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Mayor's education office seeks to lift the veil on Philly charter board meetings

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Apr 4, 2013 04:49 PM

Seeking to better understand the operations of Philadelphia's 80-plus public charter schools, Mayor Nutter's Office of Education has launched an effort to get boots on the ground at charter board meetings all across the city.

Lori Shorr, the Mayor's chief education policy adviser, has directed members of her staff to begin attending several such meetings a month.

"We put a lot of public dollars into these schools, and they're serving a lot of kids in this city," Shorr said. "How they're governed is important."

Philadelphia's School Reform Commission, whose five members are appointed by either the mayor or the governor, is the ultimate authority over the city's 242 traditional public schools. The SRC's monthly meetings, where policy decisions and contract awards are made, are televised live and streamed online. The meetings regularly attract hundreds of parents, advocates, and school staff.

But each of the city's charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently managed, is governed by its own nonprofit board of directors.

A recent review by Shorr's office found that only about half of Philadelphia charters had posted board meeting schedules on their websites, raising the concern that parents and the public might be missing out on opportunities to engage in the decision-making at schools that now collectively educate about 60,000 children and receive hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

So far, staff from the mayor's Office of Education have attended board meetings of Laboratory, Folk Arts and Cultural Treasures, World Communications, and Mariana Bracetti charter schools.

"It's not that radical a move," said Shorr. "These are public meetings, and people should be at them."

Lawrence Jones, the CEO of the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in West Philadelphia, agreed.

More scrutiny on charter board meetings, he said, could both enhance accountability and make Philadelphians more aware of the issues that charters face.

"I don't see how anyone could argue this," Jones said. "It gives more credibility to the fact that charters are public schools and part of the public education landscape."

Jones said that many Philadelphia charters seek to schedule parent meetings and board meetings on the same day in order to encourage attendance.

He cautioned, though, that people shouldn't expect — or want — independent charter school boards to operate in the same way as the SRC.

"Establishing bureaucracy does not necessarily indicate accountability," Jones said. "We want to preserve [the flexibility] that makes it easier for charters to mobilize and meet the needs" of parents and communities.

No central listing of Philadelphia charter school boards, their members, or their meeting schedules is currently available.

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Notebook.

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Comments (49)

Submitted by Robert R. Order (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:13 pm
Posting meetings' minutes can be institute immediately. You don't need to create a big hullabaloo just to post some minutes.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:39 pm
This is so stupid because the charter schools still can do whatever they want regardless of who attends their meetings.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:55 pm
The opposite of "stupid" is "smart." Is it smart to let this travesty continue?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 4, 2013 5:49 pm
The City is JUST NOW doing this? They should have been monitoring board meetings from the very beginning! A central listing of Philadelphia charter school boards, their members, and their meeting schedules needs to become available ASAP! Charter schools are publicly funded schools and there needs to be public disclosure and transparency. Charter schools that do things the right way and do what's best for kids won't have any problem making their board meetings open to public oversight. Due to the lack of oversight of charter school board meetings, no wonder so many shenanigans have been happening! People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing! Education Grad Student
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 4, 2013 6:00 pm
Do Mastery, Universal, Young Scholars, Aspira, ETC. has open, public meetings and do they post the minutes? If not, why not?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 5, 2013 12:01 pm
Because the charter lie folks are beyond reproach, kickbacks and all.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 4, 2013 6:09 pm
By the way, I neglected to tell you yesterday that all charter schools, pursuant to the Charter School Law, are required to also follow the Sunshine Act. Interestingly, I recently was looking for a list of Mastery's board of trustees on their website and a notice of its open meetings. I could not find it. Lori and I agree on this one and I am very happy that she is moving in that direction. Props to her on this one. How a charter school is governed Matters. No matter how you couch it, you cannot escape -- "the Democratic Imperative" for Our schools. After all, the essential question of school governance is and will always be -- Whose School Is It?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 4, 2013 7:40 pm
Again, if anyone is interested, the Sunshine Act can be found as cited (sited?) below. I point to the use of the word "democracy" by the PA General Assembly in the language of the statute: http://webpages.charter.net/gdsbmmllp/sunshine.htm
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 4, 2013 8:36 pm
Yes, but it took them how many years to do what should have been done on day 1?? Plus, do you really think any of it is true?? Given their history, I think not. The only person who lies more than Nutter's Office is Fernando Gallard whose nose must be a mile long for fibbing so much.
Submitted by Sheila Ballen (not verified) on April 5, 2013 1:02 pm
Hi Rich, You can find the calendar of our open board meetings at http://www.masterycharter.org/about/our-team.html under the MCS Board tab. Sheila Ballen Director of Communications Mastery Charter Schools
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 5, 2013 2:56 pm
Thank you. I appreciate the help. Is there a separate board of trustees for each charter school that Mastery operates, or does that one board serve the students and parents at all of Mastery's schools?
Submitted by Sheila Ballen (not verified) on April 5, 2013 2:29 pm
You can find the list of Mastery Board Members under that same tab.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 5, 2013 2:00 pm
Thanks, good job. I also give you props for having parents on the board of trustees.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2013 9:58 pm
Check those parents names Rich, this can be verified against names on SEC-1 State Ethics Commission filings for 2012. If those names are not there which I suspect they are not then the parents are either made up or just warming seats with little to no real input.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 5, 2013 2:31 pm
Oh, I apologize. I was not asking for the list of your trustees. I was asking if each charter school which Mastery operates has a separate board of trustees specific to each individual charter school? Or does the one board represent all of the charter charter schools under Mastery? I am interested because of my research.
Submitted by Sheila Ballen (not verified) on April 5, 2013 3:03 pm
Rich, Please give me a call and we can discuss all your questions. Sheila
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 5, 2013 3:29 pm
Yes, I will. Thanks.
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 5, 2013 3:27 pm
Base on the "Central Office Staff," Mastery will soon have more than the School District! This group, along with the many administrators in each schools certainly looks top heavy. But, apparently, Mastery can afford it. Why?
Submitted by Sheila Ballen (not verified) on April 5, 2013 2:51 pm
Hi Rich, You can find the calendar of our board meetings at http://www.masterycharter.org/about/our-team.html under the MCS Board tab. Sheila Ballen Director of Communications Mastery Charter Schools
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:51 pm
<<"But each of the city's charter schools, which are PUBLICLY FUNDED but independently managed, is governed by IT'S OWN nonprofit board of directors. A recent review by Shorr's office found that only about half of Philadelphia charters had posted board meeting schedules on their websites," >> So can somebody tell me WHY I'M PAYING for these schools to exist? Do we have to go and find a website and hope that somethng is on there? << "I don't see how anyone could argue this," said Jones. "It gives more credibility to the fact that charters are public schools and part of the public education landscape." >> There is NO CREDIBILTY period for taxpayer funded schools that are not accountable to the public. People need to wake up and ask for an accounting of where their money is being spent especially given the fraud that accompanies charters.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 8:59 pm
This is kind of like shutting the barn door afterwards. The charter setup itself is not public but uses public funds. Having their meetings open to the public would be fine but wouldn't deal with the basic setup. Didn't Ted Kirsch's wife set up one of the first charter schools just as he announced he was stepping down?
Submitted by Ryan Bowers on April 4, 2013 9:12 pm
Ben, Great story. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Charter School Report Corps in New Orleans, (http://thelensnola.org/charterschools/), but their work might be instructive for Philadelphia. Here's a description from their website: "The Lens has assembled a dedicated group of reporters to provide regular coverage of the 42 charter school boards that oversee 73 public schools in Orleans Parish. The Lens publishes agendas and supporting materials for board meetings as they are made available. Then, our reporters follow up with coverage of the meetings, posting the relevant documents that were distributed. Our goal is to provide readers with a one-stop resource for meaningful and specific information about charter school governance in New Orleans"
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on April 5, 2013 1:20 pm

Ryan,

Very interesting!  Thanks for sharing the link.

Ben

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2013 9:23 am
Will the decision on Stanton and Beeber be made on 4-8??
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 10:50 pm
Why does "the Mayor's chief education policy adviser" need a staff? An "advisor" should be capable of determining what she thinks without a paid committee. Since nearly everyone (not in 440, of course) in the public schools is being told that salaries must be cut due to the lack of funds, the amount of money budgeted to Ms. Shorr's office should immediately be re-directed to our needy schools. The SRC includes mayoral appointees who could keep him informed regarding educational issues.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2013 9:39 am
about time Lori Shorr is getting in the Charters' world, where has she been all these years?...she is known as an interfering, busy body at the School district when she really should be holding the Charters' equally accountable. always has her hand in policy or directive somewhere. people are only nice to her because of her title not because they respect her, what are her true responsibilities? or her work load? what are her accomplishments for the district?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2013 12:30 pm
She's certainly been at PSP meetings...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2013 8:56 am
FYI: The PSP is the Philadelphia School Partnership, a private and closed door organization, which raises $millions, invests in charter schools, influences SRC policy, and is attempting to appoint management personel to 440 N. Broad St. Their activities need to be understood better and exposed to the public.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 6, 2013 9:29 am
Yes, I took notice of that, too. It is an issue which is a legal issue which no one has raised yet which I am very well aware of in relation to, again -- "the Sunshine Act." What Mark Gleason and the Gates Compact Committee are actually doing is "circumventing the Sunshine Act." That is a legal issue. What they decide behind closed doors certainly appears like it is being "rolled out to us." It appears like the "inside traders" are calling all of the shots for their best interests and their ideology. It certainly creates "the appearance of impropriety" at the very least. I have been watching what is happening and thinking very deeply about what that means to "public education" and democracy itself. Do you realize what it means if we allow a foundation which was set up to promote the privatization agenda to control who becomes our leaders? Do we all understand what that means to our basic ideals of "democratic governance?" I advise everyone to look closely behind the closing of Beeber. Does anyone really believe that sending those children to Overbrook High School is in the best interests of those students? Why was that closing suddenly put on the list?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 6, 2013 5:56 pm
Rich, Beeber is an interesting case. I live fairly close to Beeber and Overbrook HS. I believe that there would be much less opposition to closing Beeber if 7th and 8th graders could stay at Cassidy, Overbrook, and Gompers. However, this is not feasible due to space. I am concerned about the 7th and 8th graders going to Overbrook HS. I've been inside the Overbrook HS building a couple of times and seen it from the outside many many times. As I understand, Overbrook doesn't have a lot of additions like Germantown. (Fulton ES could have basically stayed as Fulton ES within one of GHS's additions.) Thus, I am concerned about the ability of Overbrook HS to have a separate area for the middle school students, a school-within-a-school set-up. I am also concerned about how Overbrook HS will be next school year with the addition of students from Lamberton HS. EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 6, 2013 9:56 pm
I worked at Overbrook when I first became an AP. It is one of the most difficult buldings to control. There are four stairwells which run from top to bottom with stops at all floors. The kids can get anywhere they want, and they do and will. There are always many issues with student behavior, especially on the way home from school. At Beeber's closing meeting, I spoke for a few minutes with one of my old colleagues, Ethelyn Young, the Brook's present principal who I believe is retiring. She had given Dr. Hite "a tour" of the proposed facilities. He was well informed of the issues. I can tell you this -- I would not like to be in the position of the one responsible for controlling the older students at the Brook with the Beeber children there. No way. It is CRAZY to send the Beeber students to the Brook. It is going to cost them more money on extra help than they could ever save by closing Beeber. If that is all we can do for those children, there is something wrong with us. The School District, if the building is so inefficient, should build that neghborhood a new school and come up with a prospective plan that meets the needs of that neighborhood and those children. But, I would advise you to keep your eyes open on this one. Watch real close. See what happens down the road.
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 7, 2013 3:22 am
Mastery runs schools that are 7-12. I realize their buildings - which are School District buildings - may be more conducive to having a broader age group. Nevertheless, I assume they have 7-12 because they are able to get students earlier to prepare them for high school. Does anyone know if Hite/SRC have looked at possible models - not just Mastery but other schools as well - of 7-12 programs? Are they going to vertically align curricula for 7-12? (Rhodes and Fitzsimmons were at one time 7-12). To just "fill" Overbrook with Beeber students does a disservice to all of the students. (I'm not familiar with Overbrook's lay out but "housing" Beeber students on one floor will not address the use of common space like the gym, cafeteria, etc. nor traveling to these locations.) Another school which will become (5) 6 - 12 is Penn Treaty with the addition of Carroll High School. Will anything be done other than to tell the students to go to the school? There has to be an academic plan to align the curricula / program 6 - 12 if this is going to happen.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 7, 2013 2:29 pm
Sending Beeber students to Overbrook high school is akin to placing rabbits next to a wolf pack and pretending the rabbits will do just fine. No SRC member nor any politician would even remotely think of placing their own children in danger like that but hey, it's not their kids so who cares? Every Beeber parent should have a lawyer on retainer because they're going to need them if this occurs. You simply can't put 11 and 12 year olds with 18 year olds and expect harmony but when you don't care, you have nothing to lose.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 7, 2013 3:07 pm
It is not a 7-12 model which is the issue. Under the right circumstances, they work fine. But they are sending those children to an oversized, ancient, monstrous building where staying off the most dangerous schools list is a major challenge every year. Ethelyn Young, its principal, has been doing an heroic job there. Overbrook itself should be knocked down and rebuilt to fit the community's needs and come into the 21st century. I find it quite ironic that you would mention that Mastery is trying a 7-12 model. Keep your eyes open on this one.
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 7, 2013 4:35 pm
Why ironic? All of Mastery Renaissance schools are 7 - 12 except for Gratz and the elementary schools (Picket, Thomas, Shoemaker). Granted, those buildings aren't Overbrook and much more manageable. Frankford High School is also similar to Overbrook but older. The School District under Vallas, as you know, built a new Lincoln, Audenreid, Fels, West and one Kensington (CAPA). He also repaired Academy at Palumbo and Academy at B. Rush (to the tune of $25 million EACH). He added High School of the Future. I'm sure I'm missing some schools. Meanwhile, other neighborhoods like Frankford, Overbrook and the east side of South Philly got nothing. The inequity in facilities is stark because there are neighborhoods which received nothing.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 7, 2013 7:03 pm
Yes, Vallas did have a plan to build new schools. For that I have to give him props. I also have to give him props for his small schools movement, and for allowing some really good people to start new magnet schools, as well as some good charter schools. In so doing he also laid the groundwork for what is happening today. Other than that, he destroyed everything he put his self-centered ego-maniac hands on. And that is the most positive spin I can put on his tenure here. He destroyed our district and left it in a state of devastation. Including creating a toxic climate which destroyed our sense of ethics and morality within our community. All for his own political agenda. Ironic, because what will be the consequence of the closing of the schools? Which entities will be the beneficiaries of the closings? Why was Beeber added to the list belatedly? Time will answer those questions.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 7, 2013 9:14 pm
Ooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter----------------I have a possible answer. The area around Beeber is becoming "gentrifide" in a big way. Plus, St, Joe's is a long baseball throw away as is City Line Ave. Throw in the massive synagogue training center 2 blocks away and it's not hard to imagine incentives to close Beeber. For the record again, Beeber is a fine school which happens to play by the rules, no cheating in any way, and reporting ALL incidents.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 10, 2013 10:29 pm
Rich, Your statement that "Overbrook itself should be knocked down and rebuilt to fit the community's needs and come into the 21st century" makes me cringe a bit. I've only been in the building twice, but have seen it hundreds of times from the outside. I love that building. I wish there was a way to preserve the exterior of the building and modernize the interior so that it can be a 21st Century building. There is a grandiosity and craftsmanship to the original building that is hard to replicate in the 21st Century. As for the 1960s addition to the building...go ahead and rebuild that because it's yucky! EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2013 9:50 pm
HI Rich, I believe you were present at the SRC meeting in December when, on behalf of the Alliance for the Preservation of Public Schools (APPS), I handed a letter to Lori Schorr requesting that the Great Schools Compact Committee, on which she sits, open its meetings to the public. This Committee has been making crucial decisions about the policies and workings of the school district since November 2011, when the SRC, after no public discussion or hearings, without even a formal resolution, voted to follow the mandates set out in the Compact. PSP, which describes itself as the "project managers" for the GSC, also holds no public meetings. APPS also hand-delivered a letter to Mark Gleason's office in December. As yet, we have received no response from either. Lisa Haver
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 8, 2013 3:01 am
Lori Shorr's "show" about publicizing charter school board meetings is just that - show. Who can attend 87 plus charter school board meetings? It is another illusion of transparency. There is no transparency with "Great School Compact" nor anything associated with Mark Gleason. (Remember the cover up with the funding of the Boston Consulting Group by the William Penn Fund?)
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 8, 2013 7:13 am
"Illusion of transparency"---------I love it and so true. It's a shell game first, last and only.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 8, 2013 7:00 pm
I know lots of people who know her and nobody has a good word to say. Apparently, she manages to rub everybody the wrong way with her arrogance and complete lack of sensitivity and sincerity.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 8, 2013 7:11 am
Yes, I remember. (With a smile.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2013 1:40 pm
Can someone tell Me why I am paying for school teacher retirements and health benefits?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2013 2:35 pm
As a "thank you" for having to raise your children for you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2013 5:45 am
Do have the same question about police officers? What about DHS social workers? Prison guards? How about a secretary at a state office in Harrisburg?
Submitted by Anonymous#1 (not verified) on April 7, 2013 5:05 pm
Are you serious??? Teachers make mandatory contributions into the PA retirement system. It annoys me when uninformed people make such idiotic statements.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2013 6:27 pm
Can someone please inform the writer of this comment that teachers ARE TAX PAYERS too and see if the "yahoo" can figure out the rest on their own.
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