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Meeting of big donors inspires protests

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 2, 2013 02:35 PM

The Philanthropy Roundtable, with the help of the Delaware Valley Grantmakers, sponsored a meeting of big donors in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday. The philanthropic association offered advice, field trips, and workshops on how donors' money "can increase a city's total number of high-quality K-12 seats, regardless of the school sector(s)," public, charter, or parochial. 

That the meeting came in the middle of an unprecedented budget crisis that has stripped city schools of essential services was an insult to several dozen protesters, who said that they felt the donors' presence was part of a privatization agenda.

"The message of the young people is that they were upset that these groups had the audacity to come to Philadelphia in the middle of the worst financial crisis the School District has faced," said Hiram Rivera, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union. "These are wealthy people talking on how they can capitalize on this crisis while students are going to schools with no counselors, no nurses, no programs."

The requirement for participation was a prior donation of $50,000 or more to a philanthropic cause. There were about 200 attendees, and they were from Philadelphia and elsewhere, according to several people there.

"We’ll discuss investments that hold the promise of improving multiple types of schools and learn how donors are uniquely positioned to accelerate city-wide student achievement," according to the agenda published on the Roundtable's website.

The Philanthropy Roundtable, a right-leaning donor organization, would not release any information on who attended the gathering or agree to an interview. Anthony Pienta, the Roundtable's deputy for K-12 education issues, issued a statement:

"It's been an honor to host a gathering of some of America's most generous philanthropists, civic leaders, and educators dedicated to improving K-12 education here in Philadelphia and in cities nationwide. Through their hard work, we're hopeful that every child in Philadelphia and around the country will have the opportunity to attend an excellent school."

Among the topics of the conference were: early literacy, teacher training, building public support for change, blended learning, increasing school choice, and strengthening Catholic schools.

A particular target of the protesters was the Philadelphia School Partnership, which has the goal of raising $100 million through its Great Schools Fund to distribute to "high-performing" schools. So far, it has given out some $29 million-- about $16.5 million to charters, $9.5 million to District schools, and $3 million to Catholic schools.

The conference included two field trips -- one to Mercy Vocational, an independent Catholic school, and the other to Mastery Charter School at Cleveland Elementary, a Renaissance "turnaround" school. There were no visits scheduled to any District-run schools.

PSP executive director Mark Gleason said that he was asked to speak and suggest schools for field trips, but didn't sponsor the conference or set the agenda.

"We shared some of our perspective around Philadelphia ... and told them about a dozen schools they could visit," he said. That included District-run schools. In the end, time constraints prevented visitation of more than two, he said.

Rivera, of Philadelphia Student Union, said that PSP doesn't give enough money to District-run schools. Nor has the organization urged Gov. Corbett to release $45 million in appropriated state funds that he is holding up pending changes in the teachers' contract, Rivera said. PSP lobbied Corbett to include conditions on the $45 million, including a change in seniority rules governing teacher assignment.

"In order for schools to be good schools, they need to be resourced adequately," Rivera said. "Anything that doesn't talk about how we can fund all our schools fully and adequately is a waste of time, in my opinion."

Gleason said that PSP has advocated for more money for the District by urging City Council to pass the extension of a 1 percent sales tax that would funnel $120 million to city schools starting next year.

Although PSP agrees that the District needs more money, "I will reiterate what we're saying all along, that money alone is not the problem," Gleason said. "We also need reforms and better management."

The students at the protest were from the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, and JUNTOS.

Some protesters were upset that the meeting was closed to the public, because those inside wield great influence over school policy.

"Sure, we'll take your money, but we don't want you deciding where the money should go," said Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an advocacy group that helped organize the protest at the Union League. "All decisions made about public schools should be made by the public."

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Comments (16)

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 2, 2013 4:08 pm
I was a protester at the PSP event at the Union League. These philanthroists might be generous, but they are also dangerously ill-informed. I spoke briefly to one of the philanthropists, a beautifully coifed and dressed woman who informed me that the SDP teachers would be better paid if our principals did not make so much money. As an SDP lifer, I do not often feel inclined to defend management, but the sheer idiocy of this comment--as if paying principals nothing at all would put a dent in our deficit-- called for at least a minimum of reality, so I responded that charter school principals often make more money than public school principals. She was thrown off by this, but bounced back triumphantly with the comment that "parents get to choose to send their children" to charters. When I responded, with a smile, that most charters don't allow any old parent to choose them, but instead are pretty darned choosy themselves, she dashed into the Union League. Her husband, equally well-dressed, was just wrapping up his peroration about the superiority of TFA's, barking out that they "are the real teachers." Yeah, this couple...they are education's "reformers". One thing they can be sure of, no person in education is worthy of the salary that they themselves command. Running a that's worth something. Teaching kids? Come on, that can just about be outsourced to a third world country. Bill Gates is perfecting the software, and he's going to give us a deal on the computers. On top of the chic wardrobes, careful grooming, and fabulous first, second, and third vacation homes, the great thing about money is the instant expertise it confers upon its owner. We're just so lucky to have these rich tax-haven plutocrats deign to set us straight. It's the principals. They're paid too much. Problem solved. That's the kind of wisdom these "philanthropists" had to offer.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 4, 2013 9:40 pm
Joan, I applaud your response to the well-dressed woman. The first thought that jumped into my head after I read her words "'parents get to choose to send their children' to charters" was, "Try telling that to the parents of the children I teach!" As a SDP special education teacher of children who have low-incidence disabilities, my students and their parents do not have a choice. Most of them don't even have the choice to attend their neighborhood school and receive an Free and Appropriate Public Education because their neighborhood school does not have the low incidence program suitable to meet their needs. Some of of my students have an hour-long bus ride each morning to and each afternoon from school. The conflict between school choice and the Zero Reject principle of special education law is a ticking time bomb. School choice advocates will be in for a rude awakening when they find that the rights of ALL children to have a Free and Appropriate Public Education trumps school choice. EGS
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on October 2, 2013 4:51 pm
You have got to be kidding me. Protesting the people who are making charitable donations to schools? Who put them up to this, the PFT? That is outrageous. If I was one of the donors, I would take my money elsewhere. The gall of this public sector union is truly hard to believe.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:26 pm
taxpayer, you'd have us groveling on our hands and knees for their crumbs. it is the responsibility of the government to provide basic services. public education falls into that category. if our bought and paid for (by these same donors) leaders would stop giving our money away to the wealthy, there would be ample funds for education. we don't need to beg and their charity comes with strings attached. no thanks. the kids get it. what part of that do you have trouble understanding?
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on October 3, 2013 12:10 pm
All of it. I am retarded. I am. I need to shut my big fat fat mouth.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 7:56 pm
All the Filthy Rich "reformers" need to shut up and stay in your mansions counting your money .Almost all of you are self-selving, greedy, entitled people. When you Try to pretend you know about education,teachers and students makes you all look a lot dumber.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on October 2, 2013 9:24 pm
Tax them.
Submitted by Frank Murphy on October 2, 2013 8:03 pm

"If I were a rich man"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 8:51 pm
Hi Frank,that reading authored by you, shall we say appropriately is -RIGHT ON THE MONEY. Thanks.
Submitted by tom-104 on October 2, 2013 10:10 pm
I was at the demonstration and observed some of the conversations with the people who had $50,000 ( the average of what most teachers make in a year) to donate to participate. They were sanctimonious and arrogant, coming off as know it alls when they knew nothing. One stated that a teacher has not been fired in Philadelphia in 30 years to people like me who have seen teachers fired. He also said legislators in Harrisburg told him that 25% of Philadelphia teachers cannot do 5th grade math. When I asked him how they got through college, he replied "Because they are not taught math in college." Bottom line is the participants in the conference were there to find out how they can get in on the new education market being created by privatization that will give them access to taxpayer dollars which used to go to schools rather than private profit.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 9:56 am
Why does "Privatization" not apply to the PFT?? They are not a public organization subject to public decision making. They spend more money on their agenda than these philanthropists combined. They have staff who sit in the central office looking over the shoulders of district employees. But never any mention of their influence.
Submitted by Frank Murphy on October 3, 2013 12:10 pm

Teachers (The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, PFT) are just the people who do the work.  Why should they have any say concerning how the Philadelphia School District operates?  They should just be quite and fork over salary concessions.

Where as the rich people by virtue of their wealth deserve the right to tell the working people how to do their job? 

This is how democracy works in the land of the "One Percent".

Submitted by Lisa Haver (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:44 am
Mark forgot to mention that he has, for months, been calling on the Governor and the General Assembly NOT to fund Philadelphia public schools. He is supporting Corbett's refusal to keep the $45 million from the federal government until the union makes massive concessions. No private entity, be it PSP, BCG, W. Penn Foundation, Gates, et al, has the right to make decisions about public schools. Not about recruitment of senior staff, not about principal training, not about which schools get money, not about how schools enroll children. The SRC has an obligation to let the people of this city in on the decisions of how the district raises and spends money. They should not be meeting with PSP about school district policy and spending behind closed doors. All issues which affect students, teachers and parents must be made in open meetings with an opportunity for audience members to question any resolution which is about to voted upon. BTW, too bad the Notebook couldn't pony up $50,000 to get in. The press was barred from the proceedings. I thought they were so proud of what they were doing.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 3, 2013 7:36 pm
But they ARE doing it !!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 3, 2013 7:22 pm
And the Gates Compact Committee should not be allowed to circumvent the public, democratic processes of the Sunshine Act. Of course, the privatization army visited Mastery schools, who of course, will be given more schools to "operate" next year. It is insider trading 101. It is not about the best interests of children and not about the best interests of our community, our city or any true charter school with leaders who actually did have a vision and an innovative idea. It is all about and only about the privatization of the American schoolhouse -- for the profit motive. Elections Matter and so does democratic governance of public schools. Democracy is not only the sine qua non of Greatness in schools. It is the sine qua non for public education itself. Without democratic governance, no school is a public school. It is time to be honest everyone -- time to be honest. All of this -- with the blessings of the powers to be.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 4, 2013 9:44 pm
Lisa, For the sake of dialogue, I am curious how your statement "No private entity, be it PSP, BCG, W. Penn Foundation, Gates, et al, has the right to make decisions about public schools" applies to organizations such as the PFT, CASA, and other unions of SDP employees. I think it's worth considering because many of these private organizations might say that the District and the PFT meet behind closed doors. I am a teacher and PFT member. EGS

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