Eyes on the SRC:  March 15, 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
March 12, 2018

Reading about the many recent school shootings has been heartbreaking. School culture has changed so that students today have grown up with metal detectors, school police officers, and lockdowns. Resolution A-4 (Operating Budget: $500,000 Contracts with AstroPhysics, Autoclear, and Ceia – Weapons Screening Equipment and Supplies) tells a sad tale of what has become normal in so many of our schools. Veteran teacher Kristin Luebbert described a lockdown drill at her school in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Hearing the signal while in the hall with her students, she quickly shepherded them back into the room, plastered the windows with paper and sent the children to the back. Turning around she saw her students arming themselves with scissors, a heavy-duty stapler, and a bottle of Windex.  They told her they were prepared to defend themselves and her.

Edu-vendors continue to prosper at the expense of our students. Carnegie Learning (B-3) siphons off another $3 million as the District extends their contract to “provide professional development services to approximately 1500 K-8 and Algebra I teachers in support of the District’s annual summer mathematics initiative (2018 Summer Math Institute).”

Carnegie Learning traces its roots back to the 1980’s, when researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed an “intelligent” math tutoring system. (Carnegie Learning spun out as an independent company in 1998, and its ownership has changed hands several times between private equity groups and other investors.)

Other investors, thereby blurring the lines of accountability and transparency, routinely gobble these private companies up. They are accountable to their investors—not the public.

In January, APPS members submitted questions to the SRC about the resolution approving the sale of the former Ada Lewis Middle School in East Germantown. This meeting’s Resolution A-10 reflects a modification to the sale. How this will affect the community is unknown. The January resolution description provided little information. In our analysis of that Resolution, we share the details we were given at that SRC meeting.  We need to keep in mind that Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney are united in their intention to close more neighborhood schools.   District schools receive no dispensation and have no pathway to appeal any decision by the Superintendent or the SRC to close them down. Five years ago, students, parents, and teachers in twenty-four public schools found they had no standing in the fight to save their own schools. Their stories were heartbreaking but caused no change in the decision. The state’s charter law, on the other hand, guarantees an extensive legal process for any charter facing closure, effectively keeping the school open for many years.

Drexel University (A-18) was chosen to manage the federal ProSPER grant whose origins lie to the North in Harlem.  ProSPER represents the Obama Administration’s attempt to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone, a private non-profit with several charter schools, preschool programs, health clinics, social service agencies, and parenting programs.  The Harlem Children’s Zone provides cradle-to-high school services provided by a private entity. Some of what they have done is worthy of duplication but not under private control where the accountability and transparency evaporate. The question is how much autonomy the District schools have in saying what their school needs.

What If…?

…instead of outsourcing almost $ 4 million services this month, that money was used to put a dent in the estimated $5 billion it will cost to repair our public school buildings—from leaky roofs to deficient electrical systems?

Register to speak at the March 15, 2018 meeting. Call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday, March 14.

Next SRC meeting: Thursday March 22 at 4:30 PM. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday, March 21.

Click here to read Resolutions of Note
for the March 15th SRC meeting.



APPS Researches School Board Nominees

SB nominating panel
The Philadelphia School Board Nominating Panel

As APPS members and followers know, we have been fighting to open up the process for the selection of the new school board.

Mayor Kenney has taken control of the process, raising questions about how independent the Nominating Panel has been.

The Nominating Panel is a governmental body; its members are City officials. The Panel is obligated to follow all laws, including the PA Sunshine Act.

The Sunshine Act stipulates that citizens must be able to witness and have an opportunity to speak about actions taken by government officials, whether elected or appointed. Only two of the Panel’s meetings were held in public; all of the vetting of candidates was done behind closed doors.

The Mayor and the Nominating Panel, Chaired by former SRC Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, also ignored calls to release the applications. Thus, there was no way for the public to know who was being considered or to have anything to say about them. We believe that the public has a right to know who will be representing them as public officials. The school board will be overseeing a $3 billion budget and making decisions which will affect the future of our city and our schools.

What follows is the first installment of reports on the twenty-seven candidates chosen by the thirteen people on the Nominating Panel. The italicized paragraph is the official bio released by the Mayor’s office. What follows is what we were able to find by doing a basic Google/LinkdIn search. If you see any outdated or incorrect information, or you have additional information on any of the nominees, please contact us at philaapps@gmail.com.

Please follow our posts as we will be updating with information on other nominees.

–Lisa Haver and Deb Grill

Click here to read the first installment of nominee reports.

Click here to read the second installment of nominee reports.


APPS News: March 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
March 5, 2018

 Nominating Panel Meets Behind Closed Doors

This hectic season continues as APPS fights against ever more threats to public education. We challenged Mayor Kenney’s unexpected decision to shut the public out of almost all meetings of the Nominating Panel, whose members he selected last month. We did not anticipate this mayor placing the community on the sidelines, being given no voice in who will control a $3 billion budget and the future of education in the city. As a result of the steady organizing and political lobbying of the Our City, Our Schools coalition, Philadelphians won a huge victory in November when the SRC voted to dissolve, effective July 2018. Without APPS’ continual coverage of the questionable contracts and decisions in our Eyes and Ears on the SRC, the journey back from state to local control would have been a harder mountain to climb.

Unfortunately, the Mayor slammed the door shut on those who had fought for local control by announcing that the Nominating Panel would meet in closed executive sessions, claiming that the Panel would be deciding on “personnel matters”. The Mayor knows, as everyone does, that the Panel neither hires nor appoints anyone, so no personnel matters are considered. The job of the Panel is to make recommendations for nominees to the new board. School board members are government officials, not employees. The Panel was given just over a month to come up with a list of 27 nominees, from which the Mayor would select nine board members.

APPS sent several letters to the Nominating Panel and the Mayor, including one signed by several community and labor organizations, demanding that the public have a say in the selection of the new board.

A list of over 400 applicants, without any personal or professional information, was released by the Mayor’s office a couple of days before the Panel’s second and final meeting, which had been moved up from its original date. (The applications were never released.) Of course, parents, teachers, students and most community members cannot attend a meeting held during school and work hours.

The only time for public testimony before this body happened at the highly-scripted second and final Panel meeting when they voted on their list of 27 candidates. No agenda was distributed before the meeting; there was no list of public speakers. Mirroring the SRC the board will replace, there was no deliberation prior to the vote.   APPS members Lisa Haver, Diane Payne and I testified about these issues.

We could only comment on the process, as the nominees were announced just minutes before the public speakers. A district teacher took some personal time to come and testify; he suggested the creation of a Teacher Advisory Board in addition to the Student Advisory Board that had been suggested by other community members.

In reaction to the criticism from most of the public speakers, several of the Panel members defended their actions. We do not doubt that the Panelists carved out time in their busy lives to undertake this task, but was there not one person on the panel who objected to the Mayor’s heavy-handed tactics? Where is this ship of local control, in dry dock for 17 years, headed? Their list of 27 candidates includes several with charter school connections, two parents at Penn Alexander (no other district school was mentioned), a preponderance of lawyers as well as individuals with financial/banking/investment positions. Missing, along with teachers or retired teachers, are parents of Special Needs and English Language Learners students, as well as parents whose children attend a range of district schools. Where are their voices?

APPS members have weighed in on these issues publicly.

Lisa Haver addressed the closing of the selection of the new board in the Inquirer/Daily/philly.com

Rich Migilore and Karel Kilimnik explained that one-person rule is undemocratic and that the Mayor should not be able to remove board members for political reasons.

APPS continues to challenge this undemocratic process. We have filed a Right to Know requesting extensive information on the process to select these 27 individuals.

SRC Denies Applications for Six New Charters

APPS members attended and testified at the first round of hearings on new charter applicants in December; we attended the second round at which public testimony was not on the agenda. Hearings for individual applications occurred through January; the SRC heard final testimony, then voted, at the February meeting. (Pennsylvania Institute Academy Charter School and Qor Charter School withdrew their applications before this final session.) Questioning by Hearing Examiner Allison Petersen, and the information provided by the Charter Schools Office, showed that there were serious issues—whether academic, financial, or organizational—in every application.

See the APPS reports on new charter applications here.

The SRC voted to reject all but one applicant. They voted unanimously to approve MaST III, despite significant concerns about enrollment, capacity, and governance. Conditions involving transportation for kindergarten students in zip codes 19120,19124, 19140, and 19141 (Olney, Logan, Hunting Park as well as a section of North Philadelphia) to enable them to diversify their potential student body as well as cutting their projected enrollment from 2600 to 1300 were mentioned. We are still waiting for the district to send us the conditions the SRC has imposed. Denying Philadelphia Hebrew Charter School resulted in commissioner Green advising them to re-apply. Mastery, APM, Franklin Towne, and two Aspira charters were also denied. Five APPS members along with two teachers, and two community members presented testimony decrying approval of any new charter applications

The February 22 Ears on the SRC notes the twisted connections of real estate ventures with charter schools along with the SRC’s categorizing of charter school topics as “quasi-judicial”. This categorization conceals these transactions behind a stone- wall the public is unable to penetrate.

APPS Keeps Our Eyes and Ears on SRC In Its Final Days

As the seventeen-year reign of the SRC comes to an end, we have to think about how to end their devastating policies, not the least is the reckless spending on edu-vendors. The same SRC that says we can’t afford to pay teachers and staff at a professional rate doesn’t blink when approving contracts for unproven programs including online learning, data collection and outsourced professional development. At its February 15 meeting, the SRC approved $114 million in new spending. Almost $20 million of that went to various vendors, including Pearson Inc; that means children will spend more time in front of computers rather than with teachers and support staff. Several parents and community members spoke against the resolutions. As one speaker reminded us “Technology is a tool, not a teacher.”

The SRC received so many questions about Resolutions A-7 (sending $9.5 million to the testing conglomerate Pearson Inc for “instructional management” with a side of data collection) and B-12( $10 million for online courses) that Dr Hite addressed these issues in his initial comments.

Dr Hite is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Superintendent’s Academy, where free-market policies are advanced as part of the substitution of ideology for knowledge. Unions are to be broken, and their work contracted to private companies and non-profits. Part of this process depends on destabilizing the workforce and creating insecurity among teachers, principals, and other school staff, thus heading off potential resistance as people fear for their jobs. Struggling schools don’t get needed resources, they are targeted for some kind of transformation. That could mean being placed into the Turnaround Network with the requisite loss of principal and most teachers. It could mean being chosen for the “System of Great Schools”, which increasingly results in being “partnered” with consulting companies like Jounce Partners or ISA without the knowledge or agreement of the school community.

Upcoming Events

  • Wednesday March 7: Oral Argument on School Funding Lawsuit in Commonwealth Court, Widener Building, 1339 Chestnut Street, 9th Floor, 9:30 AM.
  • Thursday March 8: SRC Policy Committee Meeting, 11:00 AM at 440 North Broad Street.
  • Wednesday March 14: Sign up to speak at SRC Meeting, call before 3:30 PM, 215 400 4180.
  • Thursday March 15: SRC Action Meeting, 4:30 PM at 440 North Broad Street.
  • Thursday March 22: SRC Action Meeting, 4:30 PM at 440 North Broad Street. (Call before 3:30 PM the day before)

Ears on the SRC: February 22, 2018


by Diane Payne
March 1, 2018

All five commissioners were present for this special meeting of the SRC, held for the purpose of voting on the seven remaining applications for new charter schools: SRC-1 Antonia Pantoja Preparatory Charter School, SRC-2 APM Community Charter School, SRC-3 Eugenio Maria de Hostos Preparatory Charter School, SRC-4 Franklin Towne Charter Middle School, SRC-5 MaST Community Charter School III, SRC-6 Mastery Charter Elementary School, and SRC-7 Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School. Five members of APPS testified against the approval of any new charter school. Four other community members and teachers spoke against approval of any of the applications.   (You can see all of these testimonies at APPSPhilly.net )

SRC Votes to Change Policy (After Enactment)

Without any explanation, the SRC limited the number of public speakers for this meeting to fourteen. Seven additional slots were reserved for the charter applicants, who spoke first. In Policy 903, Public Participation at Committee Meetings, no language appears limiting the number of public speakers. This is not the first time the SRC has changed the policy for just one meeting. Last year, they violated their own policy by limiting speakers without voting on the change. This year, they changed the policy before voting on it.

In addition, the SRC changed the order of the agenda and moved the staff presentation on these applications after the public speakers. In all other SRC meetings, the staff presentations come before the public speakers giving speakers some important information prior to their turn at the mic. Again, no explanation.

APPS Again Calls on SRC to Stop Hiding Behind “Quasi-Judicial”

Click here to read the rest of the post.