Archive: May, 2012
Putting Philly's (and Pennsylvania's) school funding crisis in a national context, CP's Daniel Denvir continued his media tour with an appearance on "Melissa Harris-Perry" on MSNBC this weekend. Denvir calls Philly's current situation a "manmade disaster" crafted by the same forces who wish to privatize. Check out the video and refer back to his cover story, "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?" for the background.
Weekend must-read: How private wealthy funders are keeping a School District restructuring plan alive and away from public scrutiny
For anyone following (and who isn't by now) the ongoing woes of the Philadelphia School District and the controversial – to put it mildly – plan being floated by the Boston Consulting Group to close more than 40 schools and reopen them under third-party management (a plan many, including my colleague Daniel Denvir, have pointed out sure looks like the mass-privitization of schools) – Parents United founder (and public school parent) Helen Gym has a column in the Public School Notebook yesterday is a must-read.
(Also, check out Dan talking about schools on *camera* on Democracy Now)
Citing a Notebook report that private funders have paid an additional $1.2 million for BCG, which has a track record of recommending almost identical “solutions” in other cities (whether these fixes have in fact solved anything is highly-debatable), Gym points out that this private money allows BCG to evade the public scrutiny that it would be subject to as a contractor for the School Reform Commission.
Here's a snippet. Agree with her or no, Gym has brought a lot of ideas to the conversation and argues them forcefully here. Read the comments section (the Notebook has the best comments in town) for more.
... as Dale Mezzacappa reported this week, BCG is continuing its role in Philadelphia for $1.2 million more, money raised specifically from private donors and funneled through the United Way outside public scrutiny.
Boston Consulting Group's contract should have been put before the School Reform Commission as a public resolution. But because it’s being funded through an outside entity, there’s no public review of a firm with an unprecedented role in shaping the SRC’s reform plans.
Even if you are for this plan, you cannot be for this process.
Had BCG gone through public channels, the SRC would be required to make BCG’s contract public. BCG’s specific findings and recommendations, which have never been released, would have been subject to public review. Questions could have been asked about the bidding process, criteria, and scope of work. Questions could have been asked about BCG’s past work in cities like Memphis and Cleveland, whose plans aren’t terribly dissimilar from ours.
Questions could have been asked about why BCG’s plan contrasted so sharply with Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s plan for school autonomy, which was based on many weeks of work with District staff, principals, and other stakeholders.
Maybe we would have learned that the rollout for the BCG plan came with its own communications team – also paid for by outside foundation support.
The crisis in Philly's public school system — which CP's Daniel Denvir detailed in his cover story "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?" — is rapidly turning into a story of national interest, as a worst-case example of the consequences of defunding public education. Today Denvir was on Democracy Now! to talk about what's going on now and what we can expect down the road. Here's the video.
Democratic City Committee attempts to thwart lawsuit by electing Tracey Gordon to position she can't legally hold.
On March 18, Democratic members of South Philly's 40-B Ward met and elected Tracey Gordon, a neighborhood activist (and one-time Council candidate) to the post of committeeperson — a surprise, considering she's in the middle of a lawsuit against the Democratic City Committee over having been thrown out of exactly that position.
Upon hearing of her recent election, Gordon responded by immediately resigning.
Here's the deal. In 2010, Gordon, along with five other political newcomers, decided to run for the position of committeeperson in different divisions, without the backing of party bosses. The Democratic City Committee (DCC) responded by filing challenges against their petitions. All but Gordon were knocked off the ballot.
Gordon, however, went on to win the position. Ward leadership, citing an obscure bylaw that says a ward committee can remove someone who has been “unfaithful” to the party, kicked Gordon out anyway, as Holly Otterbein reported at the time.
Gordon, with the backing of a group of insurgent Democrats known as the “Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus,” sued the DCC. Her suit claims that the DCC has no right to throw people out of elected positions at will, and sought to have Gordon reinstated, as well as to obtain an injunction against the party's pulling similar moves in the future.
The rub: Since then, Gordon has been hired as a deputy commissioner under City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. As a deputy commissioner, she's forbidden by ethics laws to engage in political activity — and being a committeeperson would violate that rule.
Gordon has acknowledged the conundrum to CP before, saying that she was simply seeking to be given the choice that she says she earned: The position should be offered to her, and she'd either decline it or resign from the City Commissioners. The point was moot, in other words, until such an offer was made.
What she didn't expect was to be suddenly, and without her participation, reinstated in absentia, as it were. At the beginning of the month, Irv Acklesberg, who represents Gordon in her suit, says he received an invitation for Gordon to attend the ward committee meeting, where the committee would vote to reinstate Gordon. Acklesberg declined on behalf of his client, and suggests that the City Committee was, essentially, setting a trap.
“We think it was basically a set-up,” says Acklesberg. “They tried to put her in conflict [with the ethics rules].”
By simply showing up to the meeting, in other words, Gordon might have risked exposing herself to an ethics violation.(Indeed, City Paper later received a tip that Gordon was in fact occupying both positions).
Acklesberg said Gordon would not attend the meeting, and asked that he and his client be informed of the outcome.
“When I was notified that she had been restored [as committeeperson], she immediately resigned,” he says.
Dan McCaffery, an attorney for the DCC in this case, says the vote wasn't a trap, but a way to “force their hand,” when it came to the suit.
“The relief she was requesting was to be reinstated,” McCaffery says. “So we reinstated her.”
“This is about a group of individuals who identify themselves as the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus trying to oversee or take charge of the Democratic party of Philadelphia,” he says.
“The lawsuit itself was never really about reinstating Tracey Gordon.”
Both sides agree on that last point: Acklesberg says that the lawsuit will continue, though he's hoping to substitute PDPC in for Gordon as a plaintiff.
“The case was never just about [Gordon],” he says. “It was to prevent the party from doing this, and we're still trying to do that. … They want to retain the power to nullify elections, and the purpose of this lawsuit is to make sure that there is no such legal power so that courageous people like Tracey Gordon will come forward in the future and stand up for office and stand up to this dictatorial party.”
City Commissioner Stephanie Singer says she has no direct knowledge of the recent back-and-forth, but that she and Gordon have both been in close consultation with the city's Board of Ethics over how to properly handle the matter.
In today's City Paper, we lay out Santiago and Margarita Principe's 24-year struggle to acquire land from the city, and how it illustrates a need for reform. Well, the city has outlined one important measure: a "front door" for all applications to acquire city-owned land, so that there's a clear pathway to ownership. However, beyond the front door that pathway splits into three different departments, each with it's own procedures. To show just how messy that can get, here's a blow-by-blow of what getting a city property actually entails. As the saying goes, it's kind of like looking inside a sausage factory — what goes into these transactions is a lot of jostling, nagging and, yes, some dealmaking, even when the motivation is just to get what was agreed to in the first place.
The application. In Principe's case, this was in 1988, through a side-yard program that was in existence at the time. The city agreed to take the land from a long-absent owner by sheriff's sale and deed it over to him for $1.
Chairman-elect Rick Hellberg, left, and insurgent ward leader Mike Cibik, right.
Last night, Philly Republicans ousted longtime party chairman Vito Canuso. It was a victory for the Republican “insurgency,” a group of Philly Republicans who've been trying to rock the boat and reinvigorate their party.
Canuso has been accused by his foes of having gone outside party bylaws to oust various elected ward leaders. Opponents also claim that Canuso was not, in fact, duly elected. In 2010, the Republican State Committee declared the chairmanship vacant.
That Philly's GOP could use some new vigor was apparent during the role call, conducted by Matthew Wolfe, who's been a leader of the rebellion. Many of the city's Republican wards either have no ward leader or have a contested ward leader. Of the city's 66 wards, only 20 were represented in the vote to replace Canuso with financial consultant and one-time challenger to US Rep. Chaka Fattah, Rick Hellberg, who received a unanimous vote last night.
Many ward leaders, of course – presumably among them some who still support Canuso - simply didn't show up.
The mood in the room was excited, and several politicos got up to make speeches. Ward leader Kevin Kelly, whose election Canuso had tried to throw out, probably gets top prize for thinly-veiled disses: Referring only to “certain people” being uninterested in “coming together” to bolster the party, Kelly said:
“Certain people have no interest in doing that. The things they have to gain from the current situation – and I mean personally, down to one or two people, they couldn't get in the market of free ideas. What they get is what's given to them as payment for what you just heard: vacant wards, wards that haven't been represented for decades.
… There are certain people who do not want to win elections, who do not want to build the Republican party. This party can't suffer because certain people can't tear the leather in the real world. Thank you for being here, it has been a long struggle. And for folks that have only come for the last few years, understand that every other avenue has been exhausted.”
Hellberg himself had this to say about the party's former leadership: Our founding fathers knew that the rule of law is the most important thing. If the leadership of the Republican City Committee had learned those lessons from our founders, we wouldn't be here this evening. If elected to this position as Chairman I can tell you the first thing I will do is we will work everything we do by the letter of the bylaws.”
He also outlined what might emerge as a local republican platform, attacking Mayor Nutter's plan to raise an additional $94 million for the city through the Actual Value Initiative (the administration says it is just “capturing” a net increase in real estate value).
This was also phrased in thinly-veiled name-calling.
“When the ruling elite tell us a $94 million increase in real estate [assessments] is not a tax increase … we need to give Philadelphians a voice,” Hellberg said.
As for how Canuso and his wing of the city's Republican establishment will respond to the vote, Larry Otter, serving as Counsel to for the 59th Ward, told the audience:
"Yeah, I expect a challenge. Let's be realistic. But," he said, apparently addressing "certain people" not in the room, "Bring it on. We'll see you in court."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was visiting a Philly school today -- not a public school, (probably a wise choice given that he's been skewering the teachers' unions) -- but a charter, the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philly to be exact. Right-wing, national-level supporters of the privatization of public education have already spent generously on campaigns in Pennsylvania this year, as CP's Daniel Denvir has reported; now it's beginning to look like Romney and President Obama want to make privatization and charterization a central issue in the Pennsylvania battleground -- if there is such a thing.
Romney yesterday outlined a plan for a federal-level voucher-type system, promising to "expand parental choice in an unprecedented way. Too many of our kids are trapped in schools that are failing or simply don’t meet their needs. And for too long, we’ve merely talked about the virtues of school choice. As President, I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school." Students would be able to take their federal funding with them, he said, though Romney did not speak about increasing overall spending on education.
If Romney wins, it looks like he would attempt to do at a federal level what Gov. Corbett has tried but so far failed to do at the state level: siphon even more money away from traditional public education.
The state-controlled School Reform Commission's plan to close 64 schools and privatize management of potentially all that remain open has sparked widespread opposition across Philadelphia. The plan would also outsource all blue collar work, and today members of SEIU 32BJ led thousands of protesters down Broad Street.
More than 2,000 workers―from bus drivers to maintenance workers―have received layoff notices.
Marchers chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back,” and “Hey Corbett you can't hide, we can see your greedy side.”
Fourteen union members were arrested after blocking the streets in front of School District headquarters at 440 N. Broad, according to the Inquirer's Kristen Graham (she has photos too).
Radio Times tackled the Philly Public Schools crisis today on WHYY, and CP's Daniel Denvir was on the show. In case you missed his cover story, "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?," check it out here for a hit list of suspects, from the state, which has underfunded the system for years, to the city, which hasn't adequately advocated for the dire need for more assistance. Here's the link to the podcast, which also features Parents United for Public Education's Helen Gym and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' Jerry Jordan.
Michael Nutter just got re-elected, sure, but that's no reason not to begin speculating about who Philly's next mayor might be. Well, the webcomic xkcd today offered up its own nomination, either for the mayorship or for Sen. Pat Toomey's seat in Washington. Bet Will Smith could get a soda tax passed....
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