by Karel Kilimnik
Co-chairs Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang were present along with Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson. Board member Chris McGinley attended; Board member Angela McIver left early and Julia Danzy came in after the meeting started. Two APPS members attended this meeting and spoke in defense of public education. City Director of Finance Rob Dubow attended part of the meeting as well. The Committee approved Minutes of its December 6 2018 meeting. Egea-Hinton announced a schedule change for this Committee’s meetings due to objections from the community about its 10 AM start time. February, April, and June meetings are scheduled for 4 PM, just after school hours. They expressed hope that this will encourage more parent participation. Two staff presentations followed: Understanding the Budget Process by Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson and Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd’s updates on Facilities Renovations and Remediations. (The Agenda, Power-Point presentations, and Minutes are available on the Board website under Meeting Materials.)
Understanding the Budget Process, Timeline, and Allocations
CFO Monson presented an update on the District’s failure to dispense recent retirees “term pay” in a timely manner; some have waited years to be paid what they are due. He reported that their new system went live on October 11th; since then they have been working to clear up the backlog. Monson said he expects all delayed cases to be processed by May 2019 except for those with “legal holes” and/or issues with the state.
Monson’s overview began with the $3.13 billion Expenditure Summary. Reminding those present that the District does not have the ability to levy taxes, he broke down revenue into the following categories:
- 51% from the state
- 48% local
- small amounts from the federal government and “other sources”
He said that 25% of local revenue is derived from City Real Estate Assessments; however, appeals may delay $10-15 million in expected funds for next year.
Expenditures include the following:
- 87.2% is spent in schools
- 9.5% on debt service (goal is to stay under 10%)
- 3.3% on administration.
Other important numbers to keep in mind are student enrollment of 131,000 in district-run schools and 72,000 in charter schools. The actual expenditures are:
- 46% for salaries and benefits
- 33% for charter payments
- 11% debt service
- 4% supplies and equipment
- 4% transportation
- 1% utilities
- 1% substitute contract
Monson described what individual schools receive from the Central office that cannot be dropped from the budget. These include:
- Special Education Teachers and Assistants
- Career and Technical Education Teachers
- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Teachers
- Bilingual Counseling Assistants
- School Police Officers
- Facilities staff
- Food Services staff
Monson explained that the Capital Budget spending is allocated mostly to large infrastructure projects; he said that it would take $4 billion to complete all of the new building and repairs needed. Under present budget allotments the District is able to modernize about 150 classrooms per year. There are over 200 schools in the District. The current rate is akin to a snail crossing a meadow.
Committee member Wilkerson followed up on an issue that she said was raised at many of the Listening Sessions organized by the Mayor’s office and attended by Board nominees before they were officially appointed–that of equity and allocation of resources. She noted that some schools have access to more resources than others; she asked how the District should address the whole issue of equity. Monson responded by saying that the school allocation is almost entirely based on student enrollment. He added that federal guidelines such as higher poverty rates and numbers of English Language Learners determine how funds are distributed equitably, and he stressed that that does not mean “equally”. He acknowledge that some schools have more active parent and community groups who know how to raise additional funds. These funds are not controlled by the District, so they are not included in the budget. Monson did praise the fundraising non-profit arm of the District, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, for helping schools. (Lisa Haver’s commentary 2016 Notebook clearly shows the inequities of having a private entity disperse money.)
Wilkerson asked Monson to address an issue that comes up often at Action meetings: if the District did not spend so much money on contracting out services, would it have more money for our schools? Monson answered used the District’s contract with One Bright Ray as an example. He said that those students would have to be served in some capacity. The District pays roughly $10,000 per student to One Bright Ray. Left unsaid was that if those students were enrolled in a District-run school then that money could be used to pay for additional counselors, librarians, and nurses. Monson did not mention the management fee that One Bright Ray charges nor the data showing whether the program is successful. Nor did he address the lack of accountability when services are provided by a private agency that the District and Board have little control over–except to not renew their contract, which could be over a year or two. (Even that doesn’t work, as witnessed by the Source4Teachers fiasco.) According to Monson, money is going to be spent to educate those children no matter who does it. True, but how that money is spent is the issue concerning stakeholders. It was surprising that someone with Wilkerson’s experience and expertise in municipal budgets would accept that answer.
Facilities Renovations and Remediations
Chief Operations Officer Danielle Floyd presented the December Report on work within the Capital Facilities Maintenance and Resources Department. She noted that six schools have had work done under the Lead Paint Stabilization & Plaster Repair Project, that there is a Paint and Plaster Advisory Committee, and that community meetings have been held both in the morning and evening to enable more families to attend. Floyd also noted that they have met with teachers in affected schools before the work began so that they can plan accordingly.
- In December a parent attended the Board Action Meeting with photographs of his son who sustained second degree burns from a water cooler. An electrical foreman was dispatched to check the water cooler electrical system . A new hydration station was installed.
- Palumbo School sustained roof damage that caused flooding throughout the building.
The repairs were done as well as repainting of some rooms.
Mama Gail Clouden showed a photo of the Peace Cafe at the Penrose School that she organized and furnished. She said that she has attended these school governance meetings for years and that while money is often moved around, it does not always end up directly benefiting students.
Lisa Haver told the Board members that they were the only body that should be making decisions about how money is spent in the District. She alluded to her Notebook commentary, reminding them that the Fund for the School District is a private organization and that its board meetings are not open to the public. She also urged the Committee to recommend that the full Board not approve the $17 million contract with Children’s Literacy Initiative as there have been objections by teachers in several schools about how the program is administered.
I asked about Action Item #5 concerning the property for a new elementary school on Lincoln High’s campus. Last Spring during a listening session in the Northeast a large number of Chinese parents came to express their concerns over plans to bus their kindergarten and first grade children from Mayfair Elementary to Austin Meehan Middle School. I wanted to know how these parents, as well as other diverse communities, were being included in the planning. Floyd replied that the District has held a number of meetings.
Horace Clouden is a recently retired District building engineer. He suggested that the District do a background check on all contractors bidding to build new structures. He asked for a clarification of the term “comprehensive high school”. His main concern was that students in a smaller high school have access to fewer educational opportunities.
Dr. McGinley responded that all students are entitled to go to a neighborhood comprehensive high school. He told of a former District superintendent who dismantled comprehensive high schools and set up smaller schools. McGinley went on to say that one of the hazards urban districts run into is bringing in administrations from outside of town, as this is when institutional memory is lost and opportunities arise for waste and fraud and dishonesty. It’s difficult to police that when administrations change so rapidly.