The problem with the District’s philanthropic fund for literacy


by Lisa Haver

April 12, 2015

Reprinted from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

The state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia more than 15 years ago brought a new set of problems, not the least being the failure of the School Reform Commission — and a succession of highly paid superintendents and CEOs — to fulfill its stated purpose of restoring the District’s financial stability.

At the same time, the public’s ability to be heard on these and other issues has been squelched by growing corporate influence, as grants from outside organizations, including the Gates Foundation, the Philadelphia School Partnership, the William Penn Foundation, and others, have come with mandates for school closures, charter expansion, and weakening of some collective bargaining rights such as longstanding seniority protections. The Great Schools Compact Committee, which oversaw distribution of the Gates money, acted as a shadow school board.

The revival of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia appears to be an extension of that model, in which private money has a growing influence on a public institution. Established in 2003 as a fundraising arm of the District, it later collected private donations to buy out former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s contract, although the District ultimately picked up the bill. Its 17-member board is made up of representatives from banking, energy, cable, financial investment, and consulting businesses — and two educators. “Investors” include GlaxoSmithKline, Wells Fargo, and the Barra, Carnegie and Lenfest Foundations.

Executive Director Donna Frisby-Greenwood said in a NewsWorks interview in January that “the Fund is committed to transparency.” But when I called to ask when the next board meeting would be held, Frisby-Greenwood told me “those meetings are private.”

The fund’s website says that the board will be working with Superintendent William Hite to “help set funding priorities … toward the needs of Philadelphia’s public schools to improve educational services and academic achievement.” But it is not the role of a handful of people from one stratum of society to make those decisions. Giving corporations and foundations a larger voice in decisions on education cedes control of the democratic process to those with the highest net worth. The rest of us get three minutes a month at the SRC meeting.

One of the fund’s initiatives is to build “classroom libraries” in the lower grades to promote early literacy. Countless studies show that having a school library with research facilities, staffed by a certified librarian – not just a small collection of books in each classroom – makes significant improvements in student learning.  The fund’s spending priorities, in this case, send the message that our children should settle for a lesser version of a school library instead of the real thing. No one should be setting those kinds of low expectations for our students.

Schools have long been recipients of donations from local businesses, some of whom develop a relationship with the students and faculty.  But having this kind of funding become institutionalized places our children in the role of charity cases, who can only receive a decent education if they have demonstrated their worthiness. The fund’s website may tell us that “the private donations that we contribute to the District do not supplant government monies,” but it does send the message that someone is here to pick up the slack when Harrisburg comes up short year after year.

Wealthy individuals and corporations, and their lobbyists, have significant influence in  Harrisburg. They should use that power to speak in one voice for a permanent fair funding formula so that principals and teachers don’t have to beg for what their schools deserve.

Mayor Kenney, who hosted a $5,000-a-person inaugural party to benefit the fund, should not place his stamp of approval on an organization that shuts out the people he has vowed to represent.  “I trust these folks and know where they stand on the issues and trust them for raising money for them,” he said of the fund’s board. But the public does not know those who staff the fund. The people, as citizens and taxpayers, are the fund for the School District of Philadelphia. That ensures us an equal place at the table when decisions about our children’s futures are made.

Commentary: District’s ‘turnaround’ plan is bad for students

Lisa Haver SRC 1-21-16

The following commentary by APPS member Lisa Haver was printed on April 1, 2016 in the Philadelphia Daily News.

If you read the paper or listen to the news, you probably have some opinions about the issues facing the Philadelphia School District.

You know that Harrisburg’s repeated slashing of education spending and its failure to come up with a fair and permanent funding formula continue to take a toll.

Adding to that problem are questionable district priorities, which have resulted in:

* More than 160 teacher vacancies, leaving at least 5,300 students without a full-time teacher this year.

* The substitute fill rate plummeting from 65 percent to below 40 percent after the School Reform Commission’s vote to outsource jobs.

* Lack of support staff, including counselors and classroom aides, resulting in an increase in serious incidents in many schools.

* Fewer than eight certified school librarians in the entire district.

Also, the physical condition of the buildings themselves, along with the dearth of full-time nurses, has resulted in higher student absenteeism.

The school district, though, has a different take on the situation: The problem is that teachers and principals are in the wrong buildings, and that moving them is the solution.

Last month, Superintendent William Hite announced yet another “turnaround plan” for four more neighborhood schools, the main feature of that plan being the forced transfer of principals and teachers.

Hite has rejected critics’ characterization of his plan as “destabilization,” but recent history shows that it represents only the latest chapter in a pattern of destabilization for all four schools. Consider:

* S. Weir Mitchell in Kingsessing was a K-5 elementary until 2013. When the district closed two nearby schools, Mitchell incorporated those students and added seventh and eighth grades.

Comments to the article can be read at the Inquirer post:
Commentary: District’s ‘turnaround’ plan is bad for students | Philadelphia Inquirer – April 1, 2016

APPS members testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – March 17, 2016.

SRC 3-17-16 #1

On March 17th, 2016 the Philadelphia School Reform Commission held its monthly meeting.

This is the testimony of members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools at this meeting.

All eight videos can be viewed here. (Click on the second blue dot for the second page.) Testimony is in the order of appearance.

Click on the pictures below to view the individual video.


Diane Payne SRC 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Diane Payne testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Diane’s testimony and related links.
Note: Due to technical difficulties, the beginning of Diane’s testimony is missing in the video. See her transcript for her full statement.


Deborah Grill SRC testimony 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Deborah Grill testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Debbie’s testimony.


Karel Kilimnick SRC testimony 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Karel Kilimnik testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Karel’s testimony.


Carol Heinsdorf SRC testimony 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Carol Heinsdorf testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Carol’s testimony.

Lisa Haver SRC 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Lisa Haver testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

Barbara Dowdall SRC 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Barbara Dowdall testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Barbara’s testimony and added footnotes.

Kristen Luebert SRC 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Kristin Luebbert testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.

The transcript of Kristin’s testimony.

Robin Lowry SRC 3-17-16

Video of APPS member Robin Lowry testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – March 17, 2016.


APPS Letter to SRC Chairwoman Marjorie Neff about turnarounds


March 6, 2016

Dear Chairwoman Neff:

The members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools call on you to halt the placement of four more neighborhood schools into the Turnaround Network. This latest plan will only lead to further destabilization of schools already struggling to survive in conditions caused by both financial and managerial crises.

Three of the four schools targeted—Roosevelt, Rhodes and Munoz-Marin—have recently undergone major transformations. Roosevelt and Rhodes were converted from middle to elementary schools. Munoz-Marin lost the majority of its staff when the district attempted to hand over management of the school to Aspira Charter Schools two years ago. The decision to place Mitchell, a school with a new principal who was praised by Dr. Hite in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer story, is truly baffling.

What is the point of inflicting more trauma on students who need the safety and guidance of teachers and staff who are working to build strong school communities?

The teachers and staff are working under appalling conditions and are now being blamed and punished, along with the students whose relationships to them will be severed.

Community meetings have been scheduled this week, beginning Monday, even though there has been inadequate notification of parents and community members, if any. The district has not disclosed the cost of the program, how it will be carried out, or what criteria were used to select these schools. It is difficult to understand how the district can afford any extra expense of this kind, especially since it plans to spend $15-20 million to place Cooke, Huey and Wister into the turnaround program as Renaissance schools. Dr. Hite has stated publicly that he cannot guarantee the district will not run out of money before the end of this school year.

As a former teacher and principal, you know how important it is for children to feel that school is a safe and stable environment. Instituting a plan whose essential feature is the severing of relationships between adults and students can only add to the trauma many students already live with.

We understand that the SRC is not required to vote on internal turnarounds. But the SRC is responsible for the financial and academic success of every school in the district. Recently, the SRC overruled Dr. Hite’s decision in the Wister case. The SRC should do the same in this matter.


Lisa Haver, Co-founder

Deborah Grill, Secretary

Also see:

4 elementariness added to Philly district schools slated for closure | Newsworks – March 4, 2016

The above letter to Chairwoman Neff was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 7, 2016 along with her response.

Lisa Haver was interviewed on The Solomon Jones Show on WURD on March 8, 2016. Click here for audio of the interview.

On Thursday, March 10, Superintendent Hite formally announced the four school turnarounds. He included the announcement with an announcement about budgeting a full-time nurse and a full-time counselor in each school next year. Council President Daryll Clark: “It’s hard to be excited about anything that comes out of that building, because more often then not it’s not real.”

Emails show effort to sway SRC on Wister charter conversion
The Notebook – March 17, 2016