Good afternoon Chairwoman Blackwell and Council members. My name is Lisa Haver; I am a retired teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS). I taught at Roosevelt Middle School which after 82 years as a middle school was converted by the SRC to a K-8 in 2013; Central East Middle School, now Feltonville Arts and Sciences; and Harding Middle School in East Frankford, which reported a 5% fill rate for substitute teachers this year.
To address your earlier comment, Chairwoman Blackwell, yes, there are many of us who have observed the actions of the SRC over the past fifteen years, the past three in particular, who feel that public schools in Philadelphia are being starved of resources, not just by the inactions in Harrisburg but by the spending priorities of the SRC itself.
We are hearing today about crumbling buildings with rodent infestations; sick buildings which make the adults and students, especially those with conditions like asthma, even sicker; students who haven’t had a full-time teacher all year; students who don’t even know what a school library is because they have never been in one.
The debacle which has ensued after the SRC decision to outsource substitutes is unprecedented. Stories in all of the papers, including last week’s NewsWorks article, leave no doubt about this. A teacher at Edison became emotional when he spoken to reporter Kevin McCorry about how this is affecting his students, especially his freshmen. Everyone seems to understand that this is harming the students except the Superintendent and the SRC. There is no other reason not to cancel this contract except for the original reason to sign it: to privatize services and diminish the size of the union. This obviously comes before the need of the students to learn in a stable environment.
Let’s not forget how we got here and who makes the real decisions. We have been conducting a very experiment on our children in this city which we should have pulled the plug on years ago. The SRC, in the past 15 years, has instituted policies and practices which were mandated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Boston Consulting Group, and the many corporations and foundations which funnel money through the Philadelphia School Partnership. Their agendas are not based on what is best for children. They are based on a corporate model of “dump the losers”: close schools, create new charters which divert more money away from public schools, blame teachers and try to balance the budget on the backs of union members. They justify this with data from high-stakes standardized tests which force students to sit for hours and days filling in bubbles instead of learning.
We all know that Harrisburg has not provided the funding our schools need. But we also can’t ignore the spending decisions that have been made by the SRC.
Why is the Hite administration spending $15 to 20 million this year to Renaissance three schools and create a couple of new high schools when we don’t have enough teachers? Why does the SRC spend millions on fees for outside legal firms when there are fewer than eight full-time librarians in the entire district?
The Hite administration and the SRC should not be spending significant dollars on the kind of superficial changes like the Transformation program and the Redesign program or building a couple of new high schools which affect only a few schools, and with benefits yet to be seen. These window-dressing strategies seem to be just another way to force teachers out of schools, only adding to the trauma of the students. What we don’t hear Dr Hite or anyone from his administration say: We are working to make every school a good school. Why do he and the SRC members keep talking about moving students to a high-quality school? Why aren’t they working to make every school a high-quality school? The Inquirer recently reported on the efforts of Principal Stephanie Andrew Levich and her staff to create an excellent school for their students at Mitchell Elementary at 58th and Kingsessing in Southwest Philadelphia. You don’t have to make a school a charter school in order to make it a good school.
So many of these things, things which hurt our students—more and more high-stakes testing, giving public schools to charters that don’t achieve any higher, closing neighborhood—are decisions that are made behind closed doors at 440, or in the board rooms of the Wm Penn Foundation and PSP, or in the board rooms of corporations across the country. The community is left out of the democratic process in the most important decisions. That needs to change. We the people of Philadelphia should be able to make those decisions through our elected representatives, as we do here in City Council. The people of Philadelphia should be disenfranchised no longer. We need an elected school board.