Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting: November 1, 2018

by Diane Payne

Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang co-chaired the meeting; also present were Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson. Board members Julia Danzy and Chris McGinley attended as part of the audience.  The Committee approved minutes of their last meeting. (All committee meetings are eventually posted on the Board’s web page. The agendas and PowerPoints are also available online. APPS members were not present for the meeting but several members viewed the livestream.)

There were four reports from District staff: Termination Pay Process Update, Guaranteed Energy Savings Agreement Project Status, Surplus Property Plans Update, and Facilities Renovation and Remediation Update.

Huang announced nine “North Star” guiding principles the Board will follow:

  • Safety
  • Quality in Service
  • Efficiency
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Reality
  • Community
  • Dignity
  • Advocacy

Termination Pay Backlog

Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson addressed the District’s failure to pay out contractual benefits upon employees’ retirement or resignation. There have been newspaper stories about employees waiting close to two years to receive their termination pay.  Monson told the Committee that due to the purchase of new software, he expects to resolve ⅓ of outstanding cases by the end of November, with an an additional 1350 cases to be resolved by February 2019. All remaining cases should be processed within the next 75-90 days after that.

GESA Project

This presentation and PowerPoint, conducted by Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd, reported on the District’s next steps in the Guaranteed Energy Savings Agreement Project (GESA), designed to reduce growing energy costs.  Work at the three pilot schools–Strawberry Mansion High School, Northeast High School, and Saul High School–will be completed soon. Three new schools–Lincoln High, Conwell Middle, and Gompers Elementary–have been selected to continue this work.  The District has renewed its contract with ESC Group for the GESA project. ESC Director of Technical Services Aldo Mazzaferro (whose name did not appear on the Board’s meeting materials) joined Floyd for most of the presentation.

On November 2, 2018, the School District will release a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the GESA-1 project. The proposal states:  “Three schools will be audited to allow ESCO to identify opportunities for energy savings and offer pricing on specific energy conservation measures. Following an extensive evaluation, the District will present a recommendation for Board approval at the March 2019 Public Action Meeting.” (file:///C:/Users/Diane/Downloads/Guaranteed_Energy_Savings_Agreement_Overview_Final_11.01.18(3).pdf)

Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson noted that the upcoming budgets would not be built on the anticipated savings, rather the savings realized will be reinvested into capital needs.

Board Member Chris McGinley questioned the selection of Lincoln High as it is a relatively new building and there are many District schools in much worse physical condition.  He asked if there were design flaws in Lincoln’s construction. Floyd answered that the selection process contained “representative samples” to select for different building types. There were no design flaws in Lincoln but the District can now easily install the newer, more cost-efficient LED lighting and realize significant energy savings.

McGinley also asked how the district will provide for consistent information and training so that all District buildings can be maintained even as staff may change.  Monson stated that they are working to standardize the software training even though each building has its quirks.

Wilkerson and Walker also expressed concerns about equity and wanted schools in many areas to take part and the savings to be distributed equitably.  Both Monson and Floyd assured the Committee members that they would be monitoring that.  In answer to Huang’s question, Monson stated the District hopes to expand the GESA project to 20 schools in the near future.  Huang also asked about academic possibilities with this project; the District personnel said that ESCO could use the project as a way to reach out to CTE students about career opportunities in the field.  Huang also asked for updates on the savings with the three new pilot schools.  (At this point, Wilkerson acknowledged the presence of City of Philadelphia Finance Director Rob Dubow in the audience.)

Unused District Property

This presentation was also given by COO Floyd.  At its November 15 Action Meeting, the Board meeting will consider Action Items on both the sale and lease of the District’s unused properties, most of the closed neighborhood schools.  Floyd noted that the District currently has four properties listed for sale, one property listed for repurposed district use, and ten properties not listed for either. The District is contracting with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (RDA) to conduct the sale of Communications Technology High School and Pepper Middle School, both located in Southwest Philadelphia.

RDA representative Greg Heller (whose name did not appear on any of the meeting materials) was called to the table to answer questions.  There was a lot of discussion about the environmental concerns stemming from Pepper’s 37-acre tract, which sits in a floodplain zone abutting wetlands near the airport and experiences frequent and severe flooding.  In November 2016, the Eastwick community requested that the SRC delay a vote on these two properties and engage the RDA to ensure that community needs were considered.

Heller said that RDA had met with community groups on several occasions. He noted that the community members were not necessarily uniform in their expressed wishes for the properties, but one thing they all agreed on is that any development must not exacerbate flooding.  Heller did say that Pepper would have to be demolished and that only the northwest portion of the property could be considered for a possible mixed-use development.

Heller reported that the public was clear; the needs of the community must be considered when determining the future of the Comm/Tech High School property.  He said that it would be sold to the “best use” bidder , which may not necessarily be the highest bidder.

Facilities Renovation and Remediation Update

COO Floyd reported, with a PowerPoint, about the ongoing work on lead paint, asbestos, and mold removal from schools.  Work in three schools are substantially complete, active projects continue in three schools, and 40 schools have had assessments completed for lead paint removal and plaster stabilization.  The Office of Environmental Management and Services (OEMS) responded to 19 Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) events in October: 14 mold/HVAC, 4 asbestos, and 1 “other.” The report was not specific about which schools, where in the schools, or what the outcome was.  Floyd mentioned a capital improvement for new construction at Anne Frank Elementary, one of many overcrowded schools in the Northeast.

During questioning from the Committee, Floyd admitted that the district must do a better job of communicating with school staff members about work being done in their buildings.  Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science and Occupational Safety and Health for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund, has testified before both the SRC and the Board on the need for improved and increased communication between the Chief Operating Officer’s office, school stakeholders, and the PFT.

Action Items

Committee members discussed some of Action Items to be voted on by the Board at the November 15 Action Item. Chief Talent Officer Lou Bellardine provided information on Action Item 5, District employees’ investment plan options.  The number of plans available to retiring staff would be reduced from five to three.

Note: The online agenda for this Committee meeting did not include a list of Action Items being considered. (The full list is posted in another location, but there was no way to know which items were on this Committee’s agenda.) In response to APPS requests,  the BOE staff has said there will be a link that accesses the Action Items being discussed at future meeting. At other Committee meetings, there was no hard copy distributed, thus there was no way for participants to know what the Committee was discussing. APPS’ co-founder Lisa Haver  suggested at the last Student Achievement and Support meeting that the Items be projected on the screen. APPS has stated publicly on a number of occasions that members of the public who are attending Board meetings need to have the printed information available so that they know what is being discussed and voted on. Following both the letter and the spirit of the PA Sunshine Act ensures that members of the public can be fully engaged in the business being conducted by Board members. APPS will continue to raise this issue with the Board.

Public Speakers

Two members of the public registered to speak; only one was present and spoke. Another person submitted written testimony. The meeting adjourned with no matters tabled and no objections or recommendations to the full Board about Action Items appearing on the November 15 Action Meeting agenda.