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Advocates urge Council to approve money, but reject reorganization plan

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Several activists told City Council that it should require the School Reform Commission to go back to the drawing board on its controversial reorganization plan as a condition for approving badly needed additional funds.

"I don’t know why they are doing both," said Susan DeJarnatt, who testified at the meeting.

DeJarnatt, a professor at Temple, told Council there were too many unanswered questions about how the planned achievement networks of 20 to 30 schools would be managed, and about the feasibility of closing 40 District-run schools in one year while charter enrollment expands.

"The School District has proposed, alongside its budgetary plan, several reorganization components, which are extremely problematic … and potentially fiscally disastrous," said parent Rebecca Poyourow. "Please find funding to stabilize the District financially and for classrooms and instruction, but please say no to this reorganization plan."

Union leaders also expressed their concern about the blueprint, saying it would privatize the District and result in unionized workers losing their jobs. Council members seemed receptive to this. Education Committee Chair Jannie Blackwell called privatization and the layoff of relatively low-paid union workers "unconscionable."

Blackwell said that Council would recall Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen to answer more questions.

The District is asking Council to approve a change in property reassessment called the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) that would bring in $94 million in additional money. Without it, leaders have intimated that the District would have trouble opening schools next year.

"The plan has tainted important conversations about AVI and necessary local funding. … It should not get in the way," said Parents United for Public Education founder Helen Gym, who was speaking on behalf of the organization. (Disclosure: Gym is also a Notebook board member.)

More than 40 people signed up to testify Wednesday in the second day of hearings. Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, started off the session by calling the reorganization plan "cynical and destructive."

"There’s absolutely no evidence that this enormous shakeup and reorganization will improve student achievement."

This followed a day in which School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos, Knudsen, and Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon were questioned for hours on details of its budget and on why they were not advocating more forcefully for money from the state.

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