Finance and Facilities Committee Report: December 5, 2019

by Lisa Haver

At this last meeting of 2019, the Committee heard updates about abatement of environmental crises and the Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR). Content of Action Items under review were neither distributed to the public nor projected during the meeting. The power-point presentations were not posted online until the day after the meeting.

Present: Co-chair Leticia Egea-Hinton, Committee Members Wayne Walker and  Joyce Wilkerson. Board members Christopher McGinley, Maria McColgan, Mallory Fix Lopez, and Julia Danzy also attended.  Co-chair Lee Huang was absent; Walker acted as Co-chair. Dr. Hite, who presented the updates on the SLA/Franklin, Peirce Elementary and other environmental crises sites at the November Committee meeting, did not attend.

Minutes of the November meeting were approved by voice vote.

APPS members have asked when questions raised in Committee meetings by the public, and by Board members themselves, would be answered. In one step toward accountability, the meeting began with updates from senior staff to answer questions asked in previous meetings.

Staff Updates

Chief of School Planning Vanessa Benton was called up to report on CSPR. APPS members have asked, in Committee and Board meetings, why the CSPR meetings are not open to the public until near the end of the process, after the recommendations have been made. Benton said that the District is still working through “logistics” but that there will be “additional opportunities” for public engagement. What Benton did not say is why the meetings being held currently cannot be open to the public.  (Benton told the Public School Notebook last week,  “It’s not that we don’t want to share the data … but it’s complicated,” Benton said. “We don’t want to put something out that might trigger a reaction, when it’s incomplete … we don’t want to jeopardize success by sharing data prematurely.”)

Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson provided an updated on the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), including the Kronos time clocks and financial systems. Monson said that all facets of the program were “on-track”.

(These updates are a positive development, but the Committee should ask first for a brief overview of the goals and costs of the program in question.)

Lead and Asbestos

Interim Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects Jim Creedon gave an update on the environmental crises across the District. Asbestos inspections have been carried out in several buildings including Finletter, Nebinger, Meredith and Harrington. As of that day, 85 inspections have been initiated, 70 completed. Most asbestos can be found in floor tiles and around pipes. Creedon said that scheduled inspections should be “wrapped up” by December 20. Creedon also reported that 32 lead “stabilizations” have been completed. The District has received a state grant for lead stabilization but only for buildings in targeted zip codes. The District hired an Environmental Resource Manager on November 18.

Wilkerson said that the Board would be dealing with environmental issues in Renaissance schools in the near future. APPS members had asked the Board at the November Action Meeting how the District would protect students in Renaissance schools, in particular at Mastery Douglass, where water fountains spewed brown water for over a year.

Power-point presentations can be found by going to the Committee meeting agenda.

Videos can be found here.

Action Items

The Committee deliberated on two Action Items. They did not read the Items in full, so public attendees could only guess at what they were talking about. McGinley remarked on the $130,000 increase in the contract with Mobilease, Inc. (Item 26) from $4, 366, 200 to $4, 496, 200. Mobilease will be installing a separate electrical service for a modular classroom building at Mayfair Elementary.   Walker asked what “if necessary’” means in Item 17, a $1.5 million contract with Wayne Moving and Storage for “services in support of capital projects within the District”. The District has incurred increased costs for personnel, construction, asbestos and lead removal, relocation of students, and storage of resources as a result of the environmental crises now being dealt with.

Public Speakers

Parent Barbara Dallao returned to testify on the current environmental issues. She commended the District for carrying out the repairs in a timely manner. Dallao recommended that the Board approve a policy to train teachers and staff to recognize environmental concerns, especially asbestos.

APPS co-founder Lisa Haver again requested that the CSPR process be open to the public from the beginning. Benton responded that there would be one meeting in January and one in March, which did not address the request. Haver also asked why the Board attaches a cost to every Action Item except for those that deal with charters—new charters, amendments and renewals. She reminded them that their renewal of 7 Mastery charters in September, with little review by the Board, will cost taxpayers approximately $441 million over 5 years.

Lynda Rubin addressed the issue of naming buildings or rooms in schools after donors. One item proposes renaming a school Science lab for a former Philadelphia Zoo director. Rubin said that the Board should be mindful of the fiasco last year  in Abington where the Superintendent agreed, without public knowledge, to rename the school, along with other mandates, in honor of a prominent donor in return for a $25 million endowment. McGinley said that this was not really comparable, that this was a “grass-roots” initiative to honor a longtime supporter of the school rather than a corporate one. He did share some of Rubin’s concerns and said that the Board will review the relevant District policy.

Special Education advocate and District parent Cecelia Thompson compared the SLA/Franklin fiasco to the movie “The Money Pit” in which the contractors repeatedly promise that the work will be done in “two weeks”.

District parent and leader of the Healthy Schools Initiative Robin Roberts asked the Board to improve the communication between parents and District officials on these issues. Roberts also refuted Creedon’s figures on how many asbestos sites have actually been fully abated.