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Winners and losers in release of new District funding allotments, leveling

Citywide, the number of teaching positions was cut as enrollment dropped further. Schools may try to buy back positions.




The District giveth, and the District taketh away -- at least for some Philadelphia schools.

Principals got a memo Wednesday offering additional per pupil allocations for their schools as a result of the School Reform Commission's move to cancel the teachers' contract and cut health-care costs.

[Update, 10/15: The District has finalized the amounts to be received by schools in this first round. Very few school allocations changed, but the earlier spreadsheet slightly misstated the enrollment at some schools.]

But for many principals, it was no windfall. At dozens of schools, the extra money was accompanied by a decrease in teacher allotment because of “leveling,” or the adjustment of staff size to match actual, instead of projected, student enrollment.

The District promptly released the school-by-school breakdown of additional funds and changes to teacher allotments Thursday afternoon in response to a request from the Notebook.

So instead of simply figuring out what to do with extra money, principals were given less than 24 hours – by close of business Thursday – to provide a memo with “compelling” reasons why they shouldn’t lose staff. The principals are being forced to choose the least bad alternative for reducing staff and then explain why they don't want even to do that.

A “compelling” reason could be that losing one member of the math department, for instance, would mean that some students wouldn’t get the third-year class they needed to graduate. The same case could be made for other required subjects – that there wouldn’t be enough teachers for students to get the courses they need. In the case of foreign languages, some students who have been studying a language and want to take a third year could be denied the opportunity.

Or a principal could argue that a staff member plays multiple roles at the school and losing him or her would result in work not getting done. Or try to make a more general case based on issues of safety and school culture.

Even a small drop in projected enrollment can result in reduced allocations as the District looks for every penny to trim expenses.

According to the memo, the total allotment across the city is being reduced by 24 teachers due to enrollment declines. For some schools, the reduction came in the form of a fraction of a teacher, which could mean, for instance, that a counselor would come for two days instead of three.

But losing 0.8 of a teacher is the functional equivalent of losing a whole person.

Total enrollment now tallies just under 128,000 instead of the 130,000 officials had been projecting. That's a loss of 4,300 students compared to last school year.

The memo describes on what basis the $15 million is being distributed now, noting that the District plans for $15 million more to be distributed in January, and $13.8 million in April. Officials said that the health care benefits changes for teachers imposed on Monday would allow them to put $44 million back in schools.

The memo says that principals can use the additional money to buy back some “teaching resources to minimize the impact on your rosters.”

Other suggested uses include adding instructional time, tutoring, intensive reading interventions, professional development for teachers, behavioral support services to students, and buying instructional materials including more technology.

One principal said the memo came by email at 9:30 p.m. “But it’s not surprising. Every principal thought they were vulnerable. I’m sure District officials don’t like doing this, but there is no alternative.”

According to the document, the Philadelphia High School for Girls is particularly hard-hit, slated to lose 5.6 teachers  – while getting an extra $103,700 through the health-care savings. That is barely enough to keep one of those teachers.

Some schools, though, will be gaining staff and also getting extra funds, which is being distributed based on enrollment and need.

In all, 30 schools will be gaining two or more teaching positions. Counting Girls' High, 34 schools will lose two or more positions.

Schools in the lowest category of academic achievement as measured by the state -- Intervene and Watch schools -- will get $125 per student, and those in the highest categories, $100 per student. This would translate into $60,000 to $75,000 for a 600-student school, the average size for the District.

Some elementary schools are also getting an allocation so they can avoid having a split class, one in which students from two grades are in the same room. But others are losing teachers for the same reason.

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Dale Mezzacappa

Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.