The process by which Mayor Jim Kenney will choose three new Philadelphia school board members is flawed and lacks transparency, education activists say.
Kenney’s nominating panel, charged with sifting through more than 60 applications for the board, reconvened Nov. 17 and is expected to meet Wednesday to recommend nine candidates for three open seats. The panel, chaired by University of Pennsylvania provost and former School Reform Commission member Wendell Pritchett, picks its nominees in a private executive session.
The mayor will then choose new board members by Dec. 21, at which point they require City Council sign-off. New board members are expected to be seated sometime in early 2021.
But the process contains no meaningful public input, members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools and Our City Our Schools said this week. That’s particularly a problem in the only municipality in Pennsylvania where school board members are appointed, not elected.
“The selection process should be as open as possible,” Lisa Haver, a retired Philadelphia School District teacher and founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, said at a news conference this week. “Why is the mayor shutting us out?”
Haver said her group is considering legal action against what it callsa violation of the state’s Sunshine Act, which requires that agencies deliberate and take official action in open and public meetings. The nominating panel’s work must happen not in executive session but in public, Haver said.
Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble said the panel’s work complies with the Sunshine Act, that written comments are taken by the panel throughout the duration, and that public testimony will be heard on Wednesday.
The activists are calling for a delay in the panel’s timeline, for publication of all school board applications, and for deliberations to be held in public.
Youma Diabira, a Central High student and member of the Philly Black Students Alliance, said there are “great concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in the nomination process. We are here because that directly connects to our schools representing a diversity of perspectives and skills.”
Activists said they knew too little about the qualifications and connections of the members of the nominating panel and had concerns about whether they will adequately represent the city’s economic and racial diversity.
“To the Black people on the nominating panel, I ask you, are you demanding transparency?” asked Dana Carter, a teacher and member of the advocacy groups Melanated Educators Collective and Racial Justice Organizing Committee. “Are you too afraid that you would lose your position for what is right?”