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The SRC and the million-dollar turnstiles

By Helen Gym on Sep 3, 2010 09:59 AM
Photo: Helen Gym

Worth a million dollars? Ask the SRC.

Update: Read Helen's op-ed in the Daily News and her follow-up here at the Notebook.

What would you buy for a million dollars worth of school money? Some modernized classrooms, you say? Noontime aides and community liaisons to replace the ones the District laid off at the beginning of the summer, perhaps?

How about a handful of turnstiles at District headquarters?

Last week, the School Reform Commission ratified Resolution A-28, a contract amendment with Elliott-Lewis Corporation for $1,006,959.43 for installation of security turnstiles. You can see those million dollar beauties above.

It’s hard to imagine not only the million-dollar public cost of the turnstiles but why they’re even needed when security guards at both entrances check visitors.

But perhaps what’s most galling is that the SRC public resolution was passed after the turnstiles were installed at the beginning of the summer.

Zack Stalberg, head of the Committee of Seventy, said the SRC’s behavior is “neither normal nor appropriate.”

“Our view is that the public business should be done in public,” Stalberg said. “It appears that this decision was made privately and ratified in public.”

According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, approving public resolutions after the fact is not normal protocol, although there may be exceptions in cases of emergency. Such decisions, however, should be reserved for rare purposes, said Pamela Price, director of PSBA’s board development services.

“It’s our position that it is the board that makes the decisions – the school board is the governing body for the district,” said Price, who conducts trainings for school boards across the state on behalf of PSBA.

Price noted that budgeting and public input are just two of many reasons why boards need discussion before taking action. School boards need to make sure an item has been appropriately budgeted. The public also plays a role.

“An important part of the decision-making process is public input and allowing the public the opportunity to comment on decisions made by the school board,” Price said.

The SRC’s million-dollar turnstile resolution is only the latest example of the SRC as a poorly managed entity. It has frequently flouted publicly held standards about an open and transparent process. It meets for hours behind closed doors. Since the departure of spirited commissioner Heidi Ramirez last summer, any level of substantive public discussion at an SRC meeting is a rare sighting.

In the case of the million-dollar turnstiles, the District actually went ahead with something before the expense had even been approved by the SRC.

It gives new meaning to the idea of moot decisionmaking.

And it wasn't even the only example of after-the-fact decision-making at the SRC's August 25 meeting. Another resolution, B-37, authorized a $41,000 contract with Murphy Transportation for transport and storage work that the resolution says was done in July.

Price said that a major component of the PSBA’s school board trainings is the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law.

“The reality is that all decisions have to be made in public, and the Sunshine Law lays that out very clearly,” Price said. “Decisions can’t just be made behind closed doors.”

Price said that in her experience, most school boards “have a very good handle” on what the Sunshine Law requires. For PSBA, making public decisions public is not a big issue statewide.

But for Philadelphians, the million-dollar turnstiles are just the latest symbol of a flawed and troubling SRC process.

Editors' note: Our blogger requested comment on the turnstile issue from the School District prior to publication but did not receive a response. After publication, the Notebook received the following clarification from the School District:

The total figure of $1 million that is in SRC Resolution A-28 is for the cost of a new security turnstiles system and the installation of emergency call boxes and security card readers at each one of the six emergency exit stair towers.

The actual cost of the security turnstiles is $390,000. The balance is the cost of the life and safety equipment in the six emergency exit stair towers.

It is important to note that the turnstiles were always a part of the building design for the Education Center but the District held off on implementation of this building component until the School District had balanced its budget and returned to fiscal stability.

The entrance foyer at the Ed Center was built in such a way that our security staff cannot effectively control access to the building without the presence of the turnstiles. The space is just too wide and open. The reason it is so wide and open is because the turnstiles were part of the design.

A District spokesperson confirmed the that the turnstiles were installed long before the resolution was voted on.

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2010 2:37 pm

I am not expert in contract law or the language used in this resolution, and I am also opposed to this expenditure outright, but I believe there may be a slight mistake here.

A-28 is a contract amendment, and the initial contract was noted in the resolution on June 16 (A-17 here, (Additionally, the language in A-28 claims that the original resolution is A-27, which is not correct at all, so the SRC should be taken to task for poor record-keeping regardless). That initial contract on June 16 in A-17 was for $1.2M; this A-28 is an increase of $1,006,959.43, bringing the total for this contract to $2,206,959.43. Therefore, it seems that this is NOT a late ratification of work already done, but that the original work estimate was low (this $1.006 M figure low), and that the SRC is ratifying the increased payment.

If that is true, the question isn't that this work was done before ratification, but why the SRC is authorizing payment for these turnstiles now when the original contract-- which we do not have-- should have stated that the work is not to exceed the original amount-- which it does say in the A-17 from June 16 ("at a cost not to exceed $1,200,000.").

Furthermore, that also means these turnstiles didn't just cost the $1,006,959.43, but more than $2.2 M.

Please someone correct me if I am wrong, and I still believe this is a ridiculous issue, but I think the issue is not work done before the resolution but increased payment made after a contract was set.

Submitted by Helen Gym on September 3, 2010 3:00 pm

I was wondering about that as well. However, the June 16 A-17 contract is consistent with the general management contract for Elliott-Lewis which costs the District over $2 million annually (in this case it's become a biannual contract). Parents United has frequently complained about the excessive cost of this contract. It feels therefore that the $1 million specifically targets the turnstile expenditure.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2010 4:47 pm

OK, I see what you are saying, and I see my mistake (the contracts are continually amended, it seems). While we are at it, is it possible to get contract number 913/F09?

Submitted by Helen Gym on September 4, 2010 12:14 pm

The links above will take you to the resolution summary on the school district website. The full resolution will require a call to the District's communications office. Contracts will also require a viewing request.

Submitted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010 3:26 pm

It's equally disturbing that the SRC has ceded policy making to the superintendent. I am kind of surprised that I often long for the days of the Board of Education - at least communities, politicians and professional educators helped shape policy- out in the open.

Submitted by Another thing (not verified) on September 3, 2010 9:40 pm

Another thing: The ID requirements and turnstiles effectively intimidate and may prevent parents without ID from gaining access to the school district's offices.

At a time when the Parent Resource Center is prominently advertised on the first floor of the building, and new multilingual services are being rolled out, the presence of uniformed security guards, mandatory photographs taken of visitors, and ID verification sends a strong message to immigrant and other parents who do not have photo ID that they are not welcome.

Submitted by anonymous teacher (not verified) on September 5, 2010 1:21 pm

Wow, good point. Great point.

Submitted by dumbbell (not verified) on April 24, 2014 1:36 am
The doctors, therapists, gymnasiums, chiropractors and physical trainers, treasured the vibrating machine results. By using a treadmill, the entire part of the body is in constant motion or exercise. Medicine balls are practically designed to train the core.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 8, 2010 11:43 pm

Another Thing is on point with this comment. As a frequent visitor to 440, I have observed certain members of the security staff speaking in an unprofessional manner to visitors who approach the desk. It just so happens that the same two individuals (1 male, 1 female) are usually manning the desk on the 1st floor. They can be very impatient and abrasive. I'm hoping that this situation can be monitored so that parents, students, and other stakeholders are not deterred from conducting necessary business. The possibility of intimidation is very real.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2010 11:43 am

Interesting to note that at the same time the School District of Philadelphia is endangering students and teachers by dismissing the School Safety Advocate and in-classroom aides they are ensuring the safety of Ackerman and the SRC. That will keep me sleeping soundly at night.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 5, 2010 5:58 pm

67,000 school library books could be purchased with an equivalent amount of money spent on the turnstiles. The library books would be borrowed by young students who don't have books at home. When parents sit to read those books with their children, that is 134,000 people engaged in reading each evening in our low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods, That is 67,000 examples of influential adults seen by their children reading daily and enjoying the experience. Multiply that by 180 evenings and you get 24,120,000 instances of children and adults engaged in reading over one school year. Multiply that by 12 years. 289 million! Wow!!! We are on to something here!
Over time, it is easy to see how the purchase of quality school library books by a certified school librarian would accelerate Mayor Nutter's PhillyGoes2College Initiative.
What a great idea! Let's do it!

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on September 6, 2010 2:40 pm

I love this posting. Great idea. More books - how about some librarians to go with them?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 6, 2010 2:01 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 6:22 am

This is a message to the Notebook Editor - your "facts" are incorrect... the $1M amendment to the Elliott Lewis contract was a project that was requested by the Superintendent and approved by the SRC as the 440 building is a security incident waiting to happen. The turnstiles were only a small portion of the contract to improve overall security and provide a safe environment for visitors and employees alike, certainly no more intimidating than any City Public building or commercial building that also require photo ID and often turnstile access such as the Municipal Services Building and One Parkway - also included in the contract were additional cameras, emergency phones, and card reader access in stair towers. Also, the complaint that the Elliott Lewis contract is excessively high, I'd love to know what this is based on - not only does EL deliver great customer service, they do it cheaper than it could be done by hiring school district employees to maintain the building, or the contract would never have been awarded to anyone.... and let's not forget, they won the competitive bid at the time.. I'd like you to try to find one employee in 440 who doesn't feel they get class A service from EL every day of the year. Lastly, I'd like to say that EL goes above and beyond the contract, and does not charge for these additional services. The contract with EL has been approximately $1.7 million a year - the BUDGET of $2.4 million or the balance of $700K - covers out of contract services, supplies such as light bulbs, plumbing parts,ceiling tiles, etc. etc. etc. I hope you will take this information and use appropriately during the new bid process for the maintenance contract of 440.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2011 9:22 am

Thank you Shana Kemp!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2011 9:04 am

We are very happy that you are safe, secure and comfortable while you move papers from one side of a desk to another. Those of us who work with kids enjoy sweltering classrooms, limited supplies, lead-infested drinking water and other such working conditions.

Submitted by July98 (not verified) on April 2, 2015 9:41 am

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