Finance and Facilities Committee: November 14, 2019

by Lisa Haver

This Committee meeting, the second of three consecutive meetings on this day, presented a great deal of new and updated information.  Committee members answered few of the questions asked by public speakers. Staff presentations were not posted prior to the meeting, nor were hard copies of Action Items provided at the meeting. In violation of the Board’s speaker policy, some speakers were granted more time than others.

Present:  Co-chairs Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang, Committee members Joyce Wilkerson and Wayne Walker. Board members Julia Danzy , Mallory Fix Lopez, Angela McIver ,  Maria McColgan and Chris McGinley also attended. Minutes of the October 10 meeting were approved by voice vote.

First item on the Agenda: an update on construction at Benjamin Franklin High School that has necessitated the indefinite relocation of both Ben Franklin and SLA students. This brought a rare appearance by Dr. Hite, who is usually represented at Committee meetings by Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt.

Huang opened by stating that the Board has been carefully monitoring the situation at Ben Franklin. He asked Hite to give more comprehensive report at the Action Meeting.  Rather than respond to Huang’s question, Hite asked Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson to give an update on classroom leveling. Monson gave a brief report and promised more details later in the meeting.

Hite then turned to the Franklin/SLA matter. He said that his administration was making some changes in order to “proactively and effectively” manage environmental safety. To this end, the Operations department will divide its responsibilities between two directors: James Creedon will now be overseeing facilities management and capital projects, and Danielle Floyd, current Chief Operations Officer, will oversee transportation and other areas. Hite also announced that the DM firm will be hired to teach District officials “proven management techniques”. Hite said that DM will be around “for a long time” but did not say how many months or years the DM contract covered or how much they will be paid. No Board member asked why two people will now be paid to do the work previously done by one person. Nor did any Board member ask why a management consulting firm had to be brought in to teach the managers of the District, all of whom are at the top of the pay scale, how to manage.

(Because no Board member asked for Creedon’s qualifications, APPS member Diane Payne did when she came up to speak; Creedon was then asked to come up and give his CV.)

Hite finally told Board that the projected January 2 2010 move-in date for the Ben Franklin and SLA students had to be pushed back because, as parents predicted months ago, more time will be needed to complete the construction.

No Board member asked why Hite administration officials lied to the parents, whether directly or by withholding vital information about construction dangers, including construction dust that Ben Franklin students had been exposed to since the project began.  All of this was well documented in an October 18 Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Hite reported that RFPs had been issued for the position of Program Manager for the future projects the Board has already approved at a cost of  $500 million. Some of that will fund the construction of two new school buildings.

Hite also gave updates on asbestos abatement at Nebinger, Meredith, and Peirce elementary schools and Randolph High School. (Peirce parents and community members held a rally the week before, demanding that the District relocate their children.)  Hite said that the District was “gathering feedback” from Peirce families on a temporary relocation plan. Peirce is one of the two schools to be rebuilt as part of the $500 million capital plan.

Board President Wilkerson asked what “abated” means in practice and about the extent of the air testing subsequent to containing the asbestos in an area. Hite responded that air quality is retested periodically until acceptable levels are reached. Egea-Hinton asked when Peirce parents will know about relocation plans. Hite cited a November 18 meeting at Peirce at which a possible site will be discussed.  Huang reminded Hite that they were discussing the safety and health of children and that there must be open and forthright communication. Huang said, “We are struggling with trustworthiness…that might not be the right word…” Actually, the families at Franklin, SLA, Peirce, Randolph, Nebinger and Meredith would probably consider that the perfect word.

Comprehensive School Planning Review  

Vanessa Benton, Deputy Chief of School Planning and Space Management, was summoned to explain the Comprehensive School Planning Review. Before she could begin, an audience member called out to Dr. Hite, “I want you to hear me.” She spoke for one minute, then demanded that Hite answer her. Hite did. After she spoke for another minute, Huang said, “Thank you for that.”

Benton opened by repeating the District’s mantra of having all children “access” a great school close to home. Actually, the CSPR will likely make that more difficult since three possible actions are school closing, consolidation, and co-location–all different terms for elimination of a school. The timeline presented showed that the CSPR process has already begun.

Benton said that the District will be working with City planners to talk about possible use of city facilities. She also said that pre-K programs should be offered in as many schools as possible.  Planning Committees are already being established, but their meetings will not be public. The committees will include assistant superintendents, principals, City Councilmembers and/or staff; principals will choose teachers, parents, and another person from each school. The first committee meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, November 19; no location was given. At this point, only two public forums on CSPR have been scheduled; one in January and one in March.

The District has hired FLO Analytics to analyze demographics across the city and in catchment areas. FLO has already taken on one subcontractor, Bloom Associates.  The Board will be voting at the November Action Meeting on the proposed $1.03 million contract with FLO. Benton’s presentation did not address how new charters, and expansion of existing charters, has and will continue to affect District enrollment.

 Action Items

The Committee did not provide copies of Action Items under consideration available to the public.  Titles of Action Items were projected without content.

Danielle Floyd was asked about Item 23 proposes the sale of District property at 10thand Cumberland to the City at no cost. The building is actually a recreation facility, not a school. In answer to a question from Huang, Benton explained that most of the FLO analytics contract will be kept by FLO and some will go to subcontractors hired by FLO.

Public Speakers

Egea-Hinton again reminded everyone that the Committee had a “hard stop”  time and that all speakers would be held to the 3-minute limit.

Lisa Haver told the Committee that there needs to be more transparency about the CSPR process, beginning with the details of the FLO contract. Why has the contract increased before the process even began?  She asked the Committee whether all CSPR meetings will be open to the public; even if there is no public participation, there should be public observation. She told the Board that the community fears the loss of more public schools through this process, with good reason.  Haver then asked the Board how the Finance and Facilities Committee had no knowledge of what was happening at so many facilities, most notably Ben Franklin/SLA. It would appear that District staff has not told the entire truth to the Board. She asked who would be held responsible not just for the construction delays and the asbestos mismanagement, but the fact that the District lied to the parents and community.  No one from the Board answered, but Dr. Hite said that the Inspector General has been asked to look at the entire Franklin/SLA process and that results of the investigation will be presented to the Board. Hite also told her that FLO contract is being increased because they have added 42 meetings to their schedule. When Haver asked the Board to respond to her other questions, Egea-Hinton said, “We heard your questions.’

The next speaker presented an analysis of city-wide and magnet schools which he believes are ‘failing’.

The following speaker presented specific requests for full disclosure on all steps of asbestos abatement. She asked that all work orders and timelines of abatements at all facilities be posted publicly. Parents at schools where work is taking place should be able to view the worklog. District employees should oversee and sign off on daily progress of abatement.

Zoe Rooney, APPS member, District parent and District teacher, asked questions on a number of subjects. She found that District reports on lead in schools have not been updated for 2019 and that the 2017 reports do not include lead levels in sinks. As for the CSPR, Rooney asked that special-admit and magnet schools be part of the process, not an afterthought. She asked whether FLO will be sharing data during the years-long CSPR process. Rooney pointed out that the district’s stated goal of having a great school “close to where students live” does not address the problem of residential segregation, and she asked the Board to consider a limited number allowed to attend out-of-catchment schools to increase diversity. Finally, Rooney cited the many contracts the Board has approved which are “non-urgent” and the millions this costs the taxpayers.

APPS member Diane Payne asked that information on Creedon’s background, experience, and work for the District be given. She requested that the names of presenting staff members be included on all power-points at the meeting and online.  Payne also expressed “confusion” about many aspects of the CSPR, in particular how people are being chosen to serve on planning committees. Dr. Hite agreed to include staff names on all presentations. Creedon then was summoned to the mic, and he provided the information Payne requested. He said he has been working as a consultant for the District for some time (he did not say for how long), and that now he will be focusing on environmental services.

Action Items

Egea-Hinton asked Floyd about Item 22, specifically, will the District still have access to “the tunnel “ to 440.  Floyd told her that access will be lost temporarily because of construction on the building next door (at Broad and Spring Garden).

At that point, a previous public speaker asked if he could have 3 more minutes because he had an important point to make. Huang  gave him 2 more minutes at the mic.

As Huang began to adjourn the meeting, Walker interrupted to speak about a high school shooting that occurred that morning in California, and he  asked for a 15-second moment of silence. Huang added that we should also remember the many Philadelphia students, including one high school student, who have been killed in recent weeks.

Huang then took a minute to answer a question posed by the speaker who was granted an additional two minutes.

The meeting adjourned after one hour and 46 minutes.