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    Campaign Updates

November 15, 2018

Report Looks at Toxic Tax Breaks

We have plenty of money to invest in our schools – but City Council and the Mayor keep giving it away to developers.

For years, the 10-year tax abatement has given millions of dollars to developers – taking money from our schools and city services, while also fueling displacement of longtime Black, Brown and poor Philadelphians by fueling new luxury housing development. This new report looks at the cost of those toxic tax breaks to our school buildings. The report is available for download here.

We will be present at City Council meetings over the next two months. You can sign up to join us here!

Toxic Tax Breaks Report November 2018
January 24, 2018

Announcing the People’s School Board Slate!

Peoples School Board rearranged image FINALIn anticipation of the naming of new Philadelphia Board of Education members, the Our City Our Schools coalition is putting forward a slate of 11 people to illustrate what a true People’s School Board looks like. The slate is made up of true stakeholders of the Philadelphia schools: a majority of slate members are parents with children in both Philadelphia charters and public schools, two are current students, one is a retired educator and principal and one is an immigrant mother. The slate spans the geography of the city and is made up of leaders with a history of organizing for racial and economic justice in our schools.

“We are parents, students and educators who have shared vision for what our schools can look like,” said Kendra Brooks, a leader with Parents United and member of the People’s School Board slate. “As the leaders that pushed for the end of the state control of our schools, we’re ready to undo the damage of the School Reform Commission and fight for true racial and economic justice in our schools.”

Mayor Kenney’s office has announced that in the next few weeks the nominating committee for school board will be announced. This nominating committee will then present 27 potential names to the Mayor and to City Council which will then be picked from for the new school board. The new school board, as laid out in the city charter, consists of 9 adult members, 1 student member and 1 student alternate.

“We are putting forward a People’s School Board slate because we want to publicly show what kind of school board we believe our city needs,” said Antione Little, member of the People’s School Board slate and chair of Our City Our Schools. “We need a board that’s made up of the true stakeholders of our schools — parents, educators and students, a board with no more conflicts of interest and a board ready to fight for fair funding for our schools. We believe all people and all students — regardless of their voter registration status — should be able to vote on the next board.”

The People’s School Board 11-person slate includes (full biographies available here):

  • Antione Little, chair of Our City Our Schools and steering committee member of 215 People’s Alliance

  • Kendra Brooks, Parents United for Public Education

  • Olivia Ponce, parent and leader with Juntos

  • Catherine Blunt, former educator and principal

  • Edgar Villegas, high school freshman

  • Horace Ryans, high school sophomore

  • Sheila Armstrong, parent and organizer with POWER

  • Tonya Bah, parent and leader with Neighborhood Networks

  • Aileen Callaghan, mother and leader with Reclaim Philadelphia

  • Tonayia Coffer, parent and leader with Parents United for Public Education

  • Nikki Bagby, parent and community leader

 

November 2, 2017

Let’s Create a True People’s School to Undo the Damage of the SRC

Published October 30th in the Inquirer here

Over a year ago, we launched the Our City Our Schools campaign to end the 16-year-long failed experiment of the state-controlled School Reform Commission (SRC). The SRC was set up in 2001 in a supposed attempt to bring in more state funding, but instead led to dozens of school closures in black and brown neighborhoods, increased school privatization, failed for-profit consultants like Edison, and an austerity budget that has hurt students, parents, school staff, educators, and the city at large.

We commend Mayor Kenney and City Council’s vision for returning our schools to local control.In the face of an uncertain fiscal future and an unsupportive majority in the state legislature, major decisions about the future of our schools are both necessary and difficult. Regaining local control is a huge step forward on the path toward true, democratically based community control of our schools.

While we celebrate the mayor’s leadership, the question of how our schools will be governed is critical. For the last six months, Our City Our Schools and supporters have pushed for a transitional task force that could study successful school governance models and gather broad public input on what comes next — from an elected school board like those in the other 499 districts in Pennsylvania to the mayoral-controlled board of Philadelphia’s past.

With news breaking that Kenney is moving quickly toward a mayoral-appointed board with Council approval, Our City Our Schools will continue to push for a true People’s School Board that upholds the following principles:

We can return a voice to the people who know our schools best. In ending the 16-year state takeover, we can define who are the true stakeholders of the Philadelphia schools. For too long, our schools have been treated like a business where decisions are made by people seeking to profit off of our children’s education. In this new era, we need to return power to the people who work, teach, and learn in neighborhood and charter schools every day, the parents who volunteer to fill budget gaps, and the community members who have supported their neighborhood schools for decades.

We can end the era of conflicts of interests. The most important focus for any school board should be the thriving health of students, teachers, staff, and their schools. With local control and accountability, we can vet new board members for conflicts of interest and end backroom deals.

Our next school board must push forward a progressive agenda for our schools. Our next school board must see quality education from locally based schools as a key racial and economic justice issue of our time. The SRC failed to stand up against a state legislature that continues to use our schools for its racist and privatizing agenda. Is the next school board ready to lead the fight for more equitable school funding across the state, for Philadelphia-based corporations and developers to pay their fair share toward our schools, and for an end to massive giveaways to private school managers?

With a federal administration hell-bent on destroying public education, our next school board will need to rebuild trust through representation, transparency, and a vision for true education justice. As the people who have been in the trenches fighting against privatization, school closures, and budget cuts, and for community schools with restorative justice and culturally relevant curriculum, we are ready to take the lead in defining a new era for our schools.

October 6, 2017

Phony Turnarounds: Just Another Reason Why Philadelphia Needs School Leadership with Transparency, Accountability

Last month, the School District of Philadelphia announced that six schools would be slated for dramatic shake-ups: Edward Steel, Edward Gideon, Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, Wagner, James Rhoads, and Penn Treaty.

This “restructuring” process, which in other schools has included drastic turnover of staff and outsourcing of school functions, has been met with wariness from parents, students, and faculty at those schools and throughout the District.

There is little evidence that these reforms have worked at other schools. There is little transparency about why these particular schools were chosen.

In other words, this process fits neatly into the legacy of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, where accountability and transparency have been lacking since the SRC’s inception.

The Legacy of the SRC

Too many of the District’s signature reforms under the SRC have lacked evidence to justify them and accountability for improving our schools. Think about the Promise Academies whose promised funding evaporated. Or the years of authorizing charters that devastated the District’s budget without evidence that is has left Philadelphia students better off. Remember Edison Schools? Maybe not, because after being given 20 Philadelphia schools to manage in 2002, they managed to underperform so badly they were driven out of all of them.

This lack of transparency and accountability is baked into the history of the SRC. Like when the SRC chair received a scathing report by the Mayor’s chief integrity officer because he ignored conflicts of interest and his own recusal to put his personal and financial ties above the needs and preferences of King High School. He stayed on as chair for six months afterwards. He was later fined for previous ethics violations committed while serving as chair.

How about when the SRC voted unanimously on more than 98 percent of resolutions over nearly a 2-year span? It’s hard to imagine a clearer demonstration that all real decision-making was happening behind closed doors.

Let’s not forget the apparent conflicts of interest surrounding current Commissioner Farah Jimenez and recently departed Commissioner Sylvia Simms.

A lack of transparency and accountability is built into the structure of the SRC. This is not about any individual members – even if the newest members were literally saints, that would not protect us from the reality that a potential governor Scott Wagner would get to replace a governing majority in his first term.

Enough Is Enough

The Our City Our Schools Coalition stands with the communities resisting the District’s unproven and dangerous “reforms.” We cannot trust any process initiated by this unaccountable, un-transparent body. Enough is enough.

Written by Jesse Gottschalk, a teacher at Lea Elementary school and member of the Caucus of Working Educators

October 3, 2017

We Asked Mayor Kenney Directly Where He Stands on Our Timeline

For months now, we have been pushing Mayor Kenney to publicly call for the vote to end the state takeover of Philadelphia’s schools this Fall — but he has been silent on committing to bringing our schools back to local control. This week, members of the Our City Our Schools campaign from Reclaim Philadelphia found Mayor Kenney and asked him directly if he would commit to getting our schools back this year. Check out what he says:

To get the Philadelphia schools back to local control by next school year, the vote to abolish the state-controlled School Reform Commission must happen in the next few months according to state law. If it doesn’t happen this year, then we run the risk of a Republican Governor running our schools. We need local control NOW, not in 2018!

September 14, 2017

At the First SRC Meeting of the 2017-2018 School Year, We Declare that Time is Ticking to Take the Vote!

 On Thursday, September 14th, at the first School Reform Commission meeting of the 2017-2018 school year, parents, teachers, students and community members from the Our City Our Schools campaign packed the SRC meeting, testifying, singing and using props to communicate to SRC Commissioners that time is ticking down until the deadline to call the vote to abolish the SRC and return local control to the Philadelphia schools. Over 40 people spoke about abolishing the SRC, while the packed room held up clocks, chanted “tick tick tick,” played the Jeopardy theme song and sang multiple songs about abolishing the SRC.

Recently, Mayor Kenney’s office told the Our City Our Schools coalition that the Mayor’s office was not able to give a specific timeline for the vote to abolish at this time. For nearly a year, the Our City Our Schools campaign has urged Governor Wolf, Mayor Kenney and the 5 SRC Commissioners to take the simple majority vote needed to end the 15-year state takeover of Philly’s schools. While Mayor Kenney has pledged support of local control and over 75% of Philadelphians voted in May 2015 to abolish the SRC, there has been no public statement from the Mayor’s office on a timeline.

August 9, 2017

It’s Time for Mayor Kenney to Publicly Commit to #AbolishTheSRC

Our City Our Schools Campaign Calls on Mayor Kenney to Publicly Commit to Abolition of School Reform Commission in the Fall

Groups Call on Mayor to Create Transition Taskforce to Lead City-Wide Discussion on School Governance

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PHILADELPHIA — On Wednesday, August 9th at noon, members of the Our City Our Schools coalition held a press conference, calling on Mayor Kenney, Governor Wolf and SRC Commissioners to call the vote to abolish the School Reform Commission this coming Fall 2017. Two weeks ago, members of the coalition met with Jim Engler and Otis Hackney from the Mayor’s Office and asked for a public commitment to sign on to the Our City Our Schools timeline that calls for abolition of the SRC by the Fall of 2017. The Mayor’s office has yet to respond to the demand. Throughout the summer, the Our City Our Schools coalition also met with SRC Commissioners Wilkerson, McGinley and Richman, who expressed support. However, Chair Wilkerson has yet to put abolishing the SRC on a meeting agenda. Read More

June 15, 2017

We Packed the June SRC Meeting to Demand Vote to Abolish in the Fall of 2017!

Our City Our Schools Campaign to Packs SRC Meeting and Demand SRC Vote to Abolish by Fall 2017

DCZfCZFVwAEDGjKOn Thursday, June 15th, the Our City Our Schools campaign packed the second to last School Reform Commission meeting of the year. Dozens of parents, teachers, students and community members testified to demand that SRC Commissioners vote by the Fall of 2017 to abolish the School Reform Commission — including a spirited song that demanded ‘we want our school board back’. The Our City Our Schools campaign also unveiled a timeline to abolish the SRC to urge SRC Commissioners to sign on to which highlights the need for the abolition vote to occur by the Fall of 2017 to avoid the risk of the 2018 Gubernatorial race. Read More

June 7, 2017

Over 60 People Attend Forum on the Future of the SRC

On Wednesday, June 7th, over 60 people came together to demand School Reform Commissioners commit to vote toz19023347_2005090519735424_2730088061774120929_oabolish the School Reform Commission by Fall 2017. While all 5 Commissioners were invited (and Chairwoman Wilkerson had RSVPed), no Commissioners attended.

On Thursday June 15th at the second to last SRC meeting of the year, we will mobilize to demand that the SRC commit to vote to abolish the SRC by the Fall of 2017.

***Please sign up to speak at the SRC meeting by calling 215.400.4180*** You must sign up to speak by June 14th at 4:30PM at the latest, but we highly encourage people to sign up NOW. Please message us or email info@215pa.com once you have signed up to speak so we can coordinate.

Studying the laws on how to abolish the SRC, the Our City Our Schools coalition has come up with a critical timeline of how we get our schools back. There are only two ways to abolish the SRC: a simple majority vote of SRC Commissioners with approval from the PA Secretary of Education OR the state legislature. With three new members of the SRC appointed by Mayor Kenney and Gov Wolf (both who have pledged support of local control), we have a historic opportunity to return our schools back to Philadelphians. Read More

May 25, 2017

At May SRC Meeting, SRC Commissioners Invited to Public Forum on Future of the SRC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 25, 2017

Our City Our Schools Coalition Invites SRC Commissioners to Public Forum on the Future of the SRC

PHILLY — This afternoon, May 25th at the 4:30PM School Reform Commission meeting at 440 N Broad, members of the Our City Our Schools coalition publicly inviteed all five SRC Commissioners and the public to a forum regarding the future of the SRC. The forum called “Our City Our Schools: SRC, Where Do You Stand?” will be held on Wednesday, June 7th at 6PM at the Berean Institute (1901 W Girard). All five SRC Commissioners are invited to attend. The Forum on June 7th will call on SRC Commissioners to state their position on local control and confirm a timeline for voting to abolish the SRC by Fall 2017.

With Estelle Richman’s confirmation for the SRC on May 10th, today’s SRC meeting is only the second with a fully sat 5-person SRC, after months of delay. Since the resignations in the Fall of two SRC Commissioners, the Our City Our Schools coalition has demanded that Mayor Kenney and Governor Wolf’s SRC Commissioners vote to abolish the SRC and return the Philadelphia schools to local control after 15 years of the state takeover. Mayor Kenney and Governor Wolf have both pledged support for returning the Philadelphia schools to local control by abolishing the School Reform Commission through a simple majority vote of School Reform Commissioners. Should our new SRC Commissioners — Chair Joyce Wilkerson, Chris McGinley and Estelle Richman — follow the words of their appointers, there would be the necessary three votes to abolish the School Reform Commission once and for all.

Read More