Joint Committee Meeting: June 11, 2020

by Lynda Rubin

All members of the Board were present for this remote combined meeting of the Student Achievement and Support Committee and the Finance and Facilities Committee: President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice President Leticia Egia-Hinton, Angela McIver, Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Maria McColgan, Lee Huang, Ameen Akbar. Board and District staff can be seen on screen during the remote meeting. Dr. Hite was present at the opening of the meeting and during the School Safety Update presentation. Several Board members and Dr. Hite made statements about the recent protests after the murder of George Floyd. 

 Student Board Representatives Doha Ibrahim and Imere Williams gave their final report. They spoke about finding  “safe spaces” in schools,  including clubs and classrooms. They took pride in being part of the successful campaign to have the Free Library drop late fees. Doha and Imere suggested sending notices of the Student Town Halls to all students in the school rather than having the principal select student leaders. This would give them a wider sampling of student voices and concerns. Doha also raised the possibility of virtual meetings. 

 The Board approved Minutes of the May 14, 2020 Joint Committee Meeting. 

Student Achievement Committee

Angela McIver chaired this portion of the meeting. 

(All Board Committee Meetings can be viewed  here on the Board’s website and meeting materials, including agendas and power point presentations can be found on the Board Meeting Material page )

 District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt presented an updated Continuity of Education Plan (available here Final Deck). Wyatt cited statistics for the access and participation monitoring for remote learning. She presented information on SOAR: Summer Opportunity for Academic Review, open to students in grades 3 through 7.  UPenn Rising Senior Summer Academy is available for seniors for academic, career and post-secondary preparation. (The application deadline for both programs was June 12, 2020.)  Wyatt told the Board that plans for the 2020-21 school reopening are still under discussion. Depending upon Covid-19 reports, schools could see full return to buildings by staff and students, fully remote, or some type of hybrid. The District will create a Health and Safety Plan by early July and a Reopening Plan by mid-July; City and state regulations will have to be considered. Wyatt said that the District will refer to a survey of stakeholders being sent out Monday, June 15, but didn’t say who was being identified as stakeholders.  Board member Fix Lopez requested more specificity for the types of return schedules and their projected effects on students and families. Wyatt answered that she could only promise a Framework and Guiding Principles report by mid-July. 

Charter Schools Chief Christina Grant narrated a power-point (available here Final Deck)

on five pending Charter School Renewals, some of which had been postponed for up to four years by the SRC and the Board.

Community Academy Of Philadelphia Charter  

Enrollment of 1220 in grades K-12 

Juniata Park

CSO Recommends  5-year renewal w/ 1 condition: Eliminate board/staff overlap with related party. (The CSO previously recommended a requested enrollment increase of 100 students that the Board denied.) 

Academics (K-8): Approaches Standard 70% / (9-12) Meets Standard (86%)

Organizational Compliance: Approaches; Financial Health: Approaches

Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):   $227, 327.

KIPP Philadelphia Charter 

Enrollment of 860 in grades K-8 

North Philadelphia

CSO Recommends 5-year renewal w/ 2  school-specific conditions related to Charter School’s board meeting locations and frequency.

Academics :Approaches (59%); Organizational Compliance : Approaches

Financial Health: Approaches

Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018): $164, 253.

Global Leadership Academy Charter  

Enrollment of 675 in grades K-8

West Philadelphia

Charter expired 2018-19 (School refused to sign agreement)            

Recommend 5-year renewal – No Conditions

Academics (in 18-19 evaluation ): Approaches (48%); 19-20 Approaches (50%)

Organizational Compliance: Approaches (in 18-19 evaluation and 19-20)

Financial Health (in 18-19 evaluation): Meets Standard (19-20):Approaches

     Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):  $327, 335.

Lindley Academy Charter at Birney

Enrollment of 750 in Grades K-8  

Logan

Managed by American Paradigm (Converted to Renaissance charter In 2011)

Charter expired  2015-16 (school refused to sign agreement)

Recommend 5-year renewal, No Conditions

Academics – Rating listed Renewal year (15-16)  NA   (16-17 and on) Approaches (57%)  Organizational Compliance – (15-16)  Approaches (16-17 and on) Meets Standard  Financial Health (15-16) Approaches (16-17 and on) Approaches

Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):  No IRS information available.

Tacony Academy Charter  

Enrollment of 1075 in Grades K-12   

Wissinoming

Managed by American Paradigm

Recommended 5 year renewal with Conditions (unspecified)

Academic (K-8): Renewal year (16-17) Meets Standard  (17-18 and on) Meets Standard (75%) : (HS) Renewal year (16-17) Does Not Meet Standard

(17-18 and on) Does Not Meet Standard (39%)

Organizational Compliance – Renewal year (16-17) Approaches (17-18 and on) Meets  

Financial Health:  Meets in both evaluations

Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):  $165, 849.  

Fix Lopez noted that Birney’s charter expired almost 5 years ago and asked how that affected the usual 5-year renewal. Grant replied that this approval is retroactive and that Birney will be up for regular renewal next year. None of the Board members asked why the renewal had been postponed for four years. Fix Lopez asked for clarification for Item #59 – Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master.  Grant stated the charter school will pay for the Special Master and in the course of her answer identified the school as Math, Civics, Science Charter School, which was not specified in the Item itself. 

APPS continues to question the Board’s continuation of the SRC’s almost complete lack of public accountability for charter operators. We have asked for a minimum of one public charter renewal hearing with charter operators present every five years, but no member of the Board has explained why they will not hold those hearings. We have asked why the charter operators have the option of refusing to sign renewal agreements for years and refusing to correct deficiencies in academics and organization. The Board also fails to post charters’ previous agreements, or to share with public stakeholders whether or not the charter school actually fulfilled any of the conditions previously imposed. The Board has adopted the SRC’s “too entrenched to fail” policy when it comes to charters. Will that apply to neighborhood public schools that may be targeted for closure under the CSPR recommendations?

In his School Safety Update (power-point available Final Deck), Dr. Hite noted that schools in other cities were beginning to remove police from their schools. He introduced Kevin Bethel, Special Advisor and Chief of School Safety and the District’s official representative to external law enforcement agencies. 

Bethel explained that there are 100 Philadelphia Police Officers who “support” the District but are not assigned to specific schools. They also manage the Police School Diversionary Program which provides for Social Services referrals and other services designed to keep students out of the criminal justice system. Bethel stated that  there are special protocols for students with disabilities.  He cited an 84% drop in school arrests since 2014. An MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between local schools and police under State Law mandates certain procedures. Under this MOU, there are procedures for specific levels of infractions and mandatory reports for both reportable and discretionary offenses. Bethel explained that District school police officers have no power to arrest. The MOU includes guidelines that Bethel says are just that – not mandatory arrest requirements.

Bethel elaborated that in discussions with the Police Department, the District Attorney and District Office for Student Rights Attorney Rachel Holtzman, he has repeatedly stated he is opposed to locking up kids in school and that arrests should only be for egregious assaults.  When asked, he stated he is open to meeting with the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) to discuss concerns. He later said that PSU and Urban Ed were “in concert” with some of these proposals.  Bethel listed changes for School Safety Officers (name changed from School Police): “new, softer uniforms”; new standards and transparent screening process; retraining staff operating scanners at entry doors; increasing trauma-informed approaches in working with students;  and new signage at scanners.  Board member McIver interjected her continuing concern for the effect that metal detectors have on students’ psyches as they enter school each day. 

When asked to further explain how the safety plan would operate, Abby Gray, Deputy Chief of School Climate and Culture, stated that in 2020-21 there will be emphasis on programs in schools – Positive Interventions and Supports (PBIS ) in 90 schools, Restorative Practices and 10 additional Youth Courts to the current 20, noting that 72% of resolutions are upheld by the student. Gray noted that 70 schools want to participate in Restorative Practices. She and Bethel cited a goal of reducing “exclusionary discipline” and aligning appropriate disciplinary steps with the severity of the infraction. Gray expressed her belief  that punitive measures don’t work. Gray cited several programs posted on the District’s Climate and Safety page, but there was no discussion on how well they work in the field or any needs assessment for improvement. Gray did cite the need for maintaining and increasing counseling staff.

APPS applauds the intention to have a District that will be more responsive to students’ needs as the children and teens they are. However, the description of the change in school procedures does not address how these will bring about actual change for students and support for schools on a daily basis in handling disruptive or troubled youth while considering the needs of other students. Once again, the programs are described as they are expected to be followed on  the School Climate page, not how they will or won’t dovetail with everyday school activities.

Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate for ACLU of Pennsylvania and an expert in school discipline, told the Notebook,  “I have nothing negative to say about what Kevin Bethel is doing.  He’s trying to lessen the conflict between school security and students, to tamp that down.” But he added that “…it doesn’t speak to the larger issue of whether spending money on school security is the best way to provide supports to students to help them move forward behaviorally and academically and to engage with education.” Regarding metal detectors, Jordan said, “The school police officer should not be the first person they see, especially for certain kids for whom police have too great a role in their lives.”  Bethel did not specify how, or even whether, the Safety Officers are going to be working with existing school staff (counselors, nurses, deans, teachers, etc.) who know the students and their families histories, not just in relation to a particular behavioral infraction.

Board Member Danzy asked what latitude is there for when police must be called. She was told there are 15 mandatory offenses including  sexual assaults, robbery, aggravated assault. Danzy asked if “just bringing in a weapon”, though mandatory for reporting, could in some cases be referred for diversion. She cited one example in which a boy who worked after school brought a box-cutter into school; he said he forgot he had it. Bethel said there could be some discretion. She also asked if the principal was involved in making the decision whether to call the police if no weapon was involved. Bethel replied that the rights of the victim and their parents had input on that. Wilkerson noted that the Board recently banned suspensions for Grades K-2 and posited the question whether that should be extended to grades 3, 4 and 5?  Fiz Lopez stated that incidents also happen on the way to and from school. She said that children can get silly and rambunctious but how it’s handled in those situations should not be decided by Philadelphia police. 

McIver then commented about an Item that had just been added to the agenda that day, Item # 66 – Ratification of a contract with Great City Schools – Board of Governance ($8,863) to cover travel expenses [in the 2019-20 year] for employees of the Council of Great City Schools to conduct trainings and working sessions with members of the Board of Education on effective board governance practices. Without actually asking a question or raising a specific concern, McIver’s comment went unanswered.  There were no other questions or comments about Action Items from Board members. 

Unlike previous Student Achievement Committee meetings held in the Committee Room at 440, there was almost no discussion at this meeting on any of the 66 Items to be presented to the full Board at its next Action Meeting. The Board has justified the lack of deliberation at Action meetings by pointing to deliberation and dialogue at the Committee meetings. Such dialogue has led Committee members recommending the postponing of the vote while more information is gathered, but that practice seems to have ended.  Remote meetings provide the same amount of time as in-person meetings. 

Public Speakers 

Kathleen Butts, District teacher and parent, submitted written testimony in which she stated that for remote learning to work, the District must consult with the PFT about teacher responsibilities and other issues. She also recommended that only essential spending be voted on since there are still many unknowns that the District could face due to the pandemic.

Lisa Haver, retired teacher and APPS co-founder, referred to APPS’ recent posting of an in-depth research report on Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) and its role as representative and lobbyist for the interests of wealthy local and national donors,  replacing community control with corporate control of public education. Such privatization efforts and corporate looting promoted by the SRC appears to be continued by the Board through continual renewals of privately managed charters that fail to meet even basic standards and by allowing PSP to insinuate itself into District matters from recruitment to leadership training. Haver told the Board that its commitment to students’ needs will be judged not by the speeches they make but by the votes they take.

Zoe Rooney, District parent and  teacher and member of both APPS and Parents United for Public Education, told the Board that its actions must match its worlds on confronting anti-Black racism in a District largely of students of color. The District claims to be eradicating policies and changing systems while still paying outside companies for test-prep rather than more teachers and support staff. Rooney also decried the lack of environmental justice, having students and staff work in toxic and hazardous workplaces while funds continue to be funneled into leadership consulting and profitable but unproven corporate programs such as “mindfulness”. 

Cheri Micheau, APPS member and longtime ELL expert, objected to the fact that public speakers could be heard but not seen. Micheau also urged the Board to invite representatives from instructional leadership with knowledge of what has and hasn’t worked in distance learning.

Lynda Rubin, retired counselor and APPS member, speaking against Item #49, admonished the Board for allowing wealthy foundations, in this case the Neubauer Foundation, to set policy for District professional development. Since Neubauer is the founder of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL), also funded by  PSP, using PASL “grants” allows these groups to control how principals and teachers are trained and which curricular products they will use. Rubin noted the extensive number of items on the agenda which contract out School District functions and personnel training to edu-businesses who value profit over public educational interests.

Karel Kilimnik, retired teacher and APPS co-founder, decried the continued lack of detailed descriptions and the missing information in official agenda Items. One example: Item #59, a Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master, failed to disclose the recipient of the contract, the specific requirements, and the school to which the services would be provided. She reminded the Board that as governmental officials they have the responsibility to answer questions about specifics of Items being voted on at Action meetings.

Jennifer Byiers, parent of a Henry School student, expressed her concern that Item #50 for a  $1,500,00 to City Year for one year of youth staffed programs should be spent to replace diminished school counselor supports and other essential personnel.

Deborah Grill, APPS member, retired reading teacher, and certified teacher librarian (CTL), first reminded the Board that they had recently made a commitment to return to in-house principal training. She also objected to the lack of information in Item #59 and asked why the disclosure that the school in question is Math, Civics and Science Charter was not made until the meeting.  Grill questioned how, if the administration of the charter didn’t have the expertise to develop a successful special education program or couldn’t be trusted to find someone who could, the Board could decide to renew the charter in the first place. Grill reserved some of her time so that the Board could answer, but Chair Angela McIver cited “time constraints” as the reason for not answering her question. 

Emily Pugliese, parent of a Houston Elementary student, said that remote learning was frustrating and not productive for younger grade students.

Cecelia Thompson, parent of a special needs student and member of the Board’s Community Engagement Committee, said that surveys put out by the District do not sufficiently engage the parents’ own concerns, especially about special education and ELL students. She asked that CTE students be consulted about what they want to learn when planning programs. Thompson suggested that before Item #37, Contract with US Foods – Groceries and Provisions for $19,8000,000 be approved, the District should get samples to check the taste and quality of the food, which she said has been substandard. Thompson closed by thanking Chief Bethel for opposing locking up students as a general practice. She also noted that some disabilities can cause aggressive behavior and that must be considered.

Finance and Facilities Committee 

Lee Huang chaired this portion of the meeting. All Board members remained present. 

(Board Committee Meetings can be viewed here on the Board’s website and meeting materials, including agendas and power point presentations can be found on the Board Meeting Material page )

Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson narrated a Budget Update power-point (available here Final Deck).  Monson stated that despite the pandemic disruption, the new Finance and Procurement procedures will be complete by the scheduled date of July 1, 2020.  The HR system and Payroll’s live testing date, however, has been moved to January 1,  2021, with an additional cost of $2.7 million. The new Finance and Procurement process will include “shopping cart”-like  purchasing for schools and departments; centralized invoices and payments, taking the burden off school personnel and improving accountability and payments to vendors; new features that tie online contracts to vendor payments; and a new module for tracking Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE). The site includes a self-service portal for vendor registration.  The District still plans to launch a new HR application system (Taleo) in October 2020 to provide an improved experience in the hiring process. Due to the pandemic, the new operational date for the HR system and Payroll will be July 1, 2021. This will affect the launch of the employee attendance system (Kronos); additional costs are estimated at $2.75 million.

Cash Flow and Fund Balance: District revenues come in at varying times throughout the year, mainly because City real estate revenues are received in February and March. Revenues over $815 million from the City are projected in Fiscal Year 2021; real estate taxes comprise 26% or total revenues. Revenues can fluctuate monthly between $100 million to $650 million a month. Expenditures, scheduled payroll and charter payments, are more consistent through the year. Expenditures range from $250 million to $450 million a month. Monson projects a $159 million year-end fund balance for FY 2020, equal to 4.8% of total expenditures. 

Short Term Debt: The $159 million fund balance will not offset the District’s lower revenues of July 2020 to January 2021. Monson stated that the District will have to borrow money  to cover lower cash flows from November to January. To allow for regular cash flow throughout the year, the District borrows Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs). According to Monson, this is standard government practice to smooth cash flow. Funds must be borrowed and repaid in the same fiscal year. PA State law requires the District to do projected cash flow for the year and use a formula for TRAN borrowing. The District plans to do a Public Offering to take advantage of low interests rates in early July. As of June 9, 2020, the Estimated Interest Rate is 1.35%.

Jim Creedon, Interim Chief of Facilities Management and Capital Projects, presented a Facilities Update (power-point presentation available here Final Deck). Creedon’s consulting contract ends on June 30; the Board has not yet hired a full-time department chief.

Construction: Creedon reported that the construction industry standard for change orders is 5% for new construction and 8%-12% for renovation projects. The District change order rate was below the industry standard until the Ben Franklin/SLA project and the inclusion of more aggressive environmental concerns during construction.

 Creedon said there are four reasons for Change Orders: design error, design omission, unforeseen condition, and owner (District) request.

Wilkerson asked Creedon about how much the District has spent on errors that the contractor is responsible for, not the district. Creedon stated that in 2020  there were 56 approved design errors, costing $807,599, which was 5.04% of all change order reasons. Design errors made up the smallest amount of overage costs reasons.. (see ppt chart in final deck for complete chart.)

Creedon provided the following data on the District’s Lead Safe School Program 

· 32 full school stabilizations completed

· 26 full stabilizations to be completed by end of summer

· 25 Lead Safe repairs to be made by end of summer (not full stabilization projects)

· 6 Lead Safe examinations completed with no stabilization required

This program, begun in June 2018, cost $12.2 million in FY 20, with $4.2 million from state, $4.5 million from District Capital funds, and $3.5 million from District Operating funds.

Danzy asked whether there is a plan to go back and repaint “stabilized” buildings. Creedon agreed that it should be done. He estimated costs and advised the Board to come back with a plan. OR, he suggested that any building that falls under a Capital Budget project should be stabilized and repainted while the building is undergoing major renovation. e.g. Wilson.

Asbestos Abatement Program: AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) requires that all public and non-profit schools inspect each school building for asbestos and prepare an asbestos management plan to prevent disturbance of asbestos. Creedon reported:

  • 40 projects underway or planned for completion by August 15, 2020  (32 could be   capital projects)
  • Completion of projects addressed in 2020
  • Ten  projects to remove all material from the buildings 
  • AHERA Inspections:  47  completed since April 13, 2020; 13 schools with identified imminent hazards; expect to complete 25-30 additional inspections prior to August 15, 2020
  • Additional coordination with PFT 

Fix Lopez asked whether the District was hiring more cleaners to address COVID-19 needs. Creedon did not answer that question, but replied that it will vary according to the reopening model the District uses.

In answer to a question from Wilkerson, Creedon said that there is now a much stronger relationship with the PFT; disagreements are expected but have not been a problem. Wilkerson stated the City will have a report out next week.

Huang asked about any proposed Action Items needing discussion. The only response to that was 

Monson’s clarification that the levying of taxes is not yet completed and the City Council is planning a vote for June 25th, the same day as the next Action Meeting. He said he hoped a decision would be reached before the Action Meeting so that the Board could conduct an authorization vote before June 30th, but as in the past, he said that can be worked out.

Fix Lopez made a comment that the District has to be transparent with the community regarding its Fall reopening plan because parents have to make their own plans around their work schedules. There were no other questions or comments about Action Items from the Board. 

 Public Speakers

Ilene Poses, former teacher and APPS member, spoke against approving Item #6. Acceptance of a Grant from Philadelphia School Partnership – “Keys to my Success” at Philadelphia High School for Girls ($493,279). A Girls’ High graduate herself, Poses pointed out that this “gift” will go to raise test scores for the next three entering classes. She questioned PSP’s stated interest in improving education at the school as they did not speak with educators at the school about it. Money wasted on more test-taking skills does not improve reading or math skills. Standardized tests have been found to be biased against students of color. Educators would more likely want money spent to bring back libraries and certified librarians. They are essential in teaching learning and research skills which are crucial for college-bound Girls’ High students.

Barbara McDowell Dowdall, another former Philadelphia public school teacher, Girls High Alumni and APPS member, also decried Item #6 as advancing PSP’s agenda of insinuating themselves into the future of Girls’ High educational priorities. Girls’ High has a legacy of empowering young women to reach their full potential. PSP is dangling money under the guise of raising the school’s enrollment for a project that they, PSP, support–testing. What’s not said is that PSP’s “gift” only funds three of the five years of the program, requiring Girls’ High to provide the money for years 4 and 5. The Alumni Association has been enticed to provide those monies, instead of smaller classes, a reading specialist,  library restoration or cultural opportunities. Dowdall called PSP  an “out-sized funder of charter schools,” with a penchant for outsourcing student education needs to profit-making businesses with whom it has connections.

Before closing the meeting Huang gave a recap on items needing more consideration: Fix Lopez’s request for more information on schools with continued asbestos issues, Creedon’s helpful suggestions on managing change orders. Egea-Hinton asked if such information could be disseminated to the Board bi-monthly.

The Board holds its next remote Action Meeting on June 25, 2020 at 5:00pm.