Written testimony of Diane Payne to the Board of Education, September 23, 2021
I would like to begin by noting the ongoing Board speaker suppression which is in direct conflict with Democratic values. It is hard to reconcile that we are located in a city that considers itself largely Democratic when this suppression is more in line with the voter suppression efforts found in Red states. No one on this Board has spoken out against this suppression so all eight current members can be considered to be in support of controlling and silencing the number of public voices you hear. That this is happening in the middle of an unprecedented and seemingly never ending health crisis only adds to the shocking disregard of public needs. Sending in written testimony is NOT the same as publicly speaking for all engaged parties to hear. I was denied my ability to publicly address this Board tonight. The speaker’s list was closed 4 HOURS after it opened. How many people were disengaged???
I am addressing 3 Action Items; 15, 16, and 26.
Action Item 15 is a change order for $735,349. Change orders are an expected part of construction projects. However, the Board’s responsibility to be trustworthy stewards of public funds requires that you have a clear understanding of how those funds are being used. The change order action items that come before you every month fail to provide ANY specifics about who is requesting the change order or why it is necessary. So instead of safeguarding against another Ben Franklin/SLA debacle, you leave the door wide open for another fiasco. The change order totals for this year equals $8,069,152.
Action Item 16, Dr. Klock Talks, LLC a 2 year contract for $330,000 is concerning in what it doesn’t say (like the Change Order Action Items). The District has come under criticism by many public school advocates for outsourcing services. Is this independent contract the best that Dr. Hite could find as we face the ongoing health and safety risks of a pandemic, toxic schools, gun violence, trauma and more in our District? How many hours a week does Dr. Klock work for $160,000 per year? Is this a full time position? How will this contract aid in the many deficiencies we just read about in the Inquirer op-ed by school nurses? How many nurses were shut out of public testimony tonight because you closed the speaker list only hours after it opened? Will the Board Members get answers to these questions before approving this contract?
Action Item 26, Revised Application for Shirley Chisholm Empowerment Charter School. Please vote NO! This is one of the Charter School applications denied earlier this year for its shocking deficiency. New charter school applicants are allowed do-overs giving them another shot to cash in on our children. This “revised” application had a laundry list of continued deficiencies as presented in the CSO’s report. Some stand out highlights of this report are stark reminders about what these applications are really about, the belief that anyone can open a school and cash in on public tax dollars.
The applicant cited the wrong section of the Charter School law illuminating their lack of understanding of the underpinning of what they are proposing to undertake.
The proposed school leader is not even certified as a principal, indicating that it is fine to open with less than what the children deserve because these applicants think they can.
As per the CSO report, Other organization supporting the founding coalition are: “Charter Choices: budgeting, finance, payroll, and back-office solutions, M-F Consulting: human resources and talent recruitment, Parliament Real Estate Partners: facility acquisition, Patricia A. Hennessy, Esquire (Barton Gilman LLP and a member of the Alliance of Public Charter School Attorneys): school law and charter board governance, Board On Track: board governance training” (p.39, Revised Narrative). Each organization would benefit financially if the proposed Charter School is approved. (Bold added). “Benefiting financially” are the dollar signs placed on our children.
Absolutely no Charter School application should be approved until every single District school is toxic free and fully resourced. A substandard application, like this, should never be approved.
Finally, the District needs to undertake serious discussions with every single corner of the city regarding the viability of continuing down a path of transporting students all over the city. The insanity of this was true before the rapidly increasing crisis of Climate instability and bus driver shortages and is only becoming more glaring. As citizens, we need to engage in honest discussions about what makes sense for the health, safety, and needs of our city in light of climate change and climate crisis. City wide school admits, such as this one, should be viewed through the lens of the climate crisis.
Finally, I object to the lack of text in Action Item 26 as a violation of the Sunshine Act. This Board should not vote on any Item that does not contain the full text for the public to view at the time of the vote!
(As I went back to the Speaker Registration page to include my written comments, I discovered there was NO INFORMATION ON PROVIDING WRITTEN COMMENTS included on that page. The Board does a tremendous job of disengagement.)