speaker. Terrell testified on the negative impact that would be felt if the Board approved Policy 805, requiring all high schools to install metal detectors.  He said that compelling our high school student population to beginning their day by lining up to pass through detectors and past school police creates a negative environment for a school system that already struggles as a school-to-prison pipeline. Terrell urged discussion on this topic because studies have shown that these policing methods cause additional harm and stress to students.  He said that it appears that the District has conducted no risk assessments to inform these decisions. He also noted that students wait in long lines just to enter the building every morning. Terrell informed the Committee that additional speakers on this topic would be at the next Student Achievement Committee meeting.

Action Meeting

The Board’s next Action Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 28, 2019.  The meeting is held in the second-floor auditorium at 5:00 p.m. To speak on a topic, you must register by 4:00 p.m. the day preceding the meeting.  The three new Charter School applications will be voted on at this meeting.  Will this BOE distinguish itself from the previous unaccountable SRC?