This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Despite some questions about the practice raised by commissioners this fall, a significant percentage of the measures approved by the School Reform Commission each month continue to be in the form of "ratification resolutions" – items brought up for a vote after the contract or work to be approved has already started.
What has changed, as Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky noted publicly at a November SRC meeting, is that the District is now following a new protocol, providing the commission with "a justification for seeking a ratification rather than a pre-approval" on any resolution that comes to the SRC after the fact.
SRC resolutions approving any financial activity after the fact are always labeled as ratifications. However, the written justifications for these ratifications are not included in the abridged, "summary" version of the resolutions that is made available to the public and the media at SRC meetings
Dworetzky said in November he would not support any further ratification resolutions that don’t include a justification statement.
In November, 10 of the 68 resolutions on the SRC’s agenda involved ratifications after the fact. In October, seven of 35 resolutions involved ratifications.
October’s now-controversial resolution A-14 was a ratification of a $7.5 million project already underway to install security cameras at 19 persistently dangerous schools that became the subject of a recent Inquirer investigative report. The Inquirer said that bidding procedures were violated. The District said the job was an emergency.
After questions were raised about ratification resolutions earlier this year, the District communications office issued a statement saying that such resolutions were "rare exceptions."
In a September interview, School District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch told the Notebook, "Dr. Ackerman hates ratification resolutions and has made it clear to senior managers that she basically would prefer that we had zero ratification resolutions."
"Sometimes they are very difficult to avoid given that we have such a long lead time to get a resolution into the queue," he added, saying that usually a month or more of lead time is needed for the review process.
Masch acknowledged that if the commission were to vote down a ratification resolution, "There may well be exposure for the School District, even though nobody has been paid. If there has been a direction to a vendor to proceed, then we have a de facto legal obligation to pay, which is why we don’t like to do this."