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Hey Philly Parents! Another Fake “Parents Care” Site Arrives in Time to Pump Up Charter Schools


Graduation rates around Minneapolis. Charter schools are the blue bars. [Source]

Before I begin to go deep, let’s get one thing straight:  charter schools are shit.  Not just that we have shit charter schools, many of them are downright awful, but the actual way we’ve implemented it in Pennsylvania is fundamentally flawed.  The charter idea will never produce success here.  Ever.

These are just five simple basics you need to know:

  1. Charter school operators are government contractors who bill the School District of Philadelphia for $$$
  2. The SDP doesn’t have any resources to police charter schools despite the hot air that comes out of 440 N. Broad, so you get scandals like this one, or the ones NPR looked at, or the charter school that doubled-up as a bar.
  3. There’s nobody locally or in Harrisburg even remotely interested in dealing with charter reform (see 1.), so the scandals will just keep coming (see 2.)
  4. There’s no statistically valid way to compare charter performance to publics, or even charters against each other.  This is by design.
  5. The main politician pushing for charters in Harrisburg is none other than PA Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, who’s own charter school named after his dad blew up on him.  Any public debate on school “reform” is going to feature him as a participant.

Now with the basics out of the way, let me introduce you to a new player on the charter scene, Philly School Choice, who just launched their campaign for charter schools in Philly yesterday.  And you can get a glimpse of what’s coming just by their video:

So, who’s pushing this “info-mation” site?  After watching an interaction between Parents United’s own Helen Gym, on Twitter, the pieces started to fall together.

The real brains behind Philly School Choice however appears to be Bob Bowdon, a shill for charter-ization.   When Gym quizzed Bowdon on who is funding this charter-ization cheerleading effort, Bowden replied with a false dichotomy:

What Bob really doesn’t want Helen to know is that is basically Bob himself.   Let’s look at, which was proudly announcing

Oooo...  "major news!"

Oooo… “major news!”

A quick WHOIS Internet lookup on who owns ChoiceMedia’s website reveals this:

Bowdon Media owns "ChoiceMedia", which is Bob Bowdon

Bowdon Media owns “ChoiceMedia”, which is Bob Bowdon

It’s Bob-fucking-Bowdon running his own media campaign.

Bowdon has some interesting messages.   Here’s Bob on the O’Reilly Factor harping on the “wussification” of schools:

Or what Bowdon thinks about Obama’s Common Core scheme… on Newsmax, of all places.

That contrasts for the last contribution Bowdon made in the Huffington Post, where he made his real peace with the public known:  I can’t even with these fucking teachers unions.

At last!  We have another charter school charlatan coming onto the scene, but this one is a little more willing to reveal his stripes about where the money in charter schools really is.  It’s through obliterating all the legacy costs in teaching:  like fixed pension plans, and healthcare benefits, or having 13 different unions under one giant monolithic organization.  You show the politicians how much you will save to deliver the same product, do it without the legacy costs and profit off the spread between what the public system had to pay and what you’re paying.

If you’re comparing teachers with $75,000/yr salaries and higher with full pensions and healthcare plans vs $51,000/yr with a 401(k) with no matching and basic health coverage, that is a huge gap between the legacy payroll and the payroll a charter school has.  That’s where the sweet spot is.  That’s where the money is to be made off the backs of poor urban school districts.

But that drop in expenses doesn’t actually get pumped to students.  Charter CEOs shy away when questions about their own salaries are asked nor does a single charter back up any claims of increased dollar-per-child spending increase over what the School District of Philadelphia spends by showing their Trial Balance and Income Statement, which the SDP does.  Since performance isn’t comparable to the publics because admissions policies differ from one segment of the SDP system to the next the only school choice you get with charters is: “JUST GIVE US MONEY!!!  WE LOVE YOUR KIDS!!!”  That’s not really much of a choice at all.

While the idea of busting up teachers unions would appeal to your average uninformed conservative, the reality is that there is no actual free market created by charterization.  The only real market is the one that’s been there all along:  pulling your child out of the SDP system and enrolling in private or moving out of Philadelphia completely.  If charters were a great option and improved performance, all the affluent suburbs around Philadelphia would have jumped on the charter bandwagon.  So far, none of them have.

If there is ONE thing you should learn about schools, it is this:  good schools are mentioned in real estate listings, like this:

Parents buy schools.  They do it by cramming into the catchments where good schools are.

Parents buy schools. They do it by cramming into the catchments where good schools are.

The number of home listings where a charter school is mentioned in the first two sentences of brokerbabble in Philadelphia Real Estate:  Zero.

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That Time When Our District Attorney Thought It Was OK To Put Lying Cops on the Stand and Fire Whistleblowers

I’ve waited to see if anyone besides CityPaper, who broke the story about a Philadelphia police officer who admitted to lying on the stand continuing to be called as a credible witness, would at least circle back around and cover the ADA who was fired for whistleblowing the problem to his superiors.  Or anyone in our local media , for that matter, to speak up about the internal soap-opera drama going on at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

So far, nobody.  Not even the burgeoning outrage-porn websites masquerading as news sources that are popping up as of late.

So, I will re-run it.

Click here to read the story.

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Cosmic Kenyatta



Looks like @CouncilmanKJ is having some 80′s flashbacks.  Ahh, memories.

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Neighborhood Boils Over in Facebook Rage as Kenyatta Johnson Argues to Preserve Blighted Building at Zoning


Historic!!!! Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze argued that this dilapidated building is worth preserving over a planned development

Point Breeze, you never let me down.  Enter 2010 Wharton Street, a dilapidated warehouse that is the proposed site of nearly 22 new homes.  [Correction: at the time of the PlanPhilly article it was 50, then the proposals were chopped].   It is an entire block that is completely boxed in by residential and commercial property on all sides, this ICMX-zoned industrial building is a pre-zoning code relic of the past, with no viable industrial use going forward. But Councilman Kenyatta Johnson doesn’t see it this way.

After many months of hem and haw, plus vociferous shouting by Tiffany Green of “Concerned Citizens” of Point Breeze (remember them?) and a direct plea to the ZBA to deny the residential variances needed to redevelop the property, the Zoning Board of Adjustment finally issued a denial. Neighbors who own and live in property immediately adjacent to the site were astonished.  Letters from nearby residents who live with a block of the parcel to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and to Councilman Johnson were summarily ignored.

Further, a deep source within the Philadelphia City Planning Commission confirms that this property’s zoning is no longer relevant and is likely to be changed to RSA-5; which is single-family residential. Over on the Newbold Neighbors Facebook page, tensions reached a head as Steve Cobb, a staffer for Councilman Johnson, argued with residents about the councilman’s opposition to the project.  It all started with this one question: threadsnip1

Steve quickly tried to hide behind the Registered Community Organization that Johnson selected as the coordinating RCO for the project:  Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze.


Enter Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush, who had this to say about how CCPB gauges public opinion on development projects.  Steve repeats his plea for a private constituent contact, which he explains he’ll fob off on to the RCO… threadsnip3

Enter Kenyatta Johnsonthreadsnip4   Feibush responds… threadsnip5   Neighbors caught between the barbs and living near the blight chime in… threadsnip6

They also take issue with the ZBA itself… threadsnip7

Does Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze hold meetings and let people vote who don’t even live in the community? threadsnip8

From then on Cobb and Johnson both bowed out and ran away from their constituents on the Facebook thread.  PDQ contacted Ori Feibush and he says he is mulling over his legal options. Meanwhile, we have requested the ZBA transcripts so we can see what testimony Councilman Johnson’s staff actually gave for preserving a dilapidated warehouse, completely surrounded by single family homes and commercial property.

Does Councilman Johnson expect the industrial 19th century to make a comeback anytime soon?

Posted in Anti-Gentrification, Development, Zoning | 7 Comments

Philadelinquency For Sheriff?


We have a 5-star Kentucky Fried General as our Sheriff [Photocred: Inky]

It’s nice to be king.   A fully-autonomous monarch can call the shots and do as he pleases, at least until the money runs out.

The Sheriff of Philadelphia County has nearly full-autonomy.  As one of the surviving row offices it has only two functions which could be done a lot better if they were absorbed into the City of Philadelphia:

  • bus prisoners to their court dates
  • sell real estate and pay creditors after the sale is over

It does neither of these things correctly.   The first: transporting prisoners from Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) to the Criminal Justice Center, seems a relatively easy job.  The Bureau of Prisons handles all the security until the prisoners are loaded into the bus, and the Philadelphia Police Department handles it again when the bus arrives to the basement of the CJC.  Easy, right?

The bus is always late.   Court proceedings at the CJC are often held up or postponed because the defendants are stuck in late-morning traffic on I-95 in an armored bus that has long outlived its usefulness.  No one ever thought of changing to earlier shifts to get defendants to court on time.   So, frustrated judges, attorneys and jurors sit and wait–most at the expense of public’s dime, for the Sheriff’s Office to get their ass in gear, every morning.

The second job it does of disposing real estate, the most important one, it bungles miserably.  The FBI raided the office last summer, collecting records.  It writes no-bid secret contracts that are all going to political operatives and ex Sheriff’s employees.  It squanders at least $2 million a year in spending to run advertising in papers nobody reads, all connected to people at the low-rungs of political life in this town.

It also does absolutely nothing to actually help people who are facing bank foreclosure.  Numerous activists have complained in Room 400 of City Hall, where City Council holds public meetings, about the unhelpfulness of the Sheriff.  On some days, “we ain’t answering the phones today” is an accepted way of handling the public, who is calling.

You might want to blame City Council for this; but City Council is powerless to do anything to the Sheriff’s Office.   Except for one day each year when the City establishes the Sheriff’s budget, the rest of the year it’s hands-off.   And that’s when the Sheriff asks for things like a shiny new SUV to drive around the city in.  Why can’t it control the Sheriff?  It isn’t allowed to under the City Charter.

So, how do we fix all this?   We must either demand a charter change to eliminate the Sheriff’s Office or elect someone who can reform it, and that’s where I think I can fit the bill.   With Christopher Sawyer as your Sheriff, these are some of the most immediate things you would notice:

  • All unnecessary Sheriff Sale advertising comes to an immediate halt which will free up millions of dollars in funding each year to improve the Sheriff’s Office
  • Bids will be taken for title work and all other contracts, will be open, and will be handled by the City
  • A public records system will be installed to give the public FREE access to all work materials and documents in possession of the Sheriff
  • Complete reform of the auction process, including allowing online auctions, verifying the identities of bidders and publication of cleared sales
  • Advance notification of pending sales to the public through a registration system to allow those who are interested in acquiring property in an area of the city to receive immediate notice of properties that will become available through sale that match what they’re looking for – this will make the need to publish huge lists of Sheriff Sales in tiny print in newspapers obsolete
  • Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and other interested homeowner-aid groups will gain the right to directly access Sheriff Office staff and materials, and space will be reserved at the Real Estate department of the Sheriff for these aid groups to come and work at the Sheriff’s Office where they can gain direct access to Philadelphians in the foreclosure process as early as possible in the process.
  • A diversion program to redirect key properties up for auction to the Philadelphia Land Bank
  • Sheriff sales will increase to 1,500-2,000 a month and a prioritization scheme will be put in place to ensure that vacant properties and properties owned by absentee investors go to auction first, and properties that have active homeowners living in them will be scheduled last.
  • The Sheriff’s Office will guarantee free and clear title on all municipal tax sales so those who are buying tax foreclosures will not encounter the pain of cloudy title because of municipal records incompetence

This is just a small series of goals a reformer Sheriff needs to accomplish to repair the badly-damaged reputation the Sheriff has with the public and make it more progressive.   The Sheriff has the potential to be the key that unlocks the city, rather than the agency that tightens the economic noose and slowing Philadelphia’s growth.

The Sheriff also adds insult to injury to those lifetime Philadelphia residents who are trapped in foreclosure, which is completely unnecessary and it is a gross abuse and violation of civil rights.  While Jewel Williams has promised the Sheriff will stop breaking the law and stop stealing people’s funds, he hasn’t done anything more than that.  Certainly not a single thing to benefit a lifetime Philadelphia resident who has been rewarded with their time living in Philadelphia with a cold, unanswering bureaucracy still stuck in the 1970s.

The Democratic City Committee will be throwing its hat in for Williams, who was handed this job after his stint as a state representative proved to be too boring.   Would you rather see the Sheriff’s Office actually reform itself, or would you be happy with the same person who punches the clock and does absolutely nothing to benefit the city?

Posted in Sheriff Sales | 14 Comments