Ears on the Board of Education: March 24, 2022

by

Diane Payne

The District principals’ union Teamsters 502 CASA, supported by the PFT, POWER, APPS and other member organizations of OCOS, held a rally on the steps of 440 to tell the Board of Education, as it convened its action meeting, that we will fight against the District’s proposed budget cuts for next school year. That same message was delivered by those who waited for hours to testify, including principals, teachers, and parents. As we have seen in the past, the administration’s budget presentation did not align with the reality of the educators whose resources will be slashed. 

It is heartening to see the increasing number of community members attending in person. There is no better way to hold our  government officials accountable than to show up to cheer, jeer, hold signs, and clap in support of our public schools.  The Board has used the pandemic to elude accountability and increase speaker suppression. Voters in 499 districts in Pennsylvania elect their school board but Philadelphians remain disenfranchised.  APPS members will continue to attend in person, and we  encourage all defenders of public education to join us. 

Board Members Should Be Fully Present

President Wilkerson, Vice President Egea-Hinton, and Board Members Fix Lopez, Salley, Streater attended in person, as did Student Representative Ortiz and Superintendent Hite. Board Members Danzy, McCologan, and Thompson attended remotely.  Again, Thompson was not visible for large parts of the meeting. Rules prohibit any board member who is absent for a significant portion of the meeting from voting on official items.  

Vice President Egea-Hinton made a brief reference to the superintendent search but did not explain why the Board had failed to make a final choice, as she and the Board had promised the previous week.  APPS held a rally on March 17 at 440 to demand that the Board resume its search. The Board’s three finalists included no District administrators and no women. There are serious issues with all three finalists. 

Fix Lopez reported that Governor Wolf had signed executive charter reforms. She reminded everyone that legislation is still needed to fully address the many flaws in the current Charter School law and encouraged everyone to contact their elected officials to support the reforms in Senate Bill 27 and House Bill 272.  APPS continues to urge the Board to hold public charter renewal hearings. 

Thompson gave a meager report from the Parent and Community Advisory Council. It seems more and more that the Board does not support this Council as promised but uses it to claim some degree of community engagement. In recent meetings, there have been few crucial issues or concerns reported, no visible presence of any of the actual Council members, and no outcomes linked to this Council. Thompson noted that Council members attended recent superintendent search town-halls and were involved in report card conferences in some capacity. 

Will District Facilities Plan Close More Neighborhood Schools? 

Dr. Hite reported that the new Facilities Planning Process (FPP) has begun this week. This new FPP will continue the process begun with the CSPR (Comprehensive School Planning Review) that ended with the onset of the pandemic.  Hite did not mention any final report from CSPR, nor did any Board member ask for one. (A message on the CSPR page of the District website says “working on that page”,  so no information can currently be researched.) APPS members fought to attend the CSPR meetings as observers even though they were not open to the public, and we alerted the community to the fact that CSPR could result in more school closings. 

FFP community meetings will be held in May, and people can sign up on the District website–but for only one of the nine meetings. Why? The Board finds ways to thwart community organization and unity at every turn.  This excerpt from the District page  raises a red flag for those who value our neighborhood public schools:  “School buildings play a crucial role in supporting student achievement so we must thoughtfully and proactively plan not only for new school buildings but for what must be done with our existing school buildings..” [bold added]  

Dr. Hite asked CFO Uri Monson to address  Action Item 19, a $145 contract with Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID) for capital projects at three District schools.   Monson provided few details about the projects or the role of PAID. 

Hite announced that all high schools except for four will begin each day at 9 AM. 

He noted that the elementary schedules are fixed and not open to change and that Professional Development days are built into the new calendar schedule.  Fix Lopez told Hite she had concerns for herself and other District parents about childcare issues for working families on the half days and asked how attendance rates may be affected.  Chief of Schools  Chief of Schools  Evelyn Nunez provided additional information on the new school calendar.  She acknowledged that there is not a consensus on the new start times. There are concerns about students traveling at 6 AM when schools start at 7:30 AM and other concerns about students missing after-school activities and jobs with the later start time. Nunez assured the Board that they would be following up with forums and surveys to see what parents need.  

Principals Tell Board: Budget Cuts Will Hurt Schools Most in Need

Once again, in violation of the PA Sunshine Act, the Board diverted from the agenda without public notice or vote from the Board when Wilkerson called CFO Monson up to present on the 2022-23 budget.  When the Board adds agenda items at the last minute, members of the public cannot sign up in advance to comment. In addition, Monson’s power-point was not available on the website. Another ongoing problem:  it is very difficult to hear Monson, who appeared in person. The acoustics in the auditorium make it more difficult to hear people who are present than those speaking remotely, especially those with very low voices and those who do not speak into the mic. (To hear and see the presentation, go to timestamp 43:00 on the Board’s video.)  The Board and the administration demonstrates its disregard for the public’s right to know and comment on the important issues facing the District. (The Board again provided only one copy of the official documents, including action items, for all of the in-person attendees.)

Monson’s mostly positive presentation noted that FY 22 has the most favorable staff to student ratio in some time. He spoke of the increased resources to schools. But principals had a different perspective and testified that this budget will result in fewer resources for schools in need. Do the numbers as arranged in Monson’s presentation really reflect what educators will be facing next year? Last year, in their declaration of “no confidence” in the Hite administration, CASA called on the District to fund four key positions at every school: Special Ed Coordinator, Literacy Resource Lead Specialist,  Assistant Principal, and Math Resource Lead Specialist.  Will the Board again approve a budget that fails to fund those positions? APPS would add a fifth: a Certified Teacher Librarian. It is a disservice to our students that fewer than five District schools have librarians in a fully functioning library.  

Speaker Suppression Continues

Five APPS members attended in person; one testified in person. Two APPS members submitted written testimony.  Seven registered speakers were a no-show, leaving only twenty-three of the permitted general speakers heard by the Board.  Most of the speakers expressed opposition to the proposed budget and the administration’s failure to address crucial issues. The Board responded to none of them. 

Goals and Guardrails

The Board’s data analysis session began at 7:51 and ended  at 9:27.

Board Approves $226 Million in Spending

Items 3, 4, 5:  Passed unanimously.
Item 6:  Passed 6-0-2, with Salley and Thompson abstaining.  
Item 19: Passed unanimously without deliberation. 
Item 25: Passed 7- 0-1, with Thompson abstaining. The Item concerned an unnamed student but the Board did not explain or discuss, saying the matter had been discussed in executive session.
Item 28:  Passed unanimously.  Fix Lopez again questioned this Item on the 2022-23 school calendar and how the District would support families with child care. Hite assured her that the District is committed to work on that. 
Items 1, 2, 7-18, 22, 24, 26, 27: All passed unanimously and without deliberation. Item 11 approved $21.1 million in payments to outside entities. Item 12 approved $40 million in payments to various vendors.

Board approved  $226, 784, 064 in spending at this meeting. 

Board convened a brief Intermediate Unit meeting.  Final adjournment was called at 9:51 PM, almost 6 hours after the meeting began.