Funding for Classrooms, Not Consultants

 Eyes on the Board of Education:  December 15, 2022

by Lisa Haver

Irony, apparently, is not the Board of Education’s strong suit.  After imposing a number of speaker suppression policies, with no notice or explanation to the public, the Board now proposes hiring a firm for $70,000 to expand the district’s “capacity to engage families, students, staff and the overall Philadelphia community in authentic two-way engagement efforts.”  Are the Board’s action meetings not authentic enough?  The Board clearly wants to hear from a very limited number of families, students, staff and community members, and only for two minutes at a time.  The Board eliminated three of their four public committees, including the Parent and Community Engagement Committee, venues that were supposed to provide opportunities for more dialogue about issues of concern. The one remaining committee, the Policy Committee,  now meets only twice a year.  The Board’s Policy page does not even mention that there are meetings.  Governance by invitation is not a substitute for true public engagement. 

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Watlington Launches Administration with Questionable Contract

Ears on the Board of Education: June 23, 2022

by Diane Payne

Dr. Tony Watlington’s tenure as superintendent got off to an inauspicious start with his request to the Board, made before he was sworn in and granted by the Board without deliberation at its last meeting, for a major contract with Tennessee-based Joseph and Associates that came with a $450,000 price tag. The three-phase consulting project begins with the firm focusing on the “development and execution of a 100-day entry plan” for the new superintendent.  When the Board conducted its months-long superintendent search, with members of the community devoting significant time and effort, did they make their final choice with a caveat from the Board that Dr. Watlington was not prepared to take on the job as soon as he got here? Is this the message the Board and Dr. Watlington want to send the school communities—that their priority is not funding classrooms but outside consultants?  That a new superintendent wants to conduct business as usual? 

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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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