Will Board Cancel Contracts without Explanation?

Ears on the Board of Education: April 21, 2022

by Diane Payne

Over the years, APPS members and others have testified about the barriers to finding basic information on the District website, for content as well as for technical reasons. There is too often a lack of straightforward and honest presentations. The agenda for this action meeting is another such example. Omitted from the agenda posted online and distributed at the meeting, again, were the legislative update given by Board Member Fix Lopez, the Parent and Community Advisory presentation given by Board Member Thompson, and the Student Representative presentation given by Rebecca Allen. None of these were about issues that had just arisen. The agenda also failed to include dollar amounts for Item 8, Item 9 and Item 28. This may lead observers to think these are no-cost items. In fact, Action Item 8 totalled $15 million and Item 9 totaled $16.9 million. Item 28, a 5-year renewal for Mastery Shoemaker, will cost the District a minimum of $50 million. The Board has a duty to inform the public of how they are spending public funds.

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Board Must Reject “Gag Order” Policies

Eyes on the Board of Education: January 27, 2022

by Lisa Haver

The January Action Meeting had been billed as a remote one until members of the community raised objections on social media. The Board reopened all District school buildings this year despite the lack of personal protective equipment, timely Covid testing, and adequate ventilation in classrooms, where there is no social distancing. Yet the Board, with a couple of exceptions, continued to hold only virtual meetings, with some Board members in the auditorium and others at home. Last month it was not clear whether Board Member Cecelia Thompson was present in any way as neither her image nor her name ever appeared. Every once in a while her voice was heard. Ms. Thompson spoke at a rally in Harrisburg earlier this month. There is no reason for her not to attend the Board meeting in Philadelphia. APPS expects all Board members to attend the January meeting in person.  The auditorium provides more than enough space for safe distancing. 

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Board Caves to Political Pressure, Renews Failing Charter

Ears on the Board of Education: December 9, 2021

by Diane Payne

APPS filed a formal objection, read during the meeting, to the Board’s violation of the PA Sunshine Act, this time for voting in secret on the charter renewal of Universal Audenried Charter High School. Why does the Board continue the legacy of the SRC by conducting all charter business in secret.

Since the dissolution of the state-imposed School Reform Commission, the hope of District staff, students, families, and community members for a more responsive school board have been dashed repeatedly by the members of the Board. They eliminated all of the Committees except one, eliminating an important venue for deliberation and dialogue. They recently reduced the Policy Committee meetings from quarterly to twice a year. A pattern of Board disenfranchisement continues with its violations of the PA Sunshine Act. The Board refuses to post the full text of any charter school item until after they vote. They post the full content the day after the vote, with no notice that it was previously not posted, thus falsifying the public record. The Board bars people from speaking before they vote on Action Items. At this meeting, the Board added to this list knowingly deliberating on public business in executive session.

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Pandemic Push-Out Stifles Public Engagement

Eyes on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes

The District’s Pandemic Push-out affects everyone in the District: parents, students, educators, community members. When we had no choice but to stay home, meetings were virtual and human contact was minimized. The Board took advantage of our isolation by continual minimizing of  public participation. Instead of becoming more inclusive and more committed to listening to the District’s stakeholders, the Board and the Hite Administration have used the quarantine as a means of putting more distance between their directives, procedures, and policies.and those affected by them. When we won the battle in 2018 to abolish the School Reform Commission, we had great hopes for a School Board, albeit an appointed one. The Board increased community engagement with the establishment of four committees: Finance and Facilities; Student Achievement and Support; Policy; Family and Community Engagement. After two meetings, the Board disbanded the Community Engagement Committee. Last year, they disbanded two more, leaving only the Policy Committee, which met only four times a year (APPS found out last month that Policy will now only meet twice a year). In an December 2020 article Board members told Chalkbeat last year that Board meetings will look different, with more public engagement and discussion of data. In truth, there has been much less public engagement and much more data analysis–up to two hours at every action meeting. Only when APPS members complained did the Board allow public speakers to be placed ahead of the Goals and Guardrails session.  In January, the Board implemented Speaker Suppression procedures capping the number of speakers and cutting speakers’ time.

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