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From PCAPS, a wish for more transparency

by David Limm on Dec 18 2013 Posted in Latest news

Public education activists picketed outside the offices of the Philadelphia School Partnership on Wednesday afternoon.

Some education activists want the Philadelphia School Partnership to know that for this holiday season transparency would be the best gift of all. 

Donning red winter hats, members of the activist group Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools attempted Wednesday afternoon to enter PSP's office near Fifth and Chestnut Streets. They were armed with a set of demands for the influential nonprofit organization, whose growing role as a major funder and private player in the city's public school system they see as more of a problem than a solution.

Building security denied the protesters entry, and the group set up a picket line outside.

On their wishlist, said parent Kia Hinton, a member of Action United, was a request for PSP to allow members of PCAPS to attend board meetings, which are not required to be open to the public. Another request was to place a public school parent or student on that board.

Saying that the Philadelphia School Partnership has spent most of its voice and money supporting private, parochial, and charter schools, PCAPS would like PSP not only to be more open about its positions on education policy, but also to devote more of its money to funding District schools.

"The vast majority of our funds go directly to schools and school operators," replied PSP spokesperson Kristen Forbriger in an email. "All of our grants are publicly announced, and information about each grant is available on our website." 

Of the more than $29 million that PSP has given to schools, $27 million has been directed to public schools, with $9 million of that going to District schools, according to the site. The group has sought to raise $100 million to invest in supporting what it calls "high-performing" schools. In July, PSP reported that $60 million had been raised so far. 

Forbriger said that PSP had also made available on the site its most recent Form 990, an annual tax return filed with the IRS that contains key information about a nonprofit's finances and mission.

The latest form, for calendar year 2012, shows that the organization's revenue grew by more than 500 percent in one year, to a total of more than $19 million. Spending was only $6 million that year, leaving the organization a fund balance of $13.6 million at year's end. 

The 34-page document also lists PSP's grants for the year (which totaled $4.3 million), its top staff salaries, and largest contracts -- those over $100,000.

Forbriger added that PSP is planning to unveil a new website in 2014 that more accurately reflects its work and impact; she said the organization was in startup mode when its current website was developed.

Hinton's take on PSP: "They won't let us up there. They're just shutting us out the same as they're doing [to us] with our schools."

Protesters planned to move next to two other sites where PSP board members work.

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Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/18/2013 - 18:40.

PCAPS is nothing more than a special interest group aligned with the PFT Union. They shouldn't be taken seriously. If I was the PSP, I would redirect that $9 Million away from district schools and redeploy it. No sense in funding ingrates who are trying to destroy you.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Wed, 12/18/2013 - 22:32.

I have nothing but respect for PCAPS. They are mainly concerned citizens and dedicated educators who have dedicated their entire professional lives to the service of children and their communities.

They hold my highest respect. Most of them selflessly give of themselves for the best interests of the students and school district community.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 07:21.

exactly what i was thinking about giving one dime of public school money to charters and their ilk. let them take their stinking $9 million and crawl under a rock somewhere.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 12:58.

There you go again!   If a coalition that represents nearly 20 organizations that includes students, parents, commuity groups as well as school employees gets summed up as a "special interest" that "shouldn't be taken seriously"  what is the PSP?   This organization represents monied interests that uses philantropic giving to advance their agenda of privatization.   PSP and theiir allies are undermining the democratic foundations of public education.

 

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Wed, 12/18/2013 - 23:16.

damn those coporatizing pigs! they're giving money to schools serving poor kids. we should hate them. this is the perfect time for the pft to call a moratorium on their members sending their kids to those money-making charters. who's with me?

Submitted by anon (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 07:32.

actually your corporate pig friends are more like the guy who flashes a big bankroll -all ones with a twenty on the outside- to get through the door and then proceeds to rob the poker game… time after time.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 07:54.

sounds like you've got some experience as a stick up artist. that's right, your a pfteacher. they know how to steal. but let me thank you for all you've done to help educate low-income children. let's get rid of my pig friends and let public education go back to the unionized monopoly that has served them so well over the past 40 years. keep up the outstanding work.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/18/2013 - 23:17.

In the interest of transparency, shouldn't the Notebook acknowledge that it takes funds from PSP? On several occasions I've seen Notebook back page ads for PSP or PSP sponsored programs and I recall a column a year ago where Paul Socolar admitted working on a contract basis with PSP. If transparency is the issue, it seems like the Notebook should acknowledge that relationship every time it posts about PSP.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 12:08.

Thanks for the feedback. The Notebook lists its current contributors here, in the About Us section of our website. We list all donors and contributors of $1,000 or more, as well as any contractual sources of program support. We follow the ethical and transparency standards set by the Investigative News Network, of which we are a member. We also provide disclosure of our finances and our editorial and fundraising standards here

Those policies don't currently include disclosure of sources of our advertising revenues. That is something we may revisit.The Notebook maintains a strict separation between editorial and business, with all advertising sales handled by the business staff. Advertising overall provides only about 16 percent of the Notebook's revenue, with no single advertiser providing more than 1 percent of revenue and so there is minimal dependence on the business of any one advertiser.

You are correct that PSP has been an advertiser. They placed one ad in 2013 and two ads in 2012. We also disclosed a contractual relationship and collaboration with PSP in 2012 to support our Fall Guide to High Schools and the GreatPhillySchools website. This ultimately provided $15,660 to the Notebook that fall as compensation for the services we provided to PSP. The Notebook and PSP opted not to renew that contractual relationship in 2013. 

Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 09:22.

Any thinking adult can see that PSP is a tool for privatization. Unfortunately, those thinking adults do not include: Mike Nutter, whose wife and thus he benefit from the largesse of PSP (see money given to Philadelphia Academies, "INC"); Lori Shorr, Nutty's mouthpiece on schools who knows very little about how they actually operate; "Dr." Hite, he of the "graduate school and professional development mean very little" (mind boggling); One Term Tommie, damn (neither the time nor the space to get to this dude); the Zogby brothers, money, money, greed; City Council, "I got mines"; Comcast, let them eat cake; Rendell, "look at that butt"; the Streets, " can you believe we are not in prison?"; and on and on and...

Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 13:15.

If the people - families in Philadelphia, children who go to school here and others who teach here - do not have a voice in how the school district of Philadelphia is taking shape then it is NOT a democratic process, period.

We elect school boards for a reason, they should be representational of the population they service. PSP is not elected, transparent or interested in what the people of Phila. want. They are solely interested in creating a market and siphoning off any and all monies that are "invested" in the business of education. They are manipulating the needs of schools by stacking the deck all in favor of charters, by wich they profit.

If you do not understand this infringement of your basic democratic rights then no amount of arguing will make it clear, and I feel truly sorry for the type of corporate drive, greed driven world that you are allowing to be created.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 18:50.

Wait a minute here. I don't buy what your selling. I've been to my fair share of school board meetings. A neighboring school district near me voted to give a 90 day notice to close a school, one school mind you. The parents got so involved that they would pack the school board meetings to voice their opposition to closing the school. Three of them ran for school board. Well, in the end, they didn't close the school.

Speaking of charter schools, I've said it before and I'll say it again, whether you like it or not, the demand for charter schools is far exceeding the supply.

I'm looking at a photo on this thread. How many people where there? Did they break 30? How about 50? There are 200,000 kids and 8,000 teachers in SDP. They don't have any problems with the ongoings of the SRC. My neighboring school district packed an auditorium for one school closing. The school board meeting lasted until 1:00 a.m. That's a fact. Joe K. is correct on many things. Where are they? Where is the opposition? Where is the action?

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 12:04.

Go-Eagles, If you are so confident the people of Philadelphia embrace the SRC's policies then why would you oppose an elected board?

As for your disparagement of the numbers of people at this demonstration, PCAPS over the last year and half has had dozens of actions, some with well over a thousand people, others with just 30 people and a bull horn.   How many mass demonstrations have you seen for charter school expansion?  When the charter is up for renewal they bus the children and a few staff and parents to the SRC meeting.   Other than that all they can muster is a couple of people at a press conference.

Given the state of the District, it is not at all surprising that many parents have opted for charters but that shouldn't be confused with an endorsement of the corporate school choice agenda.  If I shop at Walmarts that doesn't mean I agree with their corporate policies.   Let the citizens decide what sort of education they want for our children at the ballot box.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 13:54.

Ron - You ask a great question. From my understanding, the district was facing severe budget problems in the late 90's. The district was on the verge of financial collapse and needed the help of the state. The school board could not run the district. Hence, it led to the formation of the SRC. Common, the state isn't going to give you more money without running the show and controlling the purse strings.

Hypothetically, even if you eliminate the SRC and had an elected school board, you would still be facing the same problems with money. You could, more like would be in worse shape. Just look at Chester Upland.

To dovetail off of that, there was the passage of the charter school law. Please remember that Rendell was governor for 8 years. He's from Philly. Your local pols are going with the flow. What's loss in the conversation is the issues with the pension fund. The funding for the pension has increased substantially in the past couple of years. Furthermore, Philly pols have no position of power in Harrisburg. Fumo is in prison. As a result, money is flowing elsewhere.

The only argument that you could have with an elected school board is potentially less privatization with charter schools. Go ahead and get an elected school board. It may get stacked with people that would push for more charter schools. You could read your local pols like Evans, Williams, Gamble, etc. Like you said, funny things could happen at the ballot box, particularly in Philly. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 14:18.

The state took over the schools, not because they were fiscally mismanaged but because then Supterintendent David Hornbeck said that he could not implement the reforms that the District needed to improve student achievement without increased state funding.   He threatened to close the school's early rather than make cutbacks.  In retaliation the state passed ACT 46.   

Philadelphia and other cities with high rates of poverty need more funding from the state and are demanding a formula for state aid that will provide for equitable distribution as opposed to the Corbett policy in which politically favored Districts get rewarded at the expense of mostly poor Districts.   

An elected school board is not a pancea.   You are right that funding and charter school expansion will remain issues.   And, yes, we could end up with a school board that does the bidding of the corporate reform lobby.  However at least there will be an opportunity to vote in people that are opposed to the corporate school reform aganda as was done in Bridgeport, Conn. and Pittsburgh.   I'll take my chances on elections versus control by unaccountable, plutocratic elites anyday.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 14:52.

Exactly. May I add that the last straw before the takeover was when Hornbeck told Gov. Ridge that the system for funding schools in PA was institutional racism.

Speaking of unconstitutional laws being imposed upon Philadelphia's citizens, the PA Supreme Court decision this past week is a major decision. Its significance can not be understated.

Maybe our Courts will begin to hold the appropriate "checks and balances" upon our state government which are necessary for a healthy and viable democracy.

I do think that Act 1085, if passed by the General Assembly, can be challenged on similar constitutional grounds, too.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 16:07.

I'm a bottom line type of guy. It all boils down to money. Hornbeck gave an ultimatum and Dwight Evans called his bluff. We know who won. The state is providing the majority of your budget. The problem is the city. We can argue day and night, but the city is the real problem with their lack of funding. You can factor in the special deals with Comcast and the like. Stop begging from the state.

Four Pittsburgh school board members did not seek reelection. They had enough. Common, Jean Fink was on the board since the 70's. The new members have tough decisions to make in the near future. Reality will set in with them.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 17:20.

As someone who has agitated for going after the benefiiciaries of the city's generous tax abatements to the likes of Comcast and Carl Dranoff, I agree the city needs to step up too.   But demanding more from the state is not begging.     Last time I looked Philadelphians paid state taxes. Education is a constitutional state responsbility.   Philadelphia is critical to a healthy state economy.  Other cities, rural areas and some inner ring suburbs also have a stake in winning an equitable state funding formula.   Electing a Governor and a legislative majority with a committment to enacting one is a critical task in 2014.

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