Mayor’s Nominating Panel Turns Its Back on the Public

by Ilene Poses

On November 17, Mayor Kenney’s 13-member Nominating Panel convened to open proceedings on filling  three vacancies on the Philadelphia School Board. They billed the event as a “public hearing”,  but it was actually a live television show. No public testimony or interaction of any kind was permitted.  The Panel, reading quickly from their scripts, wrapped up the TV show  in just over 30 minutes. Chair Wendell Pritichett, former School Reform Commissioner, gave little information on the selection process and did not give the date of the next Panel meeting.  He and the Panelists did take time to congratulate each other for their service.  

Pritchett mentioned in passing that the Nominating Panel would again be conducting all deliberations in executive session. Pritchett, a Penn law professor, failed to cite the specific reason for moving the Panel out of the public eye–probably because there is none. APPS members protested this same violation of the PA Sunshine Act when the Panel convened in 2018. Did the people of Philadelphia fight so hard for local control just to be shut out of all discussions about our representatives on the School Board?  The Panel — itself chosen without any public input — has sent nine semi-finalists, from whom the Mayor will choose his three nominees. The Mayor can ask for more candidates if he is not satisfied with the Panel’s choices; he has until December 26 to ask for more names.  City Council must confirm those nominees. In the past, however, Council has done little more than rubber-stamp the Mayor’s choices.

In a December 7 letter to the Mayor, representatives from APPS and Our City Our Schools (OCOS)  asked the Mayor to confirm that all Panelists meet the one qualification to serve cited in the City’s Home Rule: that they are registered Philadelphia voters.  We also asked for copies of their Statements of Financial Interest, which all City officials, including those serving on commissions and boards, are required to file.   The public has a right to know whether those making important decisions actually live in the city and with whom they are affiliated both financially and politically. We also asked for a delay in filing the vacancies so the community could have some voice in this process.   The Mayor has not responded to any questions or requests from the education activists. A search of public records on the City’s website indicates that none of the Panelists filed. 

APPS and OCOS convened a December 9 press conference to bring our issues to the attention of all of those in the city who care about public education and to the elected officials who have yet to take a stand on these issues. This shutout of the public is particularly egregious since Philadelphians are the only people  in the state who remain disenfranchised in the choice of school board representatives.  

The Mayor’s office announced the details of the December 16 Nominating Panel meeting on a Saturday morning just four days before the meeting. The Board of Education provided little information on its website.  Some of those who managed to sign up to speak noted the difficulty in finding that information. We did score one victory: this second meeting would include actual public testimony, although arbitrarily limited to ten speakers.  But the time—3 PM—meant that working parents and District staff would find it more difficult to attend. No translators were provided for those whose first language is not English, nor was there any ASL translator.  

In their usual scripted format, the Nominating Panel announced the nine candidates they  chose in their private deliberations:    

  • Karima Bouchenafa, Assistant Director for the Honors Institute at Jefferson  University
  • Tariem Burroughs, Community engagement specialist and program director for the “Bridging the Gaps” program at Temple University
  • Natalia Dominguez Buckley, Vice-president at Santander Bank, parent of parochial school students who serves on the Board of Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS)
  • Gavin Keirans, partner at Rox Strategy, a management consulting business, who has worked for Accenture (Accenture has been granted a number of District contracts) 
  • Azeb Kinder, CEO of the Kinder Group
  • John (Jack) Lynch, Former president of the Wallingford-Swarthmore Education Association
  • Lisa Salley, a mechanical engineer
  • Reginald Streater, Vice-president of the Greater Philadelphia ACLU Executive Board 
  • Cecelia Thompson, Chairperson of the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force

With the exception of Cecelia Thompson, a well-known parent activist and expert on Special Education issues, we do not recall hearing any of the candidates testify at any Board meeting or speaking out in any way to defend public education. Many do have connections to the business and financial sectors of the city.  It is unclear whether any of the nominees have relatives and/or children who attend Philadelphia public schools, although one candidate has sent her children to parochial schools. 

Several APPS members testified. Lisa Haver expressed her “alarm” at the choices made by the Panel, asking why the list included a banker and one person who referred to education as “building human capital”. Karel Kilimnik said that “there has been a shroud of secrecy over the entire process”.  Diane Payne decried the “disenfranchisement of the people of Philadelphia”.  Lynda Rubin pointed to the need to be aware of proposed Board members’ affiliations.  What other boards and non-profits do they sit on?  Some possible conflicts include involvement with companies that do business with the District. 

Pritchett thanked the speakers, but offered not a single response to their questions and concerns. Panelists sat in silence, maybe because they had been given no script for answering members of the public.