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by Karel Kilimnik
Reading Board of Education agendas invoke feelings similar to that of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day: will we be trapped in this cycle forever? Is there a future in which we don’t see the same items for consulting contracts, outsourcing of professional services, and growing the legal firm slush fund? We have seen little independence from the Board, which conducts business in the same way the SRC did–rubber-stamping administrative requests.
The COVID pandemic provides an opportunity to right the priorities for the district by involving stakeholders in decision making; eliminating outsourcing and rebuilding infrastructure; using the already existing resources of educators instead of hiring outside consultants who return like cicadas; supporting Black Lives Matter and Student Voter Registration.
We need actions to back the speeches. We need equity to guide funding so that it gets to schools with the highest needs and fewest resources. The August Agenda Items in particular keep us in that Groundhog Day cycle of privatization, outsourcing, and sending precious dollars to out-of-town consultants: Item 1, $700, 000.00 Contract with KJR Consulting for Central Office Professional Development, Anti-racism training and Change Management Support; Item 24, Contract with the Urban Affairs Coalition at Philadelphia High School for Girls, giving non-profits the power to decide on how project money is spent at a public high school; Item 10, Ratification of Supplemental Outside Counsel, growing stable of outside law firms; Item 13, Contract with Various Vendors for Furniture and Equipment at PSLAMS, a new public school configuration brought about by the private funding of the Philadelphia School Partnership. Extensive anti-Racist training had been conducted by District educators who were told that they must do so only as volunteers; the District would not pay them–but have found $700,000 to pay KJR. District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt told the Board at last week’s Joint Committee meeting that the Hite administration’s central office staff had a good relationship with KJR, who had been the recipient of previous District contracts. Wyatt did not explain what “Change Management Support” is. The criteria for choosing leaders of anti-racism should be who can provide the best education on the subject, not being on good terms with a consulting company that has no experience in the subject.
by Karel Kilimnik
The people of Philadelphia continue their struggle to survive, personally and financially, under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic. We witness the social upheaval as people demand an end to police brutality and systemic racism. But at 440, not much has changed. The Board, despite public demands for months, continues to conduct non-essential business in remote meetings with a minimum of public participation. At its June Committee meeting, most Board members offered personal statements about what Black Lives Matter meant to them. But as APPS members reminded them in their testimony, how the Board votes will prove whether these statements carry any weight. At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, few substantial questions were raised about District business by these eight government officials. Almost no deliberation took place about the Items to be voted on at this Action meeting. Planning the next school year is fraught with obstacles never faced in our lifetimes. District families will be dealing with even higher rates of unemployment and evictions. All of these issues must be addressed with genuine parent, staff, and community engagement–not just the perfunctory distribution of surveys. Surveys often raise more questions than they resolve. As District parent and activist Cecelia Thompson has told the Board at its last two meetings, parents and community members have issues that are not addressed in surveys. The District’s commitment to engagement with stakeholders has reached a new low after years of eliminating positions for community liaison officers and NTAs. The Board’s (soon to be defunct) Community Engagement Committee has held no public meetings for over a year and has no plans to schedule any. Schools will look very different next year no matter what type of format is put into place. District educators and parents should be heard on this, not just be asked to fill out surveys. The corona virus provides cover for all kinds of changes–in public meetings and in how business is conducted. Could it lead to closing schools next year–without any real opportunity for the public to fight it? Remember that both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have stated publicly that they support closing more public schools.
At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, Board Member Julia Danzy said, “This is not a sprint but a marathon. We cannot change by simply talking but by actions taken.” This Board needs to step up and lead the District as we make our way through these tumultuous times. Non-essential Items should be set aside while we focus on what all students need, not just those in some selected schools. “Watch how we vote, not what we say” truly applies to Item 59, Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master. This Item is so vaguely written that APPS sent a letter asking for clarification. President Wilkerson informed us we would learn more from their discussion at the Joint Committee Meeting held on June 11. However, no such discussion occurred nor did any Board member ask about the missing information.