Testimony of Lynda Rubin to the Board of Education, August 15, 2019

Action Item 65 – Be Careful Who You Sell Buildings To

I’m here to speak against the sale of Whittier to MSI Capital LLC which I believe is buying the building on behalf of a KIPP charter school that’s part of the KIPP national franchise. But actually I’m here to point out that the Board needs to examine in greater detail all possible ways this and any other real estate sale could play out in the future, to the detriment of the School District’s interests down the line.

I’m glad to hear that Gov. Wolf has now publicly recognized that charter schools are NOT public schools but schools that have private interests. They don’t have the same rules, accountability, etc. but they do want public money to grow their investments. Reporters have detailed the circular real estate aspect of their money-making, especially through lucrative bonds, using public dollars as seed money, but real estate development deals seem to be key.

Public education is supposed to be locally run to meet local needs, not those of  private or national franchise companies funded by the likes of PSP.  Public education is just the commodity they’re using. The recent creation of MCSO’s has been to assist them in solidifying their mini-district status in preparation for cutting out the middleman – you – and other Boards. We’ve talked about this. And when all else fails, political donors like Michael Karp run to PA State Rep, and school privatization leader, Mike Turzai, for a bill specifically written to accommodate Karp’s interests in the dark of night.

Recent developments have made the threats to our public schools clearer to me. One red flag was when Drexel’s John Fry, who also has PSP connections, suddenly appeared at the Student Achievement Committee meeting this summer, hat in hand, to nervously admit that Drexel’s plan to build a new SLAMS and Powell School on the University City High School site was in trouble. Mom and Dad, we need more money. The District had been assured that big and growing Drexel University could handle it. But they couldn’t. What if they need more?

Drexel once had only an educational focus. It’s now become a corporate entity in its own right, developing Philadelphia’s expansion and re-generation as their not so adept participation in merging Drexel College of Medicine with MCP Hahnemann Hospital corporation has shown. As we now know, 18 months ago an investment firm, run by Joel Freedman, bought Hahnemann, a “safety-net hospital”  treating people in need, and immediately, but quietly, legally separated the ownership of the hospital buildings from the well-placed land beneath them for their own future development. This “destructive business practice” where everything is a financial commodity is common on Wall Street. Too bad for the institutions and the people supposedly being served.

As the steward of public education in Philadelphia, this Board must do your due diligence about who you do business with to assure that your decisions to sell District buildings are really in the interests of the School District and its stakeholders, and not those of predatory private business corporations and charter franchises.