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From PCAPS, a wish for more transparency

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

Some education activists want the Philadelphia School Partnership to know that for this holiday season transparency would be the best gift of all.

Donning red winter hats, members of the activist group Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools attempted Wednesday afternoon to enter PSP’s office near Fifth and Chestnut Streets. They were armed with a set of demands for the influential nonprofit organization, whose growing role as a major funder and private player in the city’s public school system they see as more of a problem than a solution.

Building security denied the protesters entry, and the group set up a picket line outside.

On their wishlist, said parent Kia Hinton, a member of Action United, was a request for PSP to allow members of PCAPS to attend board meetings, which are not required to be open to the public. Another request was to place a public school parent or student on that board.

Saying that the Philadelphia School Partnership has spent most of its voice and money supporting private, parochial, and charter schools, PCAPS would like PSP not only to be more open about its positions on education policy, but also to devote more of its money to funding District schools.

"The vast majority of our funds go directly to schools and school operators," replied PSP spokesperson Kristen Forbriger in an email. "All of our grants are publicly announced, and information about each grant is available on our website."

Of the more than $29 million that PSP has given to schools, $27 million has been directed to public schools, with $9 million of that going to District schools, according to the site. The group has sought to raise $100 million to invest in supporting what it calls "high-performing" schools. In July, PSP reported that $60 million had been raised so far.

Forbriger said that PSP had also made available on the site its most recent Form 990, an annual tax return filed with the IRS that contains key information about a nonprofit’s finances and mission.

The latest form, for calendar year 2012, shows that the organization’s revenue grew by more than 500 percent in one year, to a total of more than $19 million. Spending was only $6 million that year, leaving the organization a fund balance of $13.6 million at year’s end.

The 34-page document also lists PSP’s grants for the year (which totaled $4.3 million), its top staff salaries, and largest contracts — those over $100,000.

Forbriger added that PSP is planning to unveil a new website in 2014 that more accurately reflects its work and impact; she said the organization was in startup mode when its current website was developed.

Hinton’s take on PSP: "They won’t let us up there. They’re just shutting us out the same as they’re doing [to us] with our schools."

Protesters planned to move next to two other sites where PSP board members work.

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