Mayor’s Nominating Panel Shuts Out Public Again

by Lynda Rubin

Only people “in the know” knew about this meeting of Mayor Kenney’s Education Nominating Panel. The City’s Education Office put out no notice via email or social media. The Mayor didn’t mention the upcoming Panel convening when he appeared with the Board’s superintendent nominee last week, nor did Board President Joyce Wilkerson. APPS members are in the know because we attend all Board action and committee meetings. Because our members read the small-print legal notices in the newspaper every day, we knew that the Panel was to hold its opening meeting to select “one or more” persons, in the words of City Education Director Otis Hackney, to serve on the Board of Education. The Panel will meet in private for all meetings except the first and last. The people of Philadelphia will have nothing to say about who will represent them on the Board. In fact, neither the mayor or Wilkerson has disclosed how many vacancies the Panel will be filling. 

The Panel solicits candidates for the Board of Education, considers applicants, and provides recommendations to the mayor. The mayor selects from the recommendations.  City Council must then confirm the nominees. 

The Nominating Panel met in what they called a “hybrid” meeting–that is, the Panel members attended in person but members of the public were relegated to attending virtually. The City did not live-stream the meeting. Only those who registered in advance could attend via zoom; those who wished to testify had to register separately. Not all who registered received confirmation and had to re-register. Unlike the superintendent search, there was no mention of the search for Board members in any media outlet.  A video camera set up at one end of the table gave viewers a fishbowl-like view of the panelists around a long conference table. Panelists did not have individual microphones, most of the time it sounded like people speaking underwater. 

The truly unfathomable thing about this process is that this poorly advertised meeting will be the only public meeting until after all of the applications are received and considered. No outreach policy for candidates was discussed. It seems that word of mouth and outreach by insider politicians and those with political connections will be relied upon to recruit candidates. The only other public meeting will take place when this committee makes its recommendations to the Mayor.

The Panel capped public speakers at ten, no explanation given.  APPS co-founder Lisa Haver told the panel that the meeting was “a travesty and an insult to the people of Philadelphia.”   She reminded the panel and the public that there is no legal justification for the panel to meet in executive session, that it is a violation of the state’s Sunshine Act.  The panel is not hiring District employees, Haver told them, they are selecting public officials. She pointed out that the panel’s meeting time — at 11 a.m. on a workday — deliberately shut out teachers, students, and most school stakeholders.  APPS member Lynda Rubin appealed to the panel to consider applicants who understand the relationship between child development stages and how they affect learning. She noted that Board members should be more cognizant of the specific effects on learning caused by trauma that children are exposed to. Rubin said that these traits are more important in Board members now because the administrative staff at 440, which used to be comprised of front-line educators who moved from local schools to administrative support is now populated by administrators who have a disconnect from actual teaching strategies and needs, as well as an understanding of student learning, and how trauma in neighborhoods affect children’s learning and development.  APPS member Barbara Dowdall also criticized the process of searching for Board members and superintendents with minimal opportunities for public engagement. She said that Board members should be versed in PA charter school laws and operations, and the importance of the restoration of Certified Teacher Librarians to every school along with an ample budget to support this vital educational component. Penn professor and education activist Akira Drake, who has been part of the fight for healthy schools,  had signed up to speak but was unable to get out of a work obligation. 

Until we can vote for an elected school board, APPS will continue to fight for full disclosure and full public participation in this process.