Contracts, conflicts & calendar - more from the SRC

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos speaks at Thursday's raucous public meeting on school closings while general counsel Michael Davis, and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. (right) listen.

You can find lots of detail in today’s Inquirer about continued pushback against the 23 school closings already ordered by the SRC earlier this month, about community opposition to the district’s plan to privatize 2,000 Head Start seats to cope with budget cuts, and a proposal to expand the catchment of Bache-Martin Elementary.

But our print deadlines sometimes mean that some of the SRC’s actual agenda doesn’t end up in my story.

So, here’s what you missed:

--A $1.85 million contract amendment to pay outside lawyers passed unanimously.  The contract ups the Philadelphia School District’s 2012-13 outside legal counsel budget to $4.85 million. (It had been $3 million.)

The amendment also added to the approved list of outside firms Hogan Lovells, an international law firm. District general counsel Michael Davis told me that particular addition was because the district needed to retain Maree F. Sneed, “a nationally-recognized education law expert,” as Davis described her. Sneed, according to her Hogan Lovells biography, frequently represents districts in cases involving the No Child Left Behind law, Indiduals with Disabilities Education Act, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She has also taught in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was formerly a teacher and principal.

Sneed, who’s based in Washington, D.C., previously represented the district when it was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice over racial violence at South Philadelphia High. 

She helped craft the settlement that ultimately ended that investigation.

This time around, Davis said, she’s needed to represent the district in an investigation by the federal Departement of Education’s civil rights office into the racial patterns of its 2012 school closings.  The activist group Action United filed a claim alleging that the district’s closing plan disproportionately, adversely impacted African American and Hispanic students and students with disabilities.

Just to clarify: the extra $1.85 million won’t all be going to Hogan Lovells.  The extra funds can be allocated to any of the multiple law firms already approved by the SRC.

--The commission also voted to authorize an $82,500 contract with the Philadelphia Youth Network, Inc., a local nonprofit. PYN focuses primarily on youth workforce development, and it will provide “key staff services associated with the establishment and organization of the School District’s new Office of Strategic Partnerships to coordinate and align external resource suppports for the School District and its students with the non-profit, foundation, higher education and philanthropic communities locally and nationally...”

Launching a strategic partnership office was a key  item in Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s action plan, released earlier this year. He has stressed that stronger relationships with outside entities will be key to the financially struggling district’s success going forward.

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky voted no to the resolution, saying he had concerns about potential conflicts of interest.  PYN co-founder and CEO Stacy E. Holland sits on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Schools Partnership, another city nonprofit, for instance. (The Partnership was started to raise $100 million over five years to push a school reform agenda, investing in successful schools.  It has growing influence in city education circles and has donated millions to charter expansion — and one district expansion — though it is viewed skeptically by some.)

After questions by Dworetzky, officials said that they would make sure procedures will be in place to handle any such conflicts. Dworetzky, after the meeting, reiterated his concerns but said they had nothing to do with Holland personally: “She’s great,” he said.

--The SRC approved a calendar for the 2013-14 school year. Staff will report on Sept. 3 and school starts for grades one through 12 on Sept. 9. Students’ last day is June 19, 2014, and the last day for staff is June 20.

That makes 181 days on the student calendar — a one-day cushion for snow.  Students must attend 180 days of school in order for a district to receive state aid.