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SRC suspends Pa. school code on closings

Photo: Benjamin Herold

Parent Jose Villafane, with daughter Kianna, testified before the School Reform Commission in support of Sheppard Elementary school, which the District has recommend for closure.

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 
 

[Updated 1:30 a.m.] In an unexpected move, the School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a previously unannounced "walk-on" resolution to suspend a portion of the Pennsylvania Public School Code so that it can expedite its pending decision on the District's recommendation to close nine schools.

A public hearing on the closing recommendations is now scheduled for March 3, with a final vote currently scheduled for March 29.

“This is not an intention to truncate the process we’ve laid out,” said Chairman Pedro Ramos before the vote. “We’re going to continue to go through the facilities master planning process, and we’re going to consider all the feedback we’ve gotten.”

The suspended provision of state law requires a three-month window between an official public hearing on proposed public school closures and a vote to make them official. The state law creating the SRC allows that body to waive provisions of the school code.

The SRC and District have hosted 18 community meetings to gather feedback on their facilities recommendations. But the resolution to do away with the three-month waiting period caught some in the audience off guard.

“The public has had no opportunity to speak on this because the [resolutions] were not put out to the public,” said retired teacher Lisa Haver, who spoke up from the audience and was allowed to comment.

“That’s a fair, valid criticism,” acknowledged Ramos. “We’ll make every effort to move the process of getting resolutions out a lot earlier.”

Under the old SRC process of having a planning meeting and then an action meeting, there was usually a week or more between when the resolutions were introduced.

The SRC’s vote to suspend state law also highlighted the urgency of the numerous speakers who spoke out in testimony earlier in the evening in the hopes of saving their threatened schools.

"We implore you, please do not close our peaceful, nurturing, AYP-achieving school,” said Jamie Roberts, a teacher at Sheppard Elementary in Kensington

“Sheppard is a symbol of everything that’s right with this District,” she added. “Yes, it’s an old building, but it’s filled with the magic of learning.”

As has been common at the SRC for the past three months, a large contingent from E.M. Stanton also turned out. This time, they presented their latest counterproposal to the District’s closing recommendation.

Under either of the two alternatives Stanton supporters are proposing, said parent Temwa Wright, student enrollment would be increased and the school’s utilization rate would rise to 94 percent. 

Wright drew laughs from the commissioners and the audience when she offered to take Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, who as chancellor of Rutgers-Camden University has been outspoken in his opposition to a proposed merger of his institution with Rowan University, out for a drink if they are both successful in their efforts to preserve their schools.

“I can relate to your frustration,” Wright told Pritchett.

State Representative W. Curtis Thomas of North Philadelphia also gave testimony in support of Harrison Elementary at 11th and Thompson Streets. In the process, he also questioned the District’s broader priorities.

“The larger question is the excessive number of schools that are being closed in North Philadelphia and the overwhelming number of charter schools that are being approved in the same target areas,” said Thomas.

In other news, an update on Renaissance Schools scheduled for tonight's SRC meeting was rescheduled.

Instead, District Deputy of Accountability and Educational Technology Fran Newburg and Chief Information Officer Melanie Harris presented on "Data Tools and Instructional Resources."

District officials said no make-up date has been scheduled for the staff presentation on Renaissance Schools.

The District is expected to announce a new crop of low-performing schools to be targeted for charter conversions, as well as the external "turnaround teams" that have been pre-approved to compete to manage the schools, sometime this month.

The Notebook/NewsWorks reported last week that despite its massive budget crunch, the District has been forgoing hundreds of thousands of dollars in facilities fees by allowing Renaissance operator Universal Companies to operate for free in Audenried High and Vare Middle schools. The SRC heard testimony critical of that arrangement from outspoken teacher Hope Moffett, who ran into trouble with the District a year ago over her protest of the move to turn Audenried over to Universal.

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Comments (22)

Submitted by Matthew C. (not verified) on February 16, 2012 6:19 pm

The Ren Schools are a tricky business and hopefully the political tide is turning back to sanity,

Submitted by tom-104 on February 17, 2012 12:41 am

The resolution to suspend the Pennsylvania school code on closings was voted on at Thursday night's SRC meeting after four hours of 44 speeches by parents and community groups pleading for their schools and school programs. By 10:00 p.m., when the resolution was voted on, only 10%, of what had been a filled auditorium, of the original audience was left. The full import of the resolution can be seen in the wording of the resolution:

"SRC-5
Resolved, that the School Reform Commission, in order to expedite the process of permanent closings of public schools, pursuant to Section 6-696(i)(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code, hereby suspends, effective immediately, the requirements of Section 7-780 of the Public School Code and any applicable regulations, which provide that the School Reform Commission shall: (i) hold a public hearing on the question of the permanent closing of public schools not less than three (3) month prior to the decision of the School Reform Commission relating to the closing of the schools; and (ii) provide notice of the hearing(s) in a newspaper of general circulation in the School District at least fifteen (15) days prior to the date of the hearing(s); and be it

Further Resolved, that the School Reform Commission direct that public hearings(s) prior to the permanent closing of public schools shall be held on March 3, 2012 prior to the decision of the School Reform Commission relating to the closing of the schools."

This is NOT what democracy looks like!

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on February 17, 2012 12:21 am

At least we can now officially drop the pretense that the new, improved SRC gives a damn about the people of this city.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2012 2:27 pm

The members of the SRC need to go. In fact, who needs them anyway?

They are under minding the education of students in THEIR respective communities and this needs to be stopped!

Submitted by Jamie Roberts (not verified) on February 17, 2012 7:28 am

Those of us who have spent months at community meetings urging the facilities planners and the SRC to reconsider closure are very relieved the SRC voted to do this. We can't afford to wait much longer than late March to make plans for the coming year for our students and ourselves. Suspending the rules in this case is the right thing to do - there has been a very fair amount of time for public discussion and there's no reason why there needs to be three months between the final public meeting and the vote o n this mater.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 17, 2012 10:14 am

I can appreciate your concern for teachers and parents who must know what is being done to their schools so they can plan for life changes due to these closures.

However, just accepting this without a fight will only encourage those who want to privatize public education. Human beings have survived because of our ability to adapt to changing environments. Sometimes, however, adapting is not in our interest. Nothing about this economic crisis is inevitable. These are political and economic choices being made by the 1% in their interests, not society as a whole. Watch the film "Inside Job" at http://www.filmsforaction.org/Watch/Inside_Job_2010/ to see how manipulated this crisis is. (Click the four arrows in the bottom, right of the viewing screen for full screen view.) Also, view the interview with a former CEO at Citigroup on the Bill Moyers Show to see how the 1% brought on this historic crisis at http://vimeo.com/35736514

Also, be sure to read these two articles which analyze this insane educational crisis brought to us by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top:

Noted education historian and education policy analyst Diane Ravitch in the new New York Review of Books in the article "Schools We Can Envy" at:

http://tinyurl.com/7lc4fr6

Also see this related column in the Washington Post by Mark Naison, professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University in New York and chair of the department of African and African-American Studies. He is also co-director of the Urban Studies Program, African-American History 20th Century.

"Are public schools unfairly blamed for America’s economic woes?" at:

http://tinyurl.com/6qfrpeb

We must educate ourselves about what is being done to our lives. Just because you don't know about it until it is too late doesn't mean it isn't happening or will go away!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 17, 2012 1:01 pm

I really see no connection between taking a vote on this issue earlier when no public debate would occur anyway, and privatizing schools. Sometimes I feel there is a knee-jerk reaction to everything the SRC does.

There has been massive publicity about this issue and meetings have been held all over the district. There will be a big open public meeting on March 3. Then the commissioners will vote while the issue is fresh in their minds.

Give the students and teachers time to make transitions. Without proper prep time, the beginning of the school year will be more chaotic than usual - and that's saying something.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 17, 2012 5:29 pm

The school closings and privatization are the same thing. 50,000 students have left the public schools to go to charters. This is why these schools are being closed. The SRC is now preparing another round of charters to further privatize the schools. See http://tinyurl.com/869uauv

Next year there will be more closures due to students moving to charters because the public schools are being financially strangled.

This is happening all over the country. It is the privatization for which organizations like the Bill Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation have been laying the groundwork for ten years. See http://tinyurl.com/3ltddl6

The hedge fund managers, Wall Street gamblers, and bankers that were bailed out in 2008 due to their financial greed (see "Inside Job" at http://www.filmsforaction.org/Watch/Inside_Job_2010/) not only funded their lavish life styles, but they have bought our electoral system with SuperPacs and corporate lobbying. The Bill Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, and Walton Foundation are funded by billions of dollars which they are devoting to ending public education in the U.S in the hopes of finding another source of profit.

Look at these videos of the February 9th hearing on the closing of 23 public schools in New York City by its Panel for Educational Policy. The parents, teachers and students are very clear that school closures are about privatization.
http://tinyurl.com/84fwqvo

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 17, 2012 4:03 pm

I'll take it a step further---THERE IS NO ECONOMIC CRISIS---certainly not a real one, just one orchestrated by the 1% so they can foist their wills on and over the 99%. The masses better step up to the plate and use our only power--the power of numbers. Read any of Naomi Klein's works about The Shock Doctrine and The New World Order etc. ALL of this is bullcrap and all of it is by design to cripple the workers and their children. If we aren't careful, there will be no more unions and by extension, no more Middle Class. I've been saying this on this site for 2 plus years now and was scolded or at least very criticized for taking such a harsh stand. How much more abuse do you need to stop this pretense that these are reasonable folks who care about democracy and the rights of people??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2012 8:11 am

Perfectly said! Now we need more to hear!

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 19, 2012 10:04 am

I am certainly in favor of a shortening of the three month waiting period because there has been ample time for the community to make public comment and discuss and debate school closings.

However, I am very concerned about the SRC's use of Section 6-696(i)(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code to "suspend" what is essentially a "due process" issue. That action of the SRC has serious constitutional implications and raises serious issues as to the "assault on democracy" itself and its erosion in America today.

While it is an "open question" since there are no precedents on point, it is my opinion that the section cited which purportedly gives them the authority to "suspend" provisions of the School Code is "unconstitutional on its face" because it allows a politically appointed body to usurp the authority of the General Assembly and the state school board.

The manner in which the resolution was introduced and voted upon pursuant to a "walk on resolution" raises constitutional issues "as applied" because it did not give the People of Philadelphia an opportunity to publicly discuss the issue and publicly comment on the action before the resolution was passed.

I find it quite ironic and quite alarming that in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American Democracy, we sit here and watch our constitutional protections and rights being eroded away by unelected officials.

And believe me, I am appreciative and very supportive of many of the new initiatives the present SRC has implemented. However, the SRC are the "Custodians of Democracy" within the School District of Philadelphia, and I believe the ideals of our democracy are our highest ideals we Philadelphians must respect if we are to have a viable system of governance of our schools.

Our ideals and principles of democracy as embodied in our state and federal constitutions supersede all others in the governance of our public schools.

There can be no greatness in our public schools or our school systems if we allow our Constitution to stop at the schoolhouse door. Of that I am sure....

Submitted by former teacher (not verified) on February 17, 2012 11:52 am

Thanks, Notebook for reporting on the SRC's trampling on democracy. They don't know how the SRC works? Even Dworetzky, who has been on it for years. Sorry, not buying it. And tell us why there is only one formal SRC meeting a month now? to accommodate Dworetzky's travel needs?

Lisa Haver

Submitted by former teacher (not verified) on February 17, 2012 2:23 pm

http://chalkandtalk.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/src-favors-corporate-commu

I wrote about the SRC's lack of transparency in many venues. Last night's actions only further proved my point.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 17, 2012 7:22 pm

Any governing body that chooses to close perfectly good,even beloved, neighborhood schools, is clearly up to something other than "School Reform."

Submitted by Save Sheppard (not verified) on February 17, 2012 8:58 pm

Agreed. But the district's facility management department under the OLD SRC ordered these nine schools closed. We're hoping - and we know Stanton is, too - that this new SRC will prove to be more oriented toward the welfare of children. We'll know for sure after the March 29th vote.

Submitted by Sam G. (not verified) on February 17, 2012 9:55 pm

This is going on everywhere, not just here but in all the inner cities. It's a new way for the corporations to make a profit, even if the profit is being made on the backs of the poor.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2012 7:31 pm

The presentations by the Shepherd parents was very impressive. There is obviously a strong sense of community at Shepherd. Hopefully, the SRC saw it and will not close Shepherd.

If they want to consolidate schools, they should look in South Philly. There are MANY small neighborhood K-8 schools in South Philly. Why only Stanton? There are schools which have not made AYP that are "under capacity," but not in as plush a neighborhood, that should be considered.

Submitted by Sheppard Teacher (not verified) on February 20, 2012 10:58 pm

Thanks for your kind wishes. We hope the SRC - which had nothing to do with the recommendation to close and will hopefully be open-minded - will see it the same. way. Sheppard's staff, parents and children our family. Our children achieve more than any other school in the area. Our building is in immaculate shape despite its age. It would harm hundreds of children to have to go elsewhere and despite the understandable cynicism of some, we don't believe the SRC would intentionally harm children.

Submitted by Sheppard Teacher (not verified) on February 20, 2012 10:58 pm

That should read, Sheppard's staff, parents and children ARE family. Too late at night for me to be posting messages. : )

Submitted by Sheppard Teacher (not verified) on February 20, 2012 10:58 pm

Sorry, that third sentence should read: Sheppard's staff, parents and children ARE family.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2012 1:22 pm

SRC Still Robbing Children

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 23, 2012 6:16 am

I read the posts on this site and ask myself, why aren't we stopping this privatization movement? Why aren't us 99% standing up?
I'm watching my school get destroyed....the cuts have been devistating and we keep letting it happen.
When are we going to stand up? I'm ready for the fight.

Why can't the teachers, principals and students just walk out for a day and plant ourselves at city hall or 440. Let these union busting, money hungry 1% know that we aren't taking it anymore.

How do we expose to the public what really goes on in our schools each and every day. The lack of teachers, the lack of security, lack of cleaners etc....?

I'm tired of talking about this.....we need to act!!!

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