Testimony of Lisa Haver to the Board of Education Budget and Action Meetings, April 25, 2019


Budget Meeting

The decisions made by the Board today will decide whether it is substantially different from the School Reform Commission.

One thing everyone fighting for public schools agrees on is that the District needs more funding. But what would the District spend more money on?

We have seen contracts worth millions or tens of millions going to overlapping programs for teacher coaching and PD: ISA, Jounce Partners, TNTP, Relay, CLI, and more. We see millions more going to outside law firms. At the same time, the District says it will take years to make school buildings healthy and non-toxic, years to get air conditioners in places other than principal’s offices.

The Inquirer story today on teacher turnover reminds us that in order to have a good school, you need a good principal. Schools need support staff like NTAs. They need more counselors. That’s what should be in this budget.

Of course, the biggest drain on the budget, which grows more rapidly than any other part of the budget, is charter schools. Charters are public schools when they receive taxpayer dollars but not when they are asked to be accountable. Charter boards pay their CEOs astronomical salaries. At least 15 charter CEOs receive over $200K in salary and other compensation. Two charter CEOs make more than Dr. Hite—to run one school.

Even with the new staff in the Charter Schools Office, it is inadequate to oversee over 90 charter schools. And charters fight transparency tooth and nail at every turn. Aspira refused to say how much they were paying their lawyers during the 16 days of non-renewal hearings. The director of Laboratory Charter told an Inquirer that the school had a waiting list but wouldn’t say how many are on it. The District is required to post the salaries of all of its employees, but charter schools are not.

This Board has to make better spending decisions than the SRC did. Stop enriching outside vendors including charter operators and investors. Spend our precious dollars on making buildings safe and healthy, on bringing back support staff, and strengthening neighborhood schools.

The SRC allowed charters to refuse to sign new charters because they did not want to correct any of the deficiencies cited by the District. Even though charter investors continue to say they can always do better than public schools, when they don’t they don’t want to be held accountable. The Board should tell charter CEOs that if they can’t meet basic standards to provide a quality education for their students, and don’t want to agree to the conditions that would fix their deficiencies, then they will not be renewed. The Board has to enforce standards; the SRC did not.

Action Meeting (adapted from March 28 testimony)

The Decisions made by the Board today and in the next few months will show whether the change to local control will mean a real change from the practices and policies of the SRC.

It was shocking and disappointing to read that members of the Board encouraged String Theory to come back and reapply after their application was denied. Despite statements made in Committee meetings and the press, charter schools are not “partners”. They are not clients. The District should not be negotiating in private with charters about renewals or amendments. The Board is the authorizer for charters and has to take a critical look not only at the application but at the effects, financial and otherwise, that any new charter would have on the public schools in the District.

APPS has sent a number of letters to all 9 members of the Board about the lack of transparency and public engagement in the renewal and amendment process. We asked that there be at least one public meeting. We asked that the amendments be posted, not just the CSO report. We asked that the Board tell the public when it would decide on charters who have been allowed to operate for 2 to 3 years even after refusing to accept conditions and sign a new charter. We got no answers.

Although there are 5 amendment requests this year, only 3 are posted on the District website. Why? Two requests are included in renewals, but since the renewal evaluations were not publicly posted until today, 2 weeks after the charter operators got them, there was no way to know that. They were mentioned at the Student Achievement committee, so if you weren’t there you wouldn’t know about it. And not mentioned at that meeting is the fact that Mariana Bracetti charter was granted an enrollment expansion last year—so why are they back for more? What we got in the Committee meeting was an abridged version of the facts about the amendments and the renewals. The CSO said it was recommending renewal for 10 of the 12 schools, but since the evaluations have been withheld from the public until today, there was no way to understand the reasons for the recommendations.

Why would the CSO recommend that Laboratory charter be allowed to move and expand enrollment while admitting that the affected community was not notified? Why did the people in East Falls have to find this out on Facebook?

Laboratory Charter was recommended for non-renewal 2 years ago for several deficiencies, but through private negotiations with the district, was allowed to stay open. Now they want to move and expand from 1100 students to 1500? A school that could barely educate the students it had should be allowed to recruit more?

Question: when did the Board or the SRC grant an amendment request to EU for relocation? There is no record of that in the District’s documents.

The SRC carried out massive charter expansion through a process in which information was withheld from the public and there was little or no opportunity for affected communities to speak and private negotiations were held with charter operators about performance and ratings. The Board has done nothing different.

Action Meeting: Amendments

The process for considering new charter applications is an extended one with opportunity for public engagement. The amendment process, in which charters have been allowed to expand past their authorized maximum enrollment, has not been. And apparently the Board is doing things the same way the SRC did.

Amendments are not posted, and only the CSO reports on them.
The CSO homepage states:
“The Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus the Charter Schools Office (CSO) of the District is not required to review amendment requests from charter schools. The CSO may review amendment requests at its discretion.”

But it seems that every amendment request is being considered. Why is the main criterion for expansion in the CSO evaluation how the school is performing? Has the Board calculated how many charter seats have been added in the past ten years through amendment requests? And what the stranded costs have been, or how it has affected public schools?

Why is the CSO recommending passage of all amendments this year? That is not based on what the community wants, since the communities affected haven’t been asked or informed by the Board. So again, it is based only on what the charter operator wants.