Ears on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021
by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
For the first time in APPS’ 9-year history, not one of our members was permitted to attend or to testify at a District Action Meeting. Lisa Haver signed up to speak on Action Item 44, YouthBuild Charter Renewal; Lynda Rubin to speak on Action Item 2, an $800,000 grant over ten years from the University of Pennsylvania for a kindergarten teacher at Penn Alexander School. Both were notified that they would not be permitted to speak; thus, the Board deliberately blocked public testimony before voting on those action items, another blatant violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. Of course, there is no way to know how many other parents, students, educators and community members were not allowed to speak. When Board President Joyce Wilkerson attempted to justify the Board’s dismantling of its speaker policy last year, she contended that those policies were preventing a variety of voices from being heard. At every meeting, General Counsel Lynn Rauch reads a statement that the Board wants to “prioritize new voices”. But the Board’s actions belie these claims. The Board no longer limits speakers on a given topic, pro or con; it is strictly first-come, first served. At this meeting, 10 adult speakers, ⅓ of those permitted to speak, addressed one topic–school reopenings. Are we to believe that no parent wanted to address the new bell schedule, which generated several news stories, or the amended 2021-22 calendar that moves professional development half-days from Fridays to Wednesdays? The Board allowed testimony on only six of the forty-eight Action Items. That means fewer perspectives heard on fewer issues. The Board crossed the line at this meeting, however, not just allowing corporate lobbyists and executives to take the limited speaker slots, but actually recruiting them.
The Board could no longer sustain the optics of holding remote meetings while sending students and staff into school buildings at full capacity. They held a “hybrid” meeting at which only Board members, District staff and registered speakers would attend in person; there were about 25 people in a room that holds almost 300. The Board has used the COVID crisis to shield itself from District stakeholders who have criticized not just their speaker suppression but their disregard for the needs of students and families. Their solution: keep those voices silent by keeping them off the speaker list and out of the room.
by Diane Payne
All nine members of the Board of Education (BOE) were present. Eight members of APPS attended; five testified on behalf of public education. Mayor Kenney came to welcome the students who were chosen as non-voting BOE representatives. Of 54 applicants, two students were selected by a Board committee to serve as non-voting student representatives. Julia Frank of Northeast High School and Alfredo Pratico of J.R. of Masterman High School were sworn in and seated. They will alternate attendance at future meetings and will bring student voice to issues before the Board.
City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown spoke to welcome the Board and to advise them that City Council was there to support and monitor district operations. She noted three main areas of concern: school health and safety, suspensions, and African-American studies in the district’s high school curriculum. Also in attendance for part of the meeting was Councilwoman Helen Gym. Gym has been outspoken against the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) and was the only No vote on the issue earlier that day in Council. The Board’s agenda included a vote on the current list of KOZ properties (more on this below).
The meeting began with a lovely musical performance by Universal Language, a group of Franklin Learning Center students. It was inspiring to hear the beautiful voice and stellar musical accompaniment of these student musicians.
Superintendent William Hite addressed the District’s upcoming open enrollment process. The timeline has been moved, but the total number of days to complete the application process is the same. Applications can be submitted from September 21st through November 2nd. There was a question about counselors having a difficult time due to the new timeline conflicting with Early Admission College Applications (EACA). Dr. Hite said that only 5 high schools were possibly affected but research indicated really only one school would be affected. They were assured by that school there was no problem with conflicts impacting the EACAs.
Board Reverts to Business as Usual
The official BOE agenda included an extensive visual presentation on the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties from First Deputy Director Sylvie Gallier Howard and Senior Deputy Director Duane Bumb of the City’s Commerce Department. (The power-point can be viewed here.) The PA General Assembly created KOZs in 1998 as a program designed to spark development in blighted, vacant, or underutilized properties that might not otherwise be developed. This program abates a long list of both state and city taxes as the lure for investment and the projected economic improvement, particularly job creation. The hook for the School District is that by law these properties must make Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) that amount to 110% of the 55% that would come to the District in real estate taxes. These PILOTS are paid annually and are based on the previous year’s property assessment. By law, both City Council and the BOE must approve the list of properties submitted by the Commerce Department before the applications can proceed to the state. (These properties can be viewed on the above mentioned powerpoint.)
Click on the individual’s name to read the transcripts of some of the speakers at the September 20, 2018 meeting of the Board of Education.
Supporters of Strawberry Mansion
Tayna Parker spoke extemporaneously. You can view her testimony at time stamp at 3:11:23 on the District video 20180920 BOE Action Meeting.
APPS and Community Members