Thanks to a new wrinkle added to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Program, parents and caregivers will have even more options when they decide to transfer a student out of a school on the persistently violent or underachieving schools list.
According to PDE Secretary Ron Tomalis, every school not currently on the list of low-achieving schools can now apply to be a receiver school for those wishing to transfer. With 414 schools throughout the commonwealth — more than 130 in Philadelphia alone — on that list, it is conceivable that thousands of students will be seeking a transfer.
School principals can apply via a link on the department’s website.
“The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program is an example of a public/private partnership where the business community recognizes a need in our communities and schools and steps up to meet that need,” Tomalis said. “It is my hope that Pennsylvania’s high-quality schools will now step up to do their part to ensure that every student is provided with a world-class education.”
According to the PDE, Students who reside within the attendance boundaries of one of the 414 schools on the low-achieving list are eligible to apply for a scholarship if their household’s annual income does not exceed $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member of the household. Recipients of a scholarship may apply the funds to tuition costs and school-related fees at another public school outside of their resident district, or a nonpublic school that has signed up to receive students. Funds may not be used to attend a career and technology center, or brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools.
Pennsylvania businesses that donate to opportunity scholarship organizations are eligible for a tax credit through the program.
“This historic program cannot succeed without the participation of Pennsylvania’s best public and nonpublic schools that are willing to open their doors to the students trapped in educational entities which are not meeting their academic needs,” Tomalis said.
“Pennsylvania is home to many extraordinary public and nonpublic schools. Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program and the generosity of the business community, eligible students in low-achieving schools can now experience the very best educational opportunities the commonwealth has to offer.”
The tax program has had a fair amount of controversy attached to it. Many critics, including the influential School Boards Association of Pennsylvania, panned the program as a “stealth voucher program,” and state Representative Dwight Evans — usually a staunch proponent of school choice — voiced concerns about the plan’s true nature, and funding of its expansion.
“It’s actually disappointing, because I really thought more attention should be paid to schools that need real help,” Evans said, noting that the financial aspect of the plan has yet to be properly vetted. “The state released its report, with schools like Martin Luther King Jr. High School and Germantown High School on it, and to me, they’re basically taking that [helping] element from schools that really need it.”
The Samuel W. Pennypacker Elementary School in West Oak Lane is getting a new lease on life. It now has a full-time music teacher and a revived mentally gifted program —assembly programs are also back. The past year saw a full scale holiday program, a Black History Month assembly, and coming soon, a spring concert. The children participate in the Penn Relays, and some fifth-graders are even taking ballroom dancing.
In Robert Gold’s music classroom, the children were using drum sticks on large colored plastic buckets as they play “pass the bucket.” Yet the music room does have some more conventional equipment thanks to Gold securing a $5,000 grant to supplement his classroom. Now students from kindergarten to sixth grade are all experiencing the interdisciplinary lessons music has to offer.
“This is just a good school,” said Tara Williams, whose twin sons, Jahi and Jahim, are third-graders at Pennypacker. The Learning Key caught up with Williams in the hallway outside the main office. The 2011–2012 school year marks their first year at the school located at the corner of Thouron Avenue and Washington Lane.
“My children used to go to other schools,” she said. “Last year they were at the Kinsey School (also in West Oak Lane). I just find this to be one of the best schools. It has one of the better learning environments, and the teachers are great. I am very pleased with the education the twins are getting.”
For Principal Wendy Baldwin, hearing comments from parents like Williams is why she loves her new job. This is her first year serving as principal. She previously spent a decade working at the George Washington Elementary School in South Philadelphia as a special education teacher. It was in January 2011 that she enrolled in the school district’s administrative training initiative, and by May of last year she had completed the program.
Originally, Baldwin hoped to take her experience in the classroom and other educational positions with her as she became an assistant principal. Yet she soon realized that the success she had in Learning Support and Emotional Support classrooms was a firm foundation to take over the helm at a neighborhood school. So, she accepted the principal’s slot at Pennypacker and began her new job in September.
“Working in special education helps me be effective because I have a clear understanding of differential instruction,” Baldwin said. “I think that there are many strategies that work on different levels. I frequently remind my staff that they should address the children’s strengths.”
Baldwin’s office is adorned with a large-scale, richly-hued globe that has shiny brass trim. It was a gift, she said, from state Rep. Dwight Evans who represents the district where the school sits. In many ways the globe represents the principal’s vision for the school.
“We are really creating an environment where children can become critical thinkers,” Baldwin said. “We are making sure that they are college ready. We know that they must compete in a global society. We are fortunate enough to have made AYP for the last few years, and we do have a student body that comes eager to learn.”
To this end, the students have been taking more trips around the neighborhood as well as to the many cultural venues that a cosmopolitan city like Philadelphia has to offer. There are treks to local museums, concerts and other places of interest. Occasionally the school may welcome a guest speaker.
Yet there is still room for improvement, according to Baldwin. One area that she would like to expand is the community involvement in the school through volunteering and other services. She is also working to encourage more parents to become active with the Pennypacker Home and School Association.
“I envision us connecting more with the faith-based organizations,” Baldwin said. “I would also like people from this community to come into the school to start a mentoring program. I think it is important that the community and school partner in this way.”
For 11-year-old Tiani Fitts of West Oak Lane, who transferred to Pennypacker this school year, from Hatfield Elementary School, it’s been a blessing. Tiani is quick to point out that before coming to Pennypacker she was a bit reserved and withdrawn. Because of the nurturing environment she has been able to come out of her shell.
In fact, Tiani is one of the more articulate members of the Leaders of the Pack club. She, along with several other fifth-graders, was recommended for the club because of their academic prowess, citizenship, good behavior and leadership potential. An aspiring singer, Fitts feels that Pennypacker “makes every student special” because of the quality teachers.
“I think this is a place that helps you to do the right thing,” said Jamar Simpson of West Oak Lane, another member of the club. “This is a great place to learn.”
Teacher LaTwyne Wise is the special education liaison and mentors the Leaders of the Pack club. She meets with the students every Wednesday and Friday. Together they’ve taken trips to see the Philadelphia Dance Company, also known as Philadanco, as well as tours of the campuses of Temple and Cheyney universities.
“We take the students who show the potential to lead and show them that they have choices in life,” said Wise. “We want them to know that academics is important and so is discipline, but it takes more than that to be successful. We want them to realize they must be positively driven. So even though they have aspirations like being an architect, to a pediatrician, we basically show them that relating to others is important.”
Rounding out the school environment is Mrs. Campbell, a mainstay in the office. Her official title is “school liaison” but basically it is a “catch all” type of position. She fills in the gaps that are needed whether it’s addressing a truant student, coordinating a fundraising drive to fill in the budgetary gaps, or ensuring that those who come into the building are directed to correct place.
“You can’t have a success school without someone like me,” said Campbell. “I am like the universal remote control because you have to have someone who is available for the parents, the students, the teachers and the principal.”
Baldwin concurred. She said that all parts of the puzzle at Pennypacker make it work for its nearly 500 students.
“We are always growing and trying new things,” Baldwin said. “We’re good and we’re always getting better. I am always looking at ways to be even more successful. It’s nice to make AYP each year, but I think it’s important to keep raising our standards. With exceptional students and staff, I think we’ll continue to do just that.”
Phila. School District, Pa. conduct policies may have been violated
It’s too early to predict the impact of a damning new report on the role of former SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and state Rep. Dwight Evans in steering a contract to run Martin Luther King High School away from parents’ choice of school operator to one that they both had a deep connection to, but one thing seems certain — scrutiny of the School Reform Commission will increase.
The specter of criminal charges also hovers in the background.
“There needs to be some fundamental changes in how the District is administered and run,” said state Rep. Michael McGeehan, a vocal Philadelphia School District critic. “This is just the latest revelation about how dysfunctional the system has become.”
State Rep. Ron Waters went a step further, saying that he would support a deeper investigation into how the District awards all of its contracts, and make an effort to remove politics from the process.
“There are other things that might have happened too that need to be looked at,” Waters said, adding, “I hope that there is not a problem, because Philadelphia doesn’t need that.”
On Thursday afternoon, the city’s Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman released the results of her investigation into Archie and Evans’ role in securing a contract for Foundations Inc., a New Jersey based non-profit, to operate Martin Luther King High School. The contract went to Foundations despite the fact that the school’s advisory committee recommended a Georgia based company, Mosaica, to run the school.
The document sums up the role of both men at its conclusion.
“Archie’s and Evans’s actions in this matter have compromised the School District of Philadelphia’s ability to secure parent involvement in their children’s schools, to make decisions according to a fair process and to garner public confidence in those decisions.”
At its heart, the report suggests that both men violated the District — and, perhaps, the state’s — ethics policy.
How that would affect Archie is unclear. He stepped down as SRC chair Monday.
At the very least, the report could spur the city to push for more ethics training for SRC appointees as part of its oversight.
“That is a distinct possibility,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald.
In the case of Evans, though, it could mean a state investigation.
Robin Hittie, chief counsel with the State Ethics Commission, would not comment specifically on the ramifications of Markam’s report. However, speaking in broad terms she said that for an ethics violation to occur a financial benefit has to be established.
“Under the Ethics Act, for a conflict of interest to be established, a public official or public employee must either have used the authority of his public position or confidential information he received by being in that position for a private financial benefit to himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated,” Hittie said. “To establish that a public official or employee is associated with the business, it must be shown that he, or a member of his immediate family, is a director, officer, owner or employee or has a financial interest in the business.”
Penalties for ethics violations varied, Hittie said, and ranged from fines to criminal charges.
“The Ethics Act provides both financial penalties and criminal penalties,” Hittie said. “The State Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction to impose criminal penalties.”
Any criminal charges would have to be brought before a court, which would impose penalties.
Both Evans and Archie had financial relationships with Foundations.
Archie’s ties are less clear than Evans’. On March 16, he recused himself from a vote over the future of MLK High, citing the fact that Duane Morris had done business with Foundations.
In a statement released Thursday, he said that neither he nor Duane Morris had represented the firm since 2002.
Evans’ ties are well documented in campaign finance forms, which show he has accepted campaign donations from Foundations Inc. and its top officials. A routine Google search turns up donations totaling more than $63,000 since 2000.
Leroy Nunery seeks continued test score growth, better rapport with union
In a wide-ranging meeting with The Philadelphia Tribune earlier this week, acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery spoke optimistically about his future with the Philadelphia School District, enthusiastically about getting students up to speed in a digital age, with trepidation about the relationship between the district and the city’s teachers’ union, and not at all about his role in the Martin Luther King High School quagmire.
The runner-up to former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for the job in 2008, Nunery, who has lived and worked in the city for the last 13 years, said if he does not succeed in his present job, there is no need to even think about leading the country’s eighth-largest school district.
“I’m not going to put any further thought into it,” Nunery said. “If I don’t do the job that I’m tasked with doing today, then it won’t matter in three or four months, so that’s where I am.
“Do I believe I have the qualifications? Yes,” said Nunery, adding that he has not spoken with Mayor Michael Nutter about the job. “I’ve already been vetted through the process once. I’ve been in this seat and, quite frankly, I’m doing my old job as deputy superintendent in the current job as acting superintendent at the same time.”
Nunery, who served as Ackerman’s deputy for 14 months before she agreed to a $905,000 buyout of her contract in August, knows that there will be a national search to fill the position.
He does, however, think that he has shown the commitment required to do the job. For years he worked with Edison Schools in New York, but continued to raise his family here.
“I’ve been around a lot of folks, from labor union heads to presidents of universities, community leader and public officials,” Nunery said.
“That doesn’t mean that those things are going to buffer me, but at least I know my way around town. It’s not starting from scratch; it’s more about having a running start and there are some real advantages to that. But if I don’t get the superintendent’s job, if I decide that I’m interested in it, I’ll still be in education because this is what I’ve been called to do. As for the national search, the whole idea of looking for the best talent is something that the city is owed.”
Nunery spoke glowingly about the smooth start to the school year. However, he acknowledged that the budget cuts — the result of the effort to close the $680 million budget gap — have left the district with a skeleton staff. Cuts have reduced staff at central headquarters on Broad Street by 50 percent.
Overall, the district staff, according to Nunery, has been reduced by 30 percent.
Since schools opened last month, Nunery has busied himself by “getting out to as many schools as possible in the community, meeting with business and community leaders.”
Whether or not Nunery ultimately becomes the superintendent, the disparity and apparent inequity in the awarding of contracts to city businesses will continue to be an issue. As recently as 2003, in an overwhelmingly African-American school district, minority and women-owned businesses just got 2 percent of the pie. An anti-discrimination policy adopted that year boosted that number to 27 percent in 2010. However, fewer than half of those dollars went to African-American contractors.
Nunery said that African-Americans must do a better job of providing the goods and services that the school district needs. He used as an example the purchasing of textbooks, saying that not a lot of African-American companies sell text books.
In the past, African-American companies, according to Nunery, have benefitted in areas of providing social and support services. But in order to receive a larger piece of the pie, Nunery said, businesses will have to provide the services that the budget-strapped district requires.
“There will be more opportunities in construction, retrofitting buildings and things of that nature. That is where you are going to have more opportunities. We have got to turn some of these buildings into more energy-efficient buildings. So there are going to be a lot of opportunities for local businesses.”
Although Nunery says the district is not where it wants to be in terms of graduation rates and improving academic performance, it can point to nine straight years of rising test scores.
Nunery says this is not enough. He said that too many children are graduating from schools — not just in Philadelphia, but all over the country — needing remedial help once they get to college. He referred to a recent conversation with a local administrator in which he was told that three-fourths of the students coming out the school district need remedial assistance, mostly, he says, in technical areas.
“We have to get our kids up to speed in the areas of science, technology, math and science so that the district can be more market responsive,” he said. “We want our children to be more digitally proficient. If that is going to happen, the teachers are going to require more training in that area. It’s that simple.”
Nunery also hopes to develop a better working relationship with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. He knows that the union does not favor teacher evaluations — the city’s union chose not to participate in the state’s pilot program.
However, Gov. Tom Corbett, in releasing his education agenda earlier this week, highlighted improved standards in teacher evaluations as one of his main goals.
“This is coming, the whole idea of teacher evaluations.” said Nunery, adding that he has had a number of good conversations with union boss Jerry Jordan. “The conversation for us is about getting both sides on the same side.”
What isn’t coming any time soon from Nunery is an explanation of what he meant when describing a meeting about Martin Luther King High School becoming a charter school as being like a scene from “The Godfather.”
Nunery attended the meeting — along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, former School Reform Commission Chair Robert L. Archie and Mosaica Turnaround Partners President John Porter. Mosaica had been chosen to manage King over Evans’ charter partner, Foundations Inc., just hours earlier.
Mosaica backed out following that meeting, King never became a charter, and last month a scathing report out of the mayor’s office determined that Archie’s and Evans’ actions were inappropriate.
“What I said is in the report,” said Nunery, refusing further comment.
He touched the lives of thousands, and it was in his honor that hundreds gathered to say farewell to “a scholar with an African mission.” The funeral of Dr. Edward W. Robinson, Jr. was held Friday morning at the church in which he was born and raised, the A.M.E. Union Church, in the heart of North Philadelphia.
Just outside the church, a dozen drummers of all ages played in the midst of an oppressive heat wave. All morning, city dignitaries streamed through the church to pay respects to the educator and his family.
While his body laid in repose, images of Robinson in various stages of his life played in the background, as ushers carried baskets of fans and circulated through the aisles with bottles of cold water. The several hundred gathered fanned themselves endlessly as they comforted their hearts in the words offered by friends, colleagues and family members during the two-and-a-half hour service.
Robinson's casket, draped in a United States flag, was flanked by floral displays in the colors of the Pan-African flag — red, black and green — with one especially stunning arrangement forming the shape of the continent of Africa.
Proclamations were read from Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, State Senator Leanna Washington, and Congressman Chaka Fattah, along with resolutions from the Institute for the Preservation of Youth, the Paul Robeson House, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, Chaney University Alumni Association and the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP. Also noted in the audience were music producer and educator Kenny Gamble, producer Bob Lott, activist Pam Africa, Judge Thomasina Tynes, Rep. Dwight Evans and Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Remarks were offered from every branch of Robinson's life - from political to civic to personal. Speakers included Christine Thomas Wiggins, Founder of IMHOTEP Charter School; Ali and Helen Salahuddin, founders of the D'ZERT Club; Activist Michael Coard, Esq.; African-American scholar Dr. Molefi Kete Asante; Cody Anderson, former WDAS General manager and Dr. Mildred Johnson of Virginia State University, and Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, former mayor of Philadelphia. “Dr. Robinson served his generation in an outstanding manner,” noted Goode. “The question is, who is going to serve this generation?”
“A great soul has passed this way,” said Asante. “A great man has lived among us.”
The amazing life that Robinson had lived and shared with those closest to him was obvious in the various titles accorded him: father, grandfather, great-grand-father, great-great grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, and most importantly, husband.
Robinson's widow Harriet eschewed the podium, instead choosing to stand next to the casket as she recited a poem while holding the arm of her beloved husband of 41 years. “I wanted you for life, you and me in the wind. I never thought there would come a time that our story would end. ... Maybe all I need to know and if I listen to my heart, I'll hear your laughter once more. And so I’ve got to say I'm just glad you came my way. It's not easy to say goodbye.”
The Parkway Central Library has opened the doors of its newly restored Philbrick Hall.
The hall, which was formerly known as the Philbrick Popular Library, houses the library’s most popular collections of contemporary fiction, nonfiction and DVDs.
When library officials conducted a study more than a year ago they realized that more space was needed in the building.
“What we discovered at that time was only about 34 percent of this building was accessible to the public. The goal of the restoration of this building is to make much more space accessible,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Due to the restoration of the hall, made possible by support from the Annenberg Foundation, an additional 2,500 square feet of new public space is now available.
As a part of the 9-month renovation project, the original marble floors were fully restored and new seating, shelving, technology spaces and window treatments were added. The intricate plaster ceiling was fully renewed, and energy efficient lighting was installed — inspired by some of the historic building’s original fixtures.
The hall is now home to a new Teen Center, which includes a digital learning lab.
The hall’s renovation marks the completion of the first phase of Building Inspiration: Enhancing the Parkway Central Campus, a $175 million multi-phase project that aims to restore the branch’s building and expand the library’s campus.
“It’s going to transform this building into a very welcoming, modern, 21st-century library,” Reardon says of the project.
Under the project’s second phase, the building’s top floor will be fully restored. The project calls for the restoration of the Skyline room, new bathrooms and renovated kitchen space. The renovated kitchen facilities will enable the library to offer cooking classes to the public.
“When you’re low-literate, one of the importance ways you can come into literacy is through cooking,” Reardon said, noting that reading recipes can help increase literacy and math skills.
“We want to attempt a different way of introducing people to strong literacy skills, and try to help with the literacy problems that confound this city.”
The branch’s Rare Book Room is also slated for expansion, which enables the library to increase its storage capabilities of rare collections.
Reimbursement programs boost college enrollment for Black students
At least according to one in-depth study, the controversial school voucher program — the initiative that allows parents and caregivers the option of transferring their student from a low-performing or persistently dangerous school to a better one, and reimbursing them the costs of such a transfer — has proved to be a success.
The findings included in the study, “The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City,” — authored by Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson via a collaboration between the Brown Center on Education at the Brookings Institute and Harvard University’s Kennedy School Program on Education Policy and Governance — will lend credence to the arguments put forth by proponents of the voucher system here, since New York City’s public school network shares many similarities to the School District of Philadelphia.
In Pennsylvania, legislators have made it much easier to apply for and receive vouchers, as Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis recently announced several methods in which parents can obtain the voucher. State Rep. Dwight Evans has also been a longtime proponent of school choice, and has supported the voucher initiative for nearly two decades.
“In the first study using a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment, we examine the college-going behavior through 2011 of students who participated in a voucher experiment as elementary school students in the late 1990s,” read, in part, the summary of the study. “We find no overall impacts on college enrollments but we do find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the college going of African-American students who participated in the study. Our estimates indicate that using a voucher to attend private school increased the overall college enrollment rate among African Americans by 24 percent.”
This study used a data set provided by the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program, which in 1997 began to cover $1,400 scholarships for 1,000 low-income/at-risk families with children entering public schools. Families could use those scholarships to attend any private school within New York City.
The average annual cost of attending a NYC-based Catholic school is $1,728, according to the study; that scholarship would cover more than 70 percent of the base tuition.
“A voucher offer is shown to have increased the overall enrollment rate of African Americans by 7.1 percentage points, an increase of 20 percent. If the offered scholarship was actually used to attend private school, the impact on African-American college enrollment is estimated to be 8.7 percentage points, a 24 percent increase,” read the study’s summation. “Similar results are obtained for full-time college enrollment. Among African Americans, 26 percent of the control group attended college full-time at some point within three years of expected high-school graduation. The impact of an offer of a voucher was to increase this rate by 6.4 percentage points, a 25 percent increment in full-time college enrollment. If the scholarship was used to attend a private school, the impact was about 8 percentage points, an increment of about 31 percent.”
The study also looked at the African-American educational landscape without the voucher program, and the numbers were sobering. Only 3 percent of all African-American students who did not use a voucher attended a selective four-year degree granting program, but that number would have jumped to 6.9 percent if those students chose to use the voucher.
The report found there were no significant gains amongst Hispanic students who utilized the vouchers, with the study proposing that other mitigating factors were involved in the disparity in voucher use between African-American and Hispanic students.
“We find suggestive evidence that educational and religious reasons may explain the different findings for African-American and Hispanic students. Although it would be incorrect to say that educational objectives were not uppermost in the minds of respondents from both ethnic groups,” read the study. “African-American students were especially at risk of not going on to college, and families sought a private school — even one outside their religious tradition — that would help their child overcome that disadvantage. Hispanic students were less at risk of not enrolling in college and likely sought a voucher for some combination of religious and educational benefits.”
Officials with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national non-profit education think tank with offices here and in six other cities, praised the study, noting that it reflects the need for the further investment of resources in Black education.
“This study is showing America what we’ve known for years — that school voucher programs work when they are designed and managed correctly,” said Black Alliance for Educational Options Board Chairman Dr. Howard Fuller. “And they create pathways for young Black children to attend high-performing schools that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend.”
Dawn Carter of Mount Airy may be legally blind, but that certainly does not dampen her vision for improving her neighborhood. In fact, she and her husband Clarence, who is also visually challenged, made it to the grand opening of Philadelphia’s first Obama for America field office in West Oak Lane on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
She returned to the new location for a phone bank a week later on Wednesday Feb. 22 which was preceded by a pep talk from Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip on ways to ensure that Northwest Philadelphia and other communities remain viable.
At both events one could find Dawn Carter signing in those who were among the more than 300 who showed for the event. Those in attendance for the Feb. 15 ribbon cutting included Mayor Michael Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans of West Oak Lane and OFA regional field director Philip Gaskin. Also present were guest speakers Stefanie Brown, OFA national African-American outreach director and Michael Blake, OFA deputy operation vote director.
Yet most of those on hand were just local community residents, like Dawn Carter, who have no official titles and just want to volunteer in their community. Carter, who has been volunteering with OFA since last summer, is excited to have a home base for the team she works with.
“The well-attended opening gave me more energy and drive to continue,” said Carter. “It was so enthusiastic and upbeat. I thought it was just fabulous how people came together. I thought all the speakers were great.
“I really thought that Michael Blake coming in from the national campaign was great. He was just awesome. He really got the crowd energized, and everyone got charged up listening to him. It was just a good night, and I really enjoyed the experience. More importantly though, I believe in the positive changes that have taken place,” Carter said.
In his remarks, Mayor Nutter stressed how President Obama’s initiatives kept the city afloat despite its own budget crisis. Evans, too, spoke about the importance of grassroots organizing in taking ownership of the campaign to improve the quality of life in Northwest Philadelphia. While Brown shared her personal story about getting involved in NAACP voter drives at a young age, Blake pumped up the crowd with his energetic Biblical references to the president’s national and global vision.
OFA previously held the grand opening for its Center City headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. The organization has been organizing in the state since early 2009. For the past three years it has been boosting the number of Democrats statewide through voter registration and voter education, and by embarking on various field organizing efforts.
In addition to field offices the campaign launched a nationwide “Truth Team” initiative. The goals are to show how the president has kept his word, to keep the GOP honest, and to respond to untruthful attacks on the president’s record with the truth, according to OFA.
Among those who are members of the new Truth Team is Nutter. “President Obama’s achievements should speak for themselves, but they won’t,” said Nutter. “That’s why this work to engage our supporters is so essential. We’ve got to stand up for the president, let our friends and family knows what we’ve achieved these past three years and help supporters get the word out.”
Further probe unlikely for Evans, Archie in wake of city’s corruption report
Without a deeper investigation, state Rep. Dwight Evans and former SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie could emerge legally unscathed from the Martin Luther King scandal, continuing the city’s culture of corruption, said one critic.
“Philadelphians should be appalled by the report’s picture of backroom dealings and political strong-arming,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the political watchdog group Committee of Seventy. “It is not enough to say that people in highly influential positions of public trust acted improperly. If there are no consequences for their conduct, they and others in the public arena will continue to believe they can act with impunity.”
Findings released by the city on Thursday threw back the curtain of secrecy that long cloaked the behind-the-scenes influence of Evans and Archie, who allegedly steered the School Reform Commission toward a company to which they both had ties.
Stalberg said a deeper probe is needed.
“We don’t know the complete story because Dwight Evans refused to cooperate with the investigation. The fact that he didn’t demands further inquiry by someone with subpoena power,” he said.
Only a court can determine if the allegations in the report rise to the level of criminal activity.
But, without public pressure, launching an investigation could be difficult.
A source close the mayor said he is unlikely to press the matter further.
“He’s not going to throw anybody under the bus,” said an administration official.
Whether anyone else will remains to be seen.
State Rep. Michael McGeehan, long a critic of the district, said that at the moment he saw no reason to press ahead with a deeper investigation.
“I’m not willing to say that at this point,” he said, adding that the report could spur legislators to push for reform. “This report really points out the fundamental need to change … the business-as-usual atmosphere.”
Auditor General Jack Wagner is already investigating SRC probing the buyout of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. An official in Wagner’s office said Friday that she was unsure whether the latest report would spur further investigation. Wagner was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
Calls to the district attorney and attorney general’s offices demonstrated the difficulty of launching such an investigation without political support.
“We’ve not even received this report so there is no way we can comment,” said Tasha Jameson, spokeswoman for D.A. Seth Williams. “We have to receive the report and we haven’t.”
An official with the state Attorney General Linda Kelly’s office said that the A.G. typically gets involved only in cases involving narcotics trafficking, insurance fraud, organized crime, consumer protection, gaming enforcement and issues that might affect multiple counties. He added that it usually investigates after a receiving a tip or at the referral of a district attorney.
That did not mean the attorney general would not look into the case to see if falls under its purview.
“It’s very important, from our view, that the law is followed,” said Nils Frederiksen, press secretary for the attorney general. “We’re aware of the report and certainly anything of this nature raises concerns but we’re legally prohibited from confirming the existence of an investigation.”
On Thursday afternoon, the city’s Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman released the results of her investigation into Archie and Evans’ roles in securing a contract for Foundations Inc., a New Jersey based non-profit, to operate Martin Luther King High School. The contract went to Foundations despite the fact that the school’s advisory committee recommended a Georgia based company, Mosaica, to run the school.
Markman concluded that their “actions in this matter have compromised the School District of Philadelphia’s ability to … garner public confidence.” At its heart, the report suggests that both men violated the District and, perhaps, the state’s ethics policy.
Both Evans and Archie blasted the integrity officer’s findings and said in separate statements issued Thursday that they had only the best interests of students at heart.
Evans’ enormous influence is evident in Markman’s report.
“Numerous people with whom we spoke told that Evans was a politically influential player whose wishes concerning [School District] matters could not easily be disregarded.”
It also quoted an email Archie sent to District officials: “I, along with my fellow commissioners were appointed by politicians and for the public to believe that politics is not a part of the education system when the only sources of the District’s revenue are local, state, and federal funds further evidences the results of ‘poor academic achievement’ on the part of certain adults.”
Markman laid out the District’s ethics policy in her report and pointed out that since the School Reform Commission is a state body, members are subject to the state Ethics Code. Both bar public officials from engaging in conflicts of interest, which are defined as: “use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself … or a business with which he is associated.”
“To establish that a public official or employee is associated with the business, it must be shown that he, or a member of his immediate family, is a director, officer, owner or employee or has a financial interest in the business,” she said.
Both men had financial ties to Foundations Inc.
Archie, on March 16, recused himself from a vote over the future of MLK High, citing the fact that Duane Morris had done business with Foundations. He told Markman that neither he nor Duane Morris had represented the firm since 2002. He also told Markman that he and Duane Morris represented Evans in several legal actions.
Evans’ ties are well documented in campaign finance forms that show he has accepted campaign donations from Foundations Inc., and its top officials. A routine Google search turns up donations totaling more than $63,000 since 2000.
Penalties for ethics violations vary widely from fines — as little as $100 for violating the state Sunshine Law — to criminal charges.
If you live in Northwest Philadelphia, expect to see busy volunteers with clipboards and voter registration forms asking, “Do you need to update your voter registration?”
The reason this question is pivotal in neighborhoods such as Mount Airy, West Oak Lane and Germantown is simple: Some of the city’s most ardent voters live in Northwest Philadelphia, but many neglect to re-register to vote when they move or change their name.
Now with the new Voter ID law, some just need to update their voter registration so their name, address and other personal information on the IDs match the voting record.
Among the groups who will be trekking through Northwest Philadelphia commercial corridors and knocking on doors will be the nonpartisan Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.
“The new Voter ID Law passed by the legislature this spring raises onerous new barriers to the ballot box,” said B.J. Phillips of Northwest Philadelphia.
Phillips serves as the Voter ID coordinator for the Philadelphia League of Women Voters. The group is basing their grassroots Voter ID headquarters at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown.
“We are pulling together an ambitious plan to educate our fellow citizens about the new law,” Phillips said. “The Voter ID rules have changed almost weekly as the Secretary of State’s office tries to implement a sweeping and inherently confusing new law. So, we plan to carry our educational message to the large majority of voters who already have valid IDs as well as helping those who need to acquire the ID the need for Nov. 6.”
Already on the group’s agenda is finding out where the summer block parties and neighborhood festivals will be located. They will be making guest appearances at community organization meetings and before church groups. They are also visiting long-term and personal care homes to provide photo IDs for residents.
The Voter ID Coalition’s Germantown office will be active this summer. At the West Chelten Avenue location they are offering training sessions on the new Voter ID legal requirements that help prepare people to speak to the groups or congregations they belong to.
“This is an excellent primer for those who volunteer to handle phone calls for help, advice, media support and other demands at the new coalition headquarters,” Phillips said. “Our goals are high, but they are within the reach of an organization that was born of the struggle for the right to vote. Above all others, this newest battle for universal suffrage is ours to fight.”
Just before the spring primary race the Northwest Philadelphia Coalition held their Voter ID session in partnership with KeepingMyVote.org. The event was held at the New Bethel AME Church, 6153 Germantown Ave. It was sponsored by state Sen. LeAnna M. Washington, state Reps. John Myers, Mark Cohen, Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, as well as Councilwoman Marian Tasco.