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Report says that District needs to focus more on ethics and transparency

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 18, 2014 06:31 PM

The School District does not do enough to train employees or clarify and enforce its ethics policies, a long-awaited report being discussed at the School Reform Commission today concludes.

As a result of the lack of focus, members of the public lack confidence that the School District officials and personnel act in an ethical manner, says the report, which was compiled by a task force of outside experts and completed in December, 2012 -- 14 months ago.

Although there are a lot of rules governing the conduct of District employees, people don't know where to find them or who they should approach with questions, said Ellen Mattleman Kaplan of the Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group, who testified before the task force.

"Nobody is doing ethics training, nobody is reviewing the rules to see if they are up-to-date and applicable to what is happening at the School District now," Kaplan said.  

The report was requested by former School Reform Commission Chair Pedro Ramos when he took office in fall 2011, on the heels of a series of ethical controversies involving District leadership. The District gave no explanation on why the report itself has not been widely disseminated or presented to the SRC until now. 

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the report, now posted on the District's website, has been in the public domain since March, when the Daily News obtained a copy and wrote about it. He said it has has been available on the website of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, which headed the task force that produced the document. But on Tuesday there was not an active link to the report on the United Way's web page about the ethics task force.

Kaplan said that she suspects that the District put the issue on the back burner because it was dealing with other crises, such as funding, school closings, and trying to hammer out a teachers' contract.

"The main point here is that ethics is not an afterthought," Kaplan said. "It can’t stand back and wait for other things to get resolved. ... Ethics has to be woven into everything you do because there are ethical issues that come up day after day after day. People have to trust the people making decisions are of the highest integrity and communicate to people at the School District that they expect them to behave as ethically as possible."

Gallard said that the School Reform Commission is now ready to tackle the issue -- "where are we now, what has been accomplished since the report came out, and what are the next steps."

In a presentation to Tuesday evening's SRC meeting, Michael Davis, the District's chief counsel, pointed to deficiencies in the current practices about ethics and cited recommendations for clarifying policies, making its practices transparent, and establishing a "strong culture of ethics." Davis said the District needs to name a senior official to serve as "point person" on ethical matters.

The report expresses concern that due to budget cuts, "auditing and compliance staff at all levels has been sharply reduced, even as the number of contracts has increased." It says that given the District's financial constraints, "it is tempting to skimp on oversight, and to back-burner concerns which may seem removed from the District's core teaching function. But in reality, tough times require heightened diligence."

The task force did not find pervasive ethical violations within the District:

Based on its review, the Task Force concluded that the vast majority of School District personnel and those who work with the District seek to perform their daily activities with integrity. 

But its recommendations acknowledge a need to restore public confidence that ethical standards are actively enforced:

Despite the existence of [a code of ethics], and the integrity displayed every day by most of the District's employees, far too few District employees or members of the general public appear to have a high degree of confidence that District business is conducted in the most ethical manner.

The task force did not directly look into the long-running investigation of changing of answers and other cheating on standardized tests, saying it was beyond the scope of its work. But the report does note that the climate in the District could contribute to the problem of cheating: "The Task Force believes that cheating flourishes in an atmosphere where accountability for ethical violations is episodic, training sparse, and employees are not inculcated in an ethical culture."

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Comments (12)

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on February 18, 2014 9:30 pm
Just kill me now, I can't takes no more !!!!!!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2014 9:18 pm
Ethics, Schmethics, the SRC is UNETHICAL to the core.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on February 18, 2014 9:22 pm
The district tells no one about or trains anyone in there so called ethics rules. Because when something goes wrong they merely pull a rule out of their black box and advise the poor scapegoat that he has violated the policy he knew nothing about. It works well to insulate the 440 bureaucrats from the fruits of their maladministration and general lack of having any idea what they are doing. Does it not strike anyone else as odd that the SRC is talking about transparency regarding a report they have deep sixed for months? Any transparency problem? Wait they will go to the black box and pull out a rule to blame someone else for the transparency problem.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2014 10:39 pm
Maybe Hite had another computer glitch and the report got tied up in his computer for ovee 14 months. What an oxymoron transparency and ethics in one report in reference to the SDP. As noted, in another blog above, all the District ever does is pull an invisible policy out of their hat and if it pertains to an employee, Andy Rosen will say oh yea that the policy even though he never even seen it before.See this first hand. This is all too much humor to handle all at once. More wasted taxpayer money on SDP's report after report after after report, yet NEVER ever substantial improvements based on those reports. Unless it benefits education"reformers", the wealthy or businesses tring to get their claws in education for their selfish reasons-MONEY and POWER.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 18, 2014 10:15 pm
Ethics and transparency, two words that not a single Philly administrator said ever.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2014 8:43 am
Hite aka Slick Willie. Transparency- Where was the announcement prior to the oaths by Green and Jimenez? They will be ethical and transparent when they see fit.
Submitted by Susan Madrak (not verified) on February 19, 2014 9:38 am
I'm assuming the thrust of this report is that ethics and transparency only apply to regularly funded public schools, and not the charters? Because if so, that's a huge (intentional?) oversight. After all, the charter school operators are the ones who take our money, aren't accountable to the public and regularly appear in the perp walks.
Submitted by D. Grill (not verified) on February 19, 2014 3:12 pm
Most people attending the meeting agreed that it was good that the SRC is providing the community with an opportunity to voice their concerns at the Monday meetings. Several people at the meeting mentioned their perception that private money had too much influence over school policy. They questioned the ethics of excluding the public from Great Schools Compact meetings and the influence of the Philadelphia School Partnership at these meetings. Karel Kilimnik wanted to know when parents and community members can ask the SRC questions and get answers. She asked them to include a question and answer period during the meeting, and they complied. Alison McDowell asked about the ethics of using Philadelphia School students to field test the PSSA writing test for a private testing company. Lisa Haver suggested that the SRC return to the format of presenting and discussing the resolutions to be voted upon at a meeting two weeks before the vote so that parents and community members can make meaningful comments. Rich Migliore commented on the need for the SDP to establish an ethical culture. Audience members also asked specific questions about awarding contracts and community outreach. Dr. Hite, Mr. Davis and the members of the SRC were receptive to our concerns and suggestions. It remains to be seen whether or not they will have any influence on practice.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on February 19, 2014 5:31 pm
What the APPS members tried to do at last night's meeting was to include academic and governance issues in the discussion of ethics in the SD. Why talk about imaginary scenarios when there are so many real issues staring us in the face? Is it ethical for the district to spend millions of dollars and several days on high-stakes testing? Is it ethical to then pay for test-prep materials which benefit the testing company itself? Is it ethical to give homework to kindergartners in which they practice filling in bubbles? The most obvious ethical crisis in the district today is the growing influence of monied interests at the expense of the community. The SRC cannot use the word transparency while it sends two of its members to sit in private Great Schools Compact Committee meetings which are overseen by PSP. The two SRC members chosen by the Governor were confirmed by the State Senate after ignoring requests from APPS and other community organizations to have open hearings which included public testimony. Neither Mr. Green nor Ms. Jiminez stood up for the rights of the people of their city to be heard on who runs our schools. Yet we continued to hear promises of "transparency" last night from the SRC. Is that ethical?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 19, 2014 9:44 pm
Yes, the ethical issues abound and there are many. They have to be discussed openly and honestly. I still have to commend Michael Davis, General Counsel for starting the conversation. He heard what we were saying. I also appreciate his power point comment that the district has to become an "ethical culture." In the summer of 2008, I made a speech before the SRC about the need to change the "administrative culture" of the district. I must not have done a very good job, because it has obviously, only worsened. Like a person with a psychological problem, before an organization can rid itself of an "institutional illness," its leaders have to first recognize and admit that it exists.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2014 7:08 pm
I am wondering how "ethical" it is that Hite is continuing to hire executives at 440 for 6 figure salaries when the PSD is looking at a 400 million dollar deficit for next year.
Submitted by isonprize (not verified) on February 20, 2014 3:29 pm
How do we get an elected school board in Philadelphia? How can we, as a city, be rid of this 'taxation without representation' form of SRC governance of what is supposed to be PUBLIC education? The SRC, a state entity, has done much more harm than good. They are beholden to no one, but clearly appear to work against public education of Philadelphians and teachers who work, on a daily basis, to education the future of Philadelphia. There are good charter schools, but why is there so much money available to be embezzled or for construction of brand new buildings for charters, when at the same time, there are good public schools where students are having classes in hallways, studying in 100 year old buldings, and teachers are dashing to nearby dollar stores to purchase school supplies? Ethics? Transparency? Like the kids say, "Whatever..."

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