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Philly schools: Bill Green and William Hite BFF?

All of the sudden it's about agnts and changes and agents of change, but really what does all that mean in Philly?
All of the sudden it's about agnts and changes and agents of change, but really what does all that mean in Philly?johncroftnorton.wordpress.com

On February 20, 2014 former City Councilman-turned-SRC Chairman Bill Green received a typical Philadelphia welcome when he took his place for the first time at a meeting for the SRC (School Reform Commission). He was greeted with boos and chants about the school as well as the city belonging to the people not the political leaders.

Superintendent Hite and SRC Chairman Green
Superintendent Hite and SRC Chairman Greenarticles.philly.com

If Governor Tom Corbett had nominated anyone else the greeting may have sent them into a deep shock, but since Green was one of the city’s political elite he wasn’t surprised and may have been grateful not to be pelted with snowballs or soft pretzels loaded with mustard. The greeting was part of the norm for residents who have had enough of, well, everything. It was also a demonstration that people perhaps aren’t as confident in Green as Green is in Green.

The former councilman took it all in stride because there wasn’t too much that he could say or do that he failed to do in council chambers that would have put anyone at ease.

If anyone thought that the greeting would subside and the participants would allow the meeting to continue they were sadly mistaken because the attendees were residents who stopped believing, if they ever did in the first place, that no matter who was the SRC Chairman things would not change.

It didn’t matter who the new SRC Chairman was because this just wasn’t about what had financially transpired within the school district for the last couple of years, but what has transpired for several years: low-performing schools, under-performing students, program cuts, layoffs of critical personnel that provided services to help children succeed, help them overcome drastic personal issues and provide a safe learning environment, budget cuts, dishonest practices, broken promises of transparency, underhanded plans, giving money away to unions for years that not only helped bankrupt the district, but the city as well, lack of leadership, school closures, preferential treatment going towards special admission schools that will push a politician’s kid in front of everyone else thus guaranteeing them a spot, and overall incompetence.

The school district is 100% responsible for these problems, but they also had a partner and that partner’s name is the Philadelphia City Council. So perhaps Philadelphia residents compare the nomination of Green, a member of that council, akin to giving a chicken hawk the keys to the coop.

Recently Dr. Hite announced that he was going to expand the number of the executives that work for the school district, but based on the increase in their numbers since last year he has already done that. In 2012-2013 it was reported that there were 47 executive positions within the school district and now there are 57. This comes after several announcements over the last year by the superintendent that central office staff (that’s where the executives go and drink coffee all day) positions were being cut.

Central office staff make money. Over $100,000 worth for the most part although there are some who make a paltry $80,000. They make more money than most of the employees that were laid off which happened to be some of the lowest paid positions within the school district.

The district is currently scouting for more people to hire: Deputy Chief, Multilingual Programs ($109,592 - $135,548), IT Security Engineer ($74,572 - $89,719), Senior Project Manager - Office of Information Technology ($74,572 - $89,719) Senior Project Manager - Office of Facilities Management and Services ($74,572-$89,719), Coordinator, Specialized Services (Behavior Specialty) BCBA ($78,686-$95,867), Chief of Staff for the School Reform Commission ($95,172-$117,420), and Director of Recruiting ($74,572 -$89,719).

On top of those positions the school district likes to retain people like Loree Jones who was former SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos’ Chief of Staff. They now want her to run a department that they created just for her called the Family and External Relations which is parallel to a department they created last year for Evelyn Sample-Oates and yes she is still running that department.

Ms. Jones seems to have made a career out of keeping up with the Ramos’, in this case Pedro Ramos. She took his job as managing director under Mayor John Street after Ramos resigned in 2007 and then followed him to the SRC making $129,000. Although Hite refused to disclose her new salary it’s safe to say that it will be anywhere from $129,000 to $200,000.

Bill Green has yet to hire his own chief of staff, but don’t expect them to go cheaply. After all overseeing a group that meets only four times per month can be exhausting. In fact the position actually pays anywhere from $96,000 - $117,000 per year.

Hite has also made sure that city employees have a place to call home and at a much higher salary such is the case of former chief of staff in Council, Sophie Bryan ($100,000 salary then) also had a position created for her - Special Assistant to the Office of the Superintendent, former Department of Licenses & Inspections chief Fran Burns (salary then was $125,000) is now chief of operations with a $175,000 salary and add Loree Jones now to that list.

When former superintendent Arlene Ackerman came under fire for paying high salaries to central office staff she hired the reason she gave was that the district needed top talent, but that didn’t go over too well. Hopefully Hite won’t insult the already inflamed parents, community leaders, teachers and taxpayers by saying the same thing, but if it’s true perhaps he can explain why the school district hasn’t improved except to make some people richer.

If Ackerman’s reasoning was valid wouldn’t it be a better idea to hire top talent to work, not in the special admission schools like Masterman, Girls High or Central, as well as the central office, but some of the under-performing schools? What a novel idea that would be.

Scrap Hite’s 2013 Action 1.o plan. Now he has a new plan. It’s called Action 2.o. Probably because the old plan didn’t work or they never even bothered to implement it. This is what the district does: they implement plans. Remember Ackerman’s Imagine 2014?

Now Hite has a new plan, but this time the plan has anchors. Probably because it’s so light on something actually working that without the anchors it would probably blow away as residents watch it sail over the Philadelphia Zoo.

At the meeting Green and Hite showed a united front in order to shut up all the naysayers (examiner.com) and this bro-fest will probably continue for the next month or so because it is the honeymoon period after all.

Right now Green wants everyone to know that he has Hite’s back. Although he may want people to think that this is a great move on his part it’s not. It’s his job. Perhaps part of his job is to also put a bigger target on his back than on Hite’s by acknowledging that he’s going to deal with the PFT and perhaps not in a way that the union is going to like by finding a way to make them agree to concessions as well as more things that the union, up until now, has been refusing to do.

As the chairman he has the legal power to do it especially since he has the support of Corbett or Corbett has the support of Green. To no surprise the members of the PFT are not happy with Green’s appointment or anything that starts with the name Bill Green.

Green’s message was a good one although it fell on the deaf ears that belonged to members of the PFT: everyone is in this together and it’s no longer about who did what, but what has to happen now. The glory days of when the unions got everything they wanted is over. The days of spending now and consider the consequences later is over. The oh-happy-day syndrome of the school district holding all the cards in regards to the education of the students whose parents were too financially strapped to send them to private school is over. The bottomless pit of money being siphoned into the schools has been sealed. Conning themselves and everyone else into believing that the school district is the best educational choice in the state is over.

Green may see himself as an agent of change, but calling himself that is either lip service at its worst or a campaign slogan at its best. Green needs to lay out what exactly as that agent he’s going to do. If he wants the people’s support (and possible votes further down the line) he should start with 100% transparency of his plan so everyone understands what sacrifices need to be made (and why) and how that’s going to be accomplished. So when certain people decide not to make these sacrifices people will know who exactly is hurting the students. Within that transparency people need to believe in the plan and hold those accountable who aren’t playing nicely with others.

If Green really is that agent then expect to see exactly what is going on at 440 N. Broad Street and if he’s not; if he’s just there to keep everyone quiet then that will also be discovered soon enough. Philadelphia residents need to learn that which is born in the dark comes out in the light and the light is beginning to shine down on the school district.