Finance and Facilities Committee: September 12, 2019

by Lisa Haver

Two positive developments: the acoustics were much better and the Committee members were very responsive to the public speakers.

Present: when the meeting convened at 10 AM, Co-chairs Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang. Joyce Wilkerson arrived at 10:13; Wayne Walker attended via phone. Angela McIver, Chris McGinley and Julia Danzy arrived later and sat at the head table.   The attendance of other Board members is appreciated, but the Co-chairs should specify who actually serves on the Committee.

The Agenda listed 22 Action Items for possible discussion before the September 19 Action Meeting. No content was included, not even the amount of the contract or grant.  The Committee did address the need to have Items on the Committee agenda at least one week before the Action Meetings. (I reminded the Committee before my testimony that the District, in its legal settlement with APPS on Sunshine Act violations, agreed to post all Action Items at least 2 weeks prior to the Action Meeting.)

Minutes of the June 13 2019 Committee meeting were approved by the Co-chairs.

Facilities Department Director Danielle Floyd presented updates on several projects including the $109 million GESA (Guaranteed Energy Savings Act)  initiative. (The power-points presented at the meeting were not available online prior to the meeting; they are not up as of this writing hours after the meeting.) This phase of GESA, over the next 6 years, should improve energy conservation in 12 facilities; the District expects to save $450,000 in energy costs. Phase I will begin this year in three schools: Conwell Middle Magnet, Gompers Elementary, and Lincoln High.

Ms. Egea-Hinton asked Ms. Floyd to address the issue of asbestos and other toxic subjects in District schools, including Meredith Elementary, that were reported on in local media the day of the meeting.

Ms. Floyd said that she wanted to “remind the public that we provide safe, healthy schools”.  She enumerated the ways in which her office continues to assess environmental hazards: following the federal asbestos monitoring procedure; completing the 3-year internal report; providing Building Engineers with asbestos awareness training, updates of which are online; summer asbestos abatement projects; major efforts to document lead-based paint reporting which led to 34 schools designated “lead-safe”.  Dr. McIver asked where parents can find information on the safety of their children’s schools on the District website. Floyd responded by listing the pages and tabs on the website, then said it’s actually easier to just use the search-bar. (That prompted Ms. Egea-Hinton to remark that she has “found it difficult to navigate” the District website.) Floyd said that information about District and Renaissance charters can be found on the District website.  Where can parents of charter school students find that information?

Before discussion of  Action Items, Mr. Huang called up public speaker Cecelia Thompson, whose topic was Action Item 26, Reimbursement of Transportation Costs. Ms. Thompson testified that it has taken months for parents of Special Needs students to receive reimbursement for the money they spend to get their children to school.

The Committee had a brief discussion of Action Items, but no vote was taken on recommendation to full Board on any particular Item.

Speakers on general topics were called up; I was first on the list.  I asked the Committee why charter items were not included on the agenda, as ⅓ of the District budget is spent on charter schools, and why Items on charters never include a dollar amount.   I told them the estimated amount that the 10 charters recently renewed by the Board will cost over the next 5 years--$515 million. In addition, the estimated  5-year expenditure for the 7 Mastery charters up for renewal this month (of the 13 Mastery charters in the District) comes to $888 million.  Both Dr. McIver and Dr. McGinley repeated my question to CFO Uri Monson–why don’t charter Items include an amount as all other Items do?  Monson said that it could be done, but that it is hard to give an exact amount as allotments change annually based on enrollments. Monson said his office might be able to put together  a “financial impact statement” on charters.

Community activist Horace Clouden, citing figures from a report he compiled, asked why the District was spending more on special-admit schools, particularly Constitution High,  that were not performing well academically. McIver thanked Clouden for his research and said that the Committee would be discussing issues that he brought to them.

Community activist Mama Gail Clouden spoke about the toxic conditions in schools.

Danielle Floyd gave an update on transportation issues and gave a hotline number for parents with complaints:  215-400-4350. Floyd assured a member of the public who asked that a caller would be able to “speak to a human”. For years, transportation issues have been brought to the Board, and the SRC before them, by parents and educators both. Buses are late in the morning and students miss instruction and breakfast. Buses are late at dismissal, forcing teachers and administrators to scramble to find supervision for students stuck at school.  The Board needs to find a solution to these problems.