The School Reform Commission continued its juggling act Thursday night, combing through millions of dollars worth of District contracts while preparing to announce finalists for the city’s vacant superintendent position Friday.
Commissioner Wendell Pritchett said that a list of about 100 candidates for the District's top job has been winnowed down to two finalists.
“They are both very strong candidates,” Pritchett said. “We hope to make a decision very soon.”
Students and organizers from local groups Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union joined grassroots activist groups from across the country Thursday in decrying “top-down” school closings and school turnarounds as a violation of students’ civil rights.
“We are letting the School Reform Commission know that they are closing the schools which serve communities of color, including Black and Latino youth,” said YUC member Tone Elliot, 18, speaking at a press event in Chicago.
Once again, money and charters were on the School Reform Commission's agenda Friday morning.
After a quick meeting at which the SRC renewed the charter of West Oak Lane Charter School, Chairman Pedro Ramos talked with reporters about City Council's agreement yesterday to move forward on a package of tax proposals that would generate $40 million for cash-strapped city schools – just a portion of the $94 million the District says it desperately needs.
“Normally, we’d be thrilled to be met halfway,” Ramos said.
“It’s just that the hole the District is in is so deep that [Council’s] effort, while appreciated, doesn’t really get us completely out.”
Hoping to dramatically reduce the number of Philadelphia students in failing schools, a coalition of education leaders representing Philadelphia’s District, charter and Catholic schools last month submitted a $7 million grant proposal to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Their “Philadelphia Great Schools Compact” proposal calls for a coordinated effort to close or turn around failing schools and expand successful schools, as well as the launch of new initiatives ranging from a universal student enrollment system to a low-interest loan program to help charter schools re-use empty District and Archdiocesan school buildings.
The School District of Philadelphia and its largest charter school turnaround operator have agreed on the outlines of a deal that will prevent the relocation of 12 severely disabled children from one of the city’s Renaissance charters.
The deal avoids a potentially traumatic move for students in two Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) classrooms at Mastery Charter Clymer Elementary in North Philadelphia. It also allays, at least for now, the concerns of disabilities rights advocates that the District had established a precedent for exempting charters from their responsibility to educate some of the city’s most vulnerable – and expensive to serve – students.
“I think we came up with a really positive solution,” said Courtney Collins-Shapiro, deputy chief innovation officer at Mastery Charter Schools.
“I think this is a good sign of the District and charters partnering.”
In seeking a contract in Philadelphia, the Boston Consulting Group emphasized its previous work to transform education in New Orleans and streamline operations in other urban districts in a far-reaching proposal to design, roll out, and help manage a 21-week overhaul of the cash-strapped District.
“This project is a unique opportunity to help the School District of Philadelphia close its budget gap in the short- and long-term,” wrote BCG officials J. Puckett and Allison Bailey.
The U.S. Department of Labor pulled a multimillion dollar grant at the former Olney West High after the school was converted to a charter as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative.
Also a factor in the decision was that Olney West is no longer considered a "persistently dangerous" school.
The DOL retracted $4.4 million of the grant, said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. The grant's total value was $6.27 million.
The School Reform Commission and private philanthropists may be offering considerable support to the Boston Consulting Group and vigorously defending their work.
But the District’s new management consultants have received a substantially cooler reaction from Philadelphia’s community and labor leaders.
The District is paying an estimated total of $1,776,832 to completely subsidize the facilities costs of charter operator Universal Companies in two District-owned buildings this school year.
The costs cover 14 District staffers across the two buildings, including three building engineers, four custodial assistants, and seven general cleaners. Services being provided free of charge by the District this year also include utilities, trash pickup, and cleaning and building engineer supplies.
On Friday, after months of delay, District officials announced they had reached a resolution with Universal on a long-standing dispute about facilities license agreements at the two South Philadelphia schools, which were both awarded to Universal last year as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative.
After months of maneuvering, the School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $2.55 billion operating budget for the 2012-13 school year, including a projected $218 million gap that will likely be plugged through deficit borrowing.
But first, parents, advocates, and labor unions – angry at deep cuts to schools this year and fearful of a new “transformation blueprint” that would radically overhaul public education in the city – are planning to turn out in force to protest.
District officials have shot down an effort by teachers at Creighton Elementary to stave off charter conversion and lead their own school turnaround effort.
A teacher-led proposal calling for a council of teachers and community members to assume control of the school “does not provide sufficient evidence of the…ability to implement, manage, and sustain a large-scale school turnaround at Creighton,” wrote Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon in a memo dated May 29.
As part of its effort to slash costs and dramatically reduce its central office, the District is considering outsourcing its entire transportation department for the upcoming school year.
"[The] School District is evaluating the option to further privatize its yellow school bus transportation," according to a Request for Proposals issued this month. Responses are due May 29.
The School Reform Commission has cancelled its scheduled Friday meeting about possible renewals for some charter schools.
With the District's finances in a state of crisis, the SRC last month postponed votes on more than a dozen renewals recommended by District staff, as well as an unspecified number of charter modification requests.
Without the help of City Council, the District won’t be able to open all its schools in September, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen told the School Reform Commission on Tuesday night.
At issue is Mayor Nutter’s proposed change to how city property taxes are assessed. The so-called Actual Value Initiative would yield desperately needed revenue for the District, but has met opposition in Council and among some neighborhood groups.
“Were we not to get the $94 million from the AVI initiative, it isn’t clear that we could, in fact, open schools this fall,” Knudsen said. “We would have to make very deliberate choices.”
Listen to reporter Benjamin Herold's radio report for WHYY.
Update: Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen says that without the additional $94 million from the city through a change in property assessments -- the so-called Actual Value Initiative -- some schools may not be able to open in September.