Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Lisa Haver: When School Choice Means No Choice in Philadelphia

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Superintendent William Hite allowed parents at two North Philadelphia schools to vote on whether to allow a charter company of the district’s choosing to take control of the schools.

Lisa Haver, retired teacher in Philadelphia, points out that that families in Philadelphia have experienced closures of their local public schools, leaving them no choice but charter schools.

“Two years ago, Superintendent William Hite allowed parents at two North Philadelphia schools to vote on whether to allow a charter company of the district’s choosing to take control of the schools. Parents at both schools voted overwhelmingly to remain public. Thus, in 2015, parents and students at three more district schools were given no vote, but simply informed that their schools were to be placed in the Renaissance program. The choice had been made for them.”

The goal of “choice” is to give parents no choice at all.

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Retired teacher Lisa Haver and librarian and library advocate Deborah Grill

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3 Huge Problems With the Charter School Movement

hite1Dr. William Hite Jr who was a superintendent in Prince George’s County before applying to Philadelphia caused a similar mess in Prince George’s County. 

Philly.com has a story this week that distills many of the troubling qualities of the charter school movement down to a disturbing essence. All these millions of dollars are being drained in Philadelphia school district under Dr. William Hite Jr (pictured above).

Yes, it’s that bad.

This deeply reported piece by Alex Wigglesworth and Ryan Briggs zooms in on one school and one deal: the academically well-regarded String Theory Charter School, which is housed in a high-end eight-story office building at 16th and Vine. This is the same building that not long ago was the North American headquarters for GlaxoSmithKline. It would be eyebrow-raising enough if the taxpayer-funded String Theory were merely leasing such high-end digs. But the school — or, technically, a separate nonprofit run by two of the school’s board members — actually owns the tower, and acquired it through a $55 million tax-exempt bond deal.

Writes Philly.com:

It was the largest bond deal of its kind in city history.

It is also the most conspicuous example yet of a risky, expensive, and fast-growing financial scheme underpinning the rapid expansion of Philadelphia charters — a market now worth nearly $500 million. But the bond financing behind the mountain of money gets little scrutiny on whether the debt is a smart use of Pennsylvania’s limited educational dollars.

The lack of transparency can translate into deals that may be unsustainable. Shortly after moving into its flashy high rise, String Theory posted its first operating deficit. After revealing they were $500,000 in the red from paying out millions annually to bondholders, administrators told parents they were cutting certain classes and suspending bus service as cost-saving measures.

Deeper in the story, we learn that the school leases the property from that nonprofit controlled by two board members, and then collects $188,000 a year from the state, which reimburses charter schools for some lease costs. This is, we are told, not at all unusual arrangement.

The story also shines a light on the consultants and attorneys who are profiting off these charter land deals. One New Jersey firm has collected at least $5 million in consulting services for charters that have received municipal bonds to fund capital improvements and property acquisitions.

It’s a complicated story, and you really should read the whole thing.

But here are my takeaways from the piece.

1. Charter school administrators and leaders are every bit as capable as school district officials of making boneheaded financial decisions that saddle their respective institutions with crippling debt.

This isn’t exactly news, of course, but nonetheless the overwhelming public perception is that it’s public school districts that squander taxpayer money, not charter schools. This crippling, false perception makes it politically easier for politicians in Harrisburg to fund public Philadelphia schools at levels well below their needs.

To be sure, there are many charters that are managed responsibly and effectively. These schools are, by their very nature, independent operators, and the bad decisions made by some charters don’t predict bad decision-making by others.

But it’s long past time to set aside the clearly bogus notion that charters = efficient stewardship of public money, and public school districts = waste and fraud.

2. Profit-minded businesses are destroying whatever moral authority the education reform movement had.

I’ve long cringed when ed reform skeptics attacked the motives of charter advocates and others who’d like to see the public school system reinvented (or scrapped). With very rare exceptions, the individuals I’ve interviewed and spoken with in the ed reform movement over the years are True Believers: their fury and impatience with traditional public education is real and righteous. I haven’t always agreed with where they’re coming from, to say the least, but I’ve long dismissed accusations that reformers are in it for the money.

 Now I’m not so sure. There plainly is a large and growing group of interests within the education reform movement that stand to profit as traditional public education shrinks. There have always been the for-profit charter operators, the testing companies and the curriculum consultants. More recent are the reports of non-profit charter operators and leaders who have gotten involved in complicated financial arrangements with the schools they serve. And then there is the emergence of a profitable consulting and legal infrastructure that services the booming charter sector (as chronicled in the Philly.com story).

Wait, you might say, much the same has always been true of publicly-run school districts! And, yes, reports of bad contracts, undisciplined spending and politically-connected consultants were, in the past, commonplace in the School District of Philadelphia.

But that’s precisely the point. Charters were supposed to be different. Traditional public schools were beholden: to teacher’s unions, to political masters, to a powerful class of consultants and attorneys. Charters were supposed to be the indies. But as the charter movement grows, a big corps of financial interests has grown up around it. Increasingly, charters look just as financially beholden to an array of interests, only it’s harder to tell exactly who and what those interests are.

This is a really significant problem for ed reform advocates, and I’m not sure that it can be solved. The moral clarity of the early charter movement — nonprofit, about the kids, self-reliant — well, that’s gone. Increasingly, it seems not just fair to question the motives of ed reformers, but necessary.

3. The charter movement is way too big and way too ambitious to operate on an ad hoc basis.

As Philly.com reports, one of the entities authorizing these tax-exempt bonds for charter schools is PIDC, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. PIDC is an unusually effective organization (they run the Navy Yard, for instance), that’s run jointly by business interests and the City of Philadelphia.

PIDC’s reason for existence is economic development, and while you could make a case that building up charter schools is an economic development good, it’s hardly a slam-dunk, direct-line kind of argument. This isn’t a new Dietz and Watson factory.

John Grady, PIDC executive director, writes to say that the agency hasn’t made charters part of its economic development. Rather, he says, tax exempt financing “is regulated by federal and state law,” and that PIDC’s role is to administer “the legal process for accessing tax-exempt debt as required by, and pursuant to, these laws.” In other words, this isn’t a PIDC initiative, and charters are just using the agency to access tax-exempt bond markets, as is their right under law.

But is there a better way? One of the most interesting quotes in the Philly.com story comes from Bruce Baker, a Rutgers education professor and a frequent critic of the financing mechanisms used to fund charter schools. As Philly.com says:

Baker described the system as one that evolved out of necessity, with little foresight. No concrete financing vehicle was ever created for charters, and many schools had in the past relied on leasing buildings or taking out commercial loans with even higher interest rates.

“Who can blame them?” Baker said. “For each of the parties involved, their behaviors kind of make sense. But it’s still stupid public policy.”

There are 86 charter schools in Philadelphia alone, educating more than 64,000 students. This isn’t a boutique public education side business any more, and it hans’t been for a long, long time. And yet, we still lack coherent policy and mechanisms for something as basic as facilities financing for charter schools.

And it’s not just the buildings. The School District’s charter oversight office is still understaffed and under-resourced. And charter operators frequently bristle at the prospect of more accountability. But something’s got to give here. The charter movement can’t keep growing and eating up tax dollars while operating in the relative darkness.

Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/09/17/charter-school-problems/#gPLkkXcW0HQbI7KP.99

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Philadelphia Puts Out Call for 5,000 Subs

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Dr. William Hite Jr appears to have engaged in breach of contracts for teachers and staff in every district he has worked in. 

Philadelphia has hired a search service to hire 5,000 substitutes.

“Whether you’re a recent college graduate looking to work your way into a full-time teaching position, a retired teacher interested in getting back in the classroom, or someone looking to make a positive contribution to the development of children, Source4Teachers has a place for you. We offer health insurance and other benefits including a 401(k) plan and opportnities for various bonuses. Plus, working as a substitute is extremely flexible –how frequently, when and where you work is entirely up to you,” the SubinPhilly.com website says.”

This could happen only in a district that doesn’t care about education or children. This could happen only in a district that serves poor Black and Hispanic children in which transparency and accountability is next to none existence. It would never happen in a ritzy white suburb in America.

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Charter schools do not equal education reform.

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David Hornbeck was superintendent of schools in Philadelphia from 1994 to 2000. During that time, he approved 30 charter schools, hoping they would improve education for the city’s students. Twenty years later, he admits he was wrong.

Now he realizes that charters are not education reform. They are a change of governance. They get mixed results.
“In some evaluations, charter schools overall actually underperform regular public schools.”

Baltimore sun writes: 

As Philadelphia’s Superintendent of Schools, I recommended the approval of more than 30 charter schools because I thought it would improve educational opportunity for our 215,000 students. The last 20 years make it clear I was wrong.

Those advocating change in Maryland’s charter law through proposed legislation are equally committed to educational improvement. They are equally wrong. New policy should not build on current inequities and flawed assumptions, as the proposed charter law changes would do.

Mixed academic results: Charters, on the whole, do not result in significant improvement in student performance. It’s mixed at best. In some evaluations, charter schools overall actually underperform regular public schools.

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Philadelphia: Parents United Wins a Major Victory for Transparency.

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Dr. William Hite leadership which appears to lack proper transparency and accountability has left Philly School District in poor shape. 

The civic group Parents United and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia have been fighting the School Reform Commission for access to secret documents created by the Boston Consulting Group as its “reform” plan for the Philadelphia public schools under Dr. William Hite leadership. The plan was shared with district officials and the foundation that paid for the report, but was not made public. The groups just won a victory and were able to review the report, see the list of schools that BCG wanted to close, and see how flawed BCG’s projections were. Of course, BCG wanted to privatize as much of the district’s schools and operations as possible.

>>> Read more 

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SRC takes contract fight to Pa. court

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Dr. Hite

HARRISBURG – With much at stake, lawyers for the School Reform Commission on Wednesday asked a panel of five Commonwealth Court judges to affirm their power to cancel the Philadelphia School District teachers’ contract.

The law that created the SRC acknowledged that in times of distress, the commission must have at its disposal special powers, argued commission attorney Mark Aronchick.

“The polestar is the children, not the protection of some collective bargaining interest that protects the interest of teachers,” Aronchick told the judges.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers lawyer Ralph Teti said the SRC lacks the authority to abrogate its contract.

“I think they overstepped their boundaries greatly,” Teti said. “Their view of it is, if we have a contract on Monday, we can cancel it on Tuesday.”

The SRC wants to make teachers begin paying a portion of their health-care costs, a move it said would save $54 million annually. Those savings would be sent directly to cash-strapped schools, officials said. Teachers would pay from $72 to $700 a month depending on their salary, the plan they choose, and their family status.

The district had hoped to make changes to 11,200 PFT members’ health care effective Dec. 15, but a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court injunction halted those changes for now.

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Court judges peppered both sides with questions around their central arguments, and about their interpretation of Act 46, the state law that created the SRC.

Several judges, including President Judge Dan Pelligrini, noted that the SRC had negotiated four contracts with the union since the commission was created in 2001. If the SRC can simply impose terms, Pelligrini asked, what good are the contracts?

“Why would anybody enter into any negotiations with you?” Pelligrini said, adding that he thought the SRC was relegating the union to “a meet-and-discuss unit rather than a bargaining unit.”

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20141211_Phila__school_district_takes_its_case_to_Commonwealth_Court.html#B0dM2E9ZyDGiMerW.99

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OPINION

William Hite Jr took the same nonsense to the Philadelphia School District from Prince George’s County. In the above scenario, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (P.F.T) must tendentiously make known that, Unilateral contract cancelations are illegal everywhere in the United States.  While further contributions to member benefits package may be reasonable, they must be part and parcel of collective bargaining along with raises, step increases and most importantly, working conditions. As is told, the district’s fiscal instability was not of the teachers’ making but of the School Reform Commission  (S.R.C)’s as a forensic audit of district financials would surely establish. Teachers and other staff members sacrificed much more over the years and have thus done their part. It is not incumbent upon P.F.T. to be held hostage either by Ackerman or Hite’s mistakes or anyone else’s.

Funding priorities have often missed the point while S.R.C. behavior missed the form. Law suits and further short-term cuts will solve nothing. A fairly negotiated resolution will so rooting out waste and abuse in Bill Hite’s morbidly top-heavy central administration is essential.

Philadelphia once had great schools. They can be so again once Corbett, Hite, Nutter and Green wise up and treat people fairly by negotiating in good faith. The folks have legitimate grievances and deserve better.

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Hite’s 10% pay cut reinstated in the middle of the night.

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“What kind of leader would resume his regular salary while the teachers’ contract is in question and our children go without? Not the kind of leader Philadelphia’s students deserve.”Alison McDowell a district parent and member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools said recently concerning Dr. William Hite Jr (Pictured above).

IN FALL 2013, Superintendent William Hite Jr. announced that he was taking a 10 percent pay cut in keeping with the fiscally challenged district’s theme of “shared sacrifice.”

He said that nine top administrators also would take pay cuts. That didn’t happen, but Hite consented to a $30,000 salary reduction amid tough union negotiations, a budget shortfall and fewer resources available in schools.

It turns out that Hite’s share of the sacrifice had a shelf life of one year. His cut was restored in October under an amendment to his contract that returned his annual base pay to $300,000, according to a November 2013 document released by the district this week to the Daily News.

Many Sunshine Law advocates believe that the change to Hite’s contract violated the law, but the district says it’s on solid legal ground.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said the amendment was official business and should have been handled in a public meeting.

“Creation of a contract or a change to an existing contract is ‘official action’ under the Sunshine Act, which can only take place at a public meeting and only after an opportunity for public comment,” Melewsky said. “It is required by law.”

The district says its process followed the law.

“The addendum for the contract was a voluntary reduction that he requested himself for one year,” said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

“It is the opinion of the General Counsel of the School District of Philadelphia [Michael A. Davis] that it did not need a vote from the School Reform Commission for a voluntary reduction,” Gallard said.

Negotiations over salary are exempted from the Sunshine Law and can be discussed in executive session, Gallard said.

But public discussion should have taken place before a vote on the amendment, Melewsky and other advocates contend.

Hite signed the document Nov. 26, 2013. It also was signed by then-SRC member Wendell Pritchett and by current commissioner Feather Houstoun. Davis and a witness identified as Kathleen Gallagher also signed the amendment.

Gallard said the document was not released to the public, but added, “It is a public document.”

Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Open Records Office in Harrisburg, said: “Taxpayers are entitled to know about the actions their public officials are taking. But when you’re doing something like this, acting in secret, it adds to the decay of public trust.”

“Evidently, ‘shared sacrifice’ expires after 12 months,” said Alison McDowell, a district parent and member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an advocacy group suing the district claiming a Sunshine Law violation occurred at the SRC meeting at which members voted to nix teachers’ health benefits.

Read more >>> Philly.com

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Chief Board of Education Legal Counsel Abbey Hairston and architect of Maladministration in PGCPS District is also the personal lawyer to William Hite Jr. The saga involving Dr. William Hite Jr begun in Maryland schools after he run away from a troubled situation involving public corruption and mismanagement of public resources under the directives of Ms. Hairston above. 

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This is a call for action. Call your elected officials now, the unions and the media. A proper investigation will tell us who is responsible for this calamity and, therefore, who should lose their jobs. While talking to your elected officials, request Mr. Rushern Baker III resign and to take responsibility for this mess. Demand an end to this fraud and the madness!

Unless we are collectively extremely careful, Prince George’s County and School District of Philadelphia can fail. At the heart of the current condition is fear and despondency that has gripped both Districts. Corruption is a particularly major but unquantified issue in our economic threats. We intend to address this comprehensively on the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9.

Many local government supporters and even some officials respond to criticism from those they deem the opposition by asking for ‘solutions’. The opposition is not a think tank for the local government led by Rushern Baker III here in Prince George’s County. If the local government has ran out of ideas it should reach out to experienced Prince George’s county citizenry of integrity to help or stand down.

The People of Prince George’s county and Philadelphia school Districts deserve better.

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