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The year in review: Philadelphia School District

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Most people look forward to the end of the year because for them it’s an exciting time. They can reflect on what they did that year and make resolutions or determinations for the new year. While it is not natural for people to remain in the same place in their lives year after year the Philadelphia School District has managed to do just that.

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It really doesn’t matter what year it is because the school district seems to have the same problems every year without any improvements or resolutions. Blah, blah, blah…low-performing schools. Blah, blah, blah….we’re broke. Blah, blah, blah….the teacher’s union. Blah, blah, blah…the SRC.

However it is important to maintain a little hope that there were some positive changes. Let’s take a look.

• Beginning almost as soon as the clock rang in 2013 the SRC started to put the wheels in motion for school closings. As is the case they put many schools on the list and then took off some. The district also had plans to restructure schools by adding or taking away grades; to move some schools into newly vacant buildings.

During the SRC meetings things got heated as they usually do and due to protests outside there were even some arrests. People were allowed to talk which stretched the meetings to over three hours. Freshman City Councilwoman Cindy Bass even spoke at one meeting asking the board to delay closings for one year. Why? Because this is what City Council does. They like to put things off until they can find a way or a loophole where they’ll benefit as well. It wasn’t like they weren't given advanced notice of the schools that may be closing.

The problem is that the school district is out of options and money. The community activists, PFT and students have not come up with any viable solutions, but continue to carry on about what a travesty it is. It’s not that the district wants to close these schools, but have to. They will (and did) close because the screamers during the SRC meetings couldn’t come up with a solution as to how they were going to fill all those empty seats.

• In 2013 PennCAN decided to grade the Philadelphia schools in order to endorse education reforms that are based on research that will provide parents as well as students information about where the good schools are. To that end they graded schools based on performance, performance gains, achievement gaps and graduation rates as well as schools with large low-income, Latino or African American students. As it was probably expected the Philly School District didn’t do too well.

Even more of a surprise is that schools that were considered good and ones that parents tried hard to get their kids in such as Central High School, Greenfield Elementary School, and Penn Alexander Elementary School didn’t do so well.

The schools that did do well consistently are the charter schools. The few exceptions in the school district were Powel Elementary, C.W. Henry, Overbrook Education Center, Russell Conwell Middle School, Will-Freedman, Carver High School of Engineering and Science, Bodine High School, Academy at Palumbo and Girls’ High School.

There were people who didn’t agree with this project and felt that other things should be taken into consideration, but these things couldn’t be examined through research or school district records because they aren’t tangible.

What these results did do was to show the value of the charter schools especially when it came to the education of low-income, Latino and African American students. It also showed that the school district continues to fail certain segments of students. The results pretty much guarantees that the charter schools aren’t going anywhere and in fact more will probably becoming.

Perhaps it is these results that the community activists/leaders, PFT and students should be concerned with instead of protesting at meetings. Possibly if results like these were improved upon maybe students leaving to go to charter schools and school closings would be a non-issue.

• One of the biggest issues in 2013 and probably every year that follows is the school district’s continuing to mismanage their money even though they say it’s under control when it isn’t. They also like to blame the budget cuts and that may be partially true, but the inability to understand their bottom line is the reason why funding has been cut and why the state controls the school district; because they spend money without intellectually understanding why certain programs that are supposed to help increase student performance don’t. They sink money into it anyway and then can’t understand why the schools continue to under-perform.

To further demonstrate the school district’s lack of understanding about the current financial status at the end of the school year in 2013 they laid off close to 4,000 employees. However a majority of those that were given pink slips are the lowest paid employees in the district such as Noontime Aides (1, 202), Supportive Service Assistants (769), Early Childhood Teaching Assistants (89), School Improvement Support Liaisons (45), School Operations Officers (53), Community Relations Liaisons (25), Food Service Workers (25), Special Education Classroom Assistants (22), Conflict Resolution Specialists (21), and Non-teaching Assistants (19). Out of the total number of people being laid off there were far fewer of the higher paid employees getting the boot and none of them were from the central office.

The SRC and Dr, Hite continue to believe that pennies and nickels will solve their budget problems when only $20 bills will amount to any real savings. The Noontime Aides are probably the lowest on the totem pole because they’re part-time employees and the district already got their pound of flesh from them when they took away the health insurance without informing them in 2011. So laying off staff who were important when it came to the functioning of their individual schools was a really stupid thing to do.

The district also doesn’t accept whatever is that they can get because they only want the big bucks and not some paltry $2 million. They were at first thinking to sell the art collection which was supposedly worth $30 million, but was recently appraised at $2 million. Did the art get sold? No of course not because it wasn’t enough money.

Despite laying off a lot of people not just this year, but since 2011 the district continues to hire people. Between 2012 and 2013 785 people were hired without the approval or even the knowledge of the SRC. Several of them were high paying administrators that work out of the central office and these hires happened on Hite’s watch as he claimed that people in the central office were being laid off. The SRC bought their flimsy excuse that it was the computer’s fault.

That excuse might have worked if this happened in an episode of the original Star Trek and not the school district.
In 2013, as of right now, the district has eight open positions within the central office and is interviewing candidates.

Apparently these positions are more important than nurses, librarians, assistant principals or counselors.

• Finally it’s time to address the elephant in the room and that is the PFT as well as their members. Sigh. The union’s contract with the school district expired at the end of August and as of this date they are still “negotiating”.

At the heart of the matter is the PFT’s continued refusal to agree to any concessions even as they see their financial Rock of Gibraltar crumbling around them. The teacher’s are upset because the over-crowding of the classrooms, closing of the schools and of course how much they spend on supplies. Then there are the salaries teachers collect every year which they feel is inadequate when compared to suburban teachers’ salaries. Which if you do the numbers they really aren’t.

The point to all of this is that although the teachers may feel that they’re right and that they give enough already it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that their union is deciding that it’s more important to take a belligerent stand then it is to save jobs. With everyone else laid off all that’s left is the teachers and next year the financial hole will expand to $400 million. How are the teachers and the PFT going to make out then? Not too good.

Regardless to how much they’ll have to pay for medical insurance when everybody else in this country already does except those who have no medical insurance, how much they’ll lose out of their salaries if the cuts of 5 – 13% go through and how they will make ends meet if they can’t pay their bills eventually the SRC, school district, City of Philadelphia and/ or Harrisburg is going to do something in order make their stand and that stand will hurt not only teachers and their families, but students as well.

In this economy the teachers should be glad that they have a job to go to and a way of paying their bills because 10% of the people in this city don’t have that ability anymore. In regular society if you lose money out of your paycheck most people will downsize and even consolidate their bills the best they can. Some have no choice than not pay them at all as well as live with the utilities shut off.

Hite talks about shared sacrifice. Everyone else has sacrificed a lot especially the students. You have well over 5,000 people who are now out of work while teachers have a way of making an income. A lot of these former employees couldn’t find jobs and after their unemployment ran out they had to go on Welfare.

These people had to surrender their means of feeding their families or keeping a roof over their heads. Teachers claim that they want to set an example for their students and their own children. Perhaps this will be a good place to start. Or you can continue to follow Jordan and end up in the same place as your former fellow employees.

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