This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
UPDATED: For the first time since February, the School Reform Commission has its full cohort of five members. Friday afternoon’s planning meeting was the first meeting for newly appointed commissioner Feather Houstoun. Resolutions introduced at the session will be voted on next Wednesday.
Some highlights of the meeting included testimony on budget cuts and look at a major planned shift in the commission’s meeting schedule:
- The commission got an earful on the damaging impact of this fall’s budget cuts. Parents, advocates, and even an elementary school student offered testimony. Home and School Council President Delores Solomon, accompanied by a group of members of that citywide parent organization, questioned the cuts of noontime aides, school nurses, and school police officers. “Who will be put in place in schools to protect our children?” she asked.
- Rebecca Poyourow, a Cook-Wissahickon parent, said the latest round of cuts at her school totals $27,000, wiping out an operating budget that was already bare-bones. “We have no more paper,” said Poyourow. “We’ve been begging parents to bring in reams of paper. This is not sustainable.” In balancing its budget, she said, Cook-Wissahickon lost its bus monitors and four of five noontime aides, raising serious concerns about the lack of adult supervision before school and at lunch. “Parents at our school and across the city are terrified,” she said.
- In response to the testimony, SRC Chair Pedro Ramos called the cuts “frustrating.”
- “We’re trying to stabilize things enough this year so we can avoid more of this going forward,” said Ramos. But, he added, “there are no good cuts left.”
- District Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd gave an update on the six facilities master plan community meetings held thus far. There are 11 more to go, beginning this Saturday at Lincoln High School in the Northeast.
- Thomas Darden, the District’s deputy chief of strategic programs, described the busy agenda ahead for the District’s charter office: 25 renewal recommendations and 13 modifications are slated to come to a vote in late March. Darden explained that schools up for renewals are judged on four domains: academic performance, financial health, governance and compliance, and customer satisfaction. Recommendations can be for a five-year renewal, a five-year renewal with performance targets, a one-year renewal, or a non-renewal.
- The enrollment modifications under consideration could result in an increase of as many as 3,375 students in charters, which could boost District costs by $31 million next year, Darden said.
- Newly appointed Safe Schools Advocate Kelly Hodge formally introduced herself and promised that her new office would “make every attempt to be visible, accessible, and accountable to all persons.” Hodge said, “First and foremost, I am an advocate” and added that her goal is to “ensure that victims of school violence get the help that they need.”
- Her office, on the first floor of 440 North Broad Street, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 215-656-5381.
- There is also a hotline to report violent incidents: 1-877-703-6315.
- Chairman Ramos announced the first stirrings of a search for a new superintendent, saying the fully constituted SRC had a preliminary discussion on the matter during its executive session immediately prior to the meeting.
- “At this point, it was a very preliminary type of planning session,” said Ramos. He said there is no timetable yet for the formal process to begin but added that “our objective is to have the search completed for the new academic year.”
- The commission changed its usual order of business, taking testimony from the public prior to their review of resolutions.
- The SRC will vote next Wednesday on an amended meeting schedule for 2012 which would shift all meetings to the evening. The first meeting each month, to be held at 6 p.m. will be called a "Strategy, Policy, & Priority Meeting," with the "Action Meeting" to be held at 5:30 p.m. Eight pairs of meetings are proposed for the first six months of 2012, with the action meetings scheduled on Thursdays and the strategy meetings held on the Monday or Tuesday immediately before.