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Council members question Ramos about seeking more state aid

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 8, 2012 10:27 AM

Evening update: A huge crowd turned out at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church on Cheltenham Avenue this evening for a forum about the District budget and transformation plan. Three top officials - Pedro Ramos, Thomas Knudsen, and Penny Nixon - responded to pointed questions and concerns and heard speeches criticizing the plan. More details Wednesday.

Late afternoon update: School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos, under persistent questioning from City Councilman Bill Green on whether Ramos specifically asked the Corbett administration for more revenue, said that both the state and local systems for funding education are "broken." 

But Ramos didn't put a number on any request from the SRC to the governor for additional funds to help close the gap of more than $200 million expected in 2012-13, which is partly the result of a sharp drop in state aid this year.

"We’ve asked the governor for support ... including relief on the expense side that can be as great or greater than $94 million on the revenue side," said Ramos, speaking of help with pension obligations. "We are asking the governor to work with the SRC on fiscal sustainability, but this can't be done in quick sound bites.

"We're working through two systems that are broken....that's why we're here."

Green and other Council members said that Ramos and Feather Houstoun, as Corbett appointees, should have leverage to ask for more state aid.

"He is your appointing authority," Green said.

Councilman Wilson Goode suggested that it might be time for a return to a mayorally appointed board of education if the state was not willing to step up in a funding crisis.

And Councilman Jim Kenney asked whether Council would get a chance to interview prospective superintendent candidates. Ramos said yes.

"I hate to provide all these resources and then go down the road we just went down," Kenney said, speaking of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. "I'm just asking for a chance to get a feel for the person."

SRC member Lorene Cary talked about plans to improve school climate by focusing on prevention.

Cary called children "exquisite" and said the key to improving their behavior is for adults to change their behavior.

"There are very few incorrigible children," she said. She called practices that lead to high numbers of expulsions and "pushout" to discipline schools "deeply disrespectful."

Cary got some pushback from Councilmen Darrell Clarke, Curtis Jones, and Kenyatta Johnson, who recounted their own experiences in school. Jones talked about a classmate named Ray-Ray who was the bane of his existence.

"When he was sent to Catto [a discipline school], it was the happiest day of our lives," Jones said.

Cary said that there would be a three-day summer institute for principals and one day for teachers to learn about best practices in improving school climate, including such approaches as Positive Behavior Supports. 


Morning and early afternoon update:

Ramos: Reorganization proposal not a 'done deal'


School Reform Commission Chair Pedro Ramos told City Council on Tuesday that the reorganization plan calling for 40 school closures next year and reorganizing schools into achievement networks is not a ''done deal."

Nor, he said is it a "mask for privatization of our system" or ideologically "pro-charter."

At the same time, Ramos reiterated that school closings are "long overdue" and that the School District needs to become more responsive.

"The system we have is not responsible or effective in meeting the real-time, real-world need for quality education for all kids," he said.

A budget and five-year financial plan forecasting that charter schools will ultimately educate 40 percent of the city's public school students "are not prescribing an outcome, merely forecasting realistically," Ramos said.

Achievement networks of 20 to 30 schools, he said, represent an effort to move from an "inflexible bureaucracy" to a "performance-based service model that is accountable to not just the superintendent, but to the schools it is supposed to serve."

He said that "we know that we have much more work to do to define how this should function – work that can only be done in partnership with the community." He later added that the District wants to get feedback from principals on how best to support schools.

Ramos, as a prelude for asking Council to approve a property reassessment change that would bring $94 million to the School District, said that the reorganization plan "is a proposal only, open to be changed." Through public meetings, he said, "the SRC will continue to make the voice of the community an important influence over our decisions."

City Council President Darrell Clarke pressed Ramos about why the SRC assumed $94 million would come from City Council while not assuming more money from the state. He and other council members wanted to know what the SRC is doing to get more state dollars.

Ramos said that the District's "advocacy effort will continue and we’ll continue to figure out every place they can help us," but for planning purposes, the $94 million was included because the mayor has asked for it.

Councilman Bill Green wanted an unequivocal answer that the additional investment and planned reorganization would result in "better outcomes for children."

Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon said she couldn't do that until the plan was complete.

"So you are asking us to invest in something you can't clearly say will improve outcomes for children," Green countered.

Ramos interjected that the SRC is asking for help getting through the next fiscal year and that "what's clear is that not doing it makes it worse."

He added, "We are in a time-sensitive battle here for the future of the city and the future of the schools."

As the afternoon drew on, Council members got more specific in asking about the District's borrowing capacity.

Councilman Mark Squilla asked Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen whether the District thinks it could borrow more money than the $218 million that is now on the table to balance the 2012-13 budget. Squilla wants to put off for a year the tax reassessment plan that the District is counting on for $94 million in extra revenue.

Knudsen responded: "I think the capacity is there for that, not sure how much beyond that. That’s what we’re struggling with now."

Knudsen and Ramos said that the markets are mostly concerned about the system's long-term fiscal sustainability, which is why they need some assurances of a stable funding source.

City Council is continuing to ask questions, and the hearing will continue through the afternoon. Follow the #phillyeducation hash tag for reporting and reaction from the meeting.

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Comments (35)

Submitted by Arnold (not verified) on May 8, 2012 2:17 pm

Truth is Pedro has been a sellout and everybody who knows him, knows that. In addition, his conflict of interests issues, is the proverbial elephant in the kitchen. If it's up to Pedro, Nutter and Corbett, it's all a done deal. Can you say, kickbacks??

Submitted by EILEEN DIFRANCO (not verified) on May 9, 2012 11:54 am

The SRC, the city and the state "broke" the school district by deliberately underfunding it. They are now in the process of starving the schools into submission. How can it be that the people in charge of education rename failed educational ventures such as charter schools (where only 17% outperform the local public school and where CEO's earn handsome salaries, all taxpayer money) and call them "best practices?" City after city is learning that privatizing education has not worked and yet Phila. is traveling down that path magically thinking that it will work here. It reminds me of the SCR's hiring of Ackerman after she bombed in two other school districts. Somehow, these "business" people thought that she could lead our SD. The SCR, which does not think it is accountable to the parents, the children, and the residents of the City of Philadelphia are trying to shove a poorly conceived plan down our throats. They have hired financial people who know nothing about education to come up with a plan in which children are clearly counting for nought. Our mayor has said that we need to get used to living within our means. Why is it that poor children are the only group of people who must engage in belt tightening? Mr. Mayor, do you know we are talking about children? Does anyone know that we are talking about children?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 12:11 pm

You seem very naive. This is all about money, any way, they can make it even if it means ripping off the poor to give to the rich---THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT KIDS. Why you don't get that is stunning. It's time to get mad and fight back not to keep being shocked over and over and over and over and over !!!

Submitted by EILEEN DIFRANCO (not verified) on May 9, 2012 12:06 pm

My friend, I've been doing "something" since Dec. 27. I am one of the nurses who began the "Occupy 440" demonstrations. I've been outside 440 almost every Wednesday. Perhaps you'd like to join us? I'm not the least bit naive, by the way.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 1:52 pm

I'm going by YOUR comments and believe me they appear naive at best. You seem to STILL be looking for the silver lining or a common thread and there isn't any. Our focus is kids and theirs is money. I also have joined the nurses 3 times by the way. How many times do you have to be smacked in the face, before you resist it?? The problem begins with ALEC and other BIG MONEY organizations and that mentality filters down to Pedro and Nutter etc. I STILL believe we will triumph but it will be ugly. Keep both eyes focused on Wisconsin.

Submitted by EILEEN DIFRANCO (not verified) on May 9, 2012 1:19 pm

Perhaps you need to be out there every week and hear what we say.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 1:44 pm

Take Care--I know what you say but they just laugh at your words. They need to feel pressure and they will at some point but words alone ain't goin to do it. Sorry about that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 5:35 pm

Lorene Cary's statements about discipline seem naive. She doesn't understand how many students are pushed out of the schools because they can't stand the bullies in their classes. They would rather drop out than face the abuse. She should think about it from the view of the well behaved kids - thank you to Darrell Clarke for providing the reality check.

Submitted by Arnold (not verified) on May 8, 2012 6:22 pm

Yes, it's hard to believe a person of color from the inner city, is that out of touch.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on May 9, 2012 7:45 am

Cary is in outer space. Crystals and granola will fix everything. Please. How many years did she work in Philadelphia public schools? Was it zero years?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 6:39 pm

Ms. Carey had absolutely nothing meaningful to say. Her naiveté was stunning. And she is in charge of the SRC's safety committee. God help us.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 8:53 pm

Are you assuming Mrs. Cary is from the inner city because she is African American? According to her book her family moved to Upper Darby when she was in elementary school and she went to High school at a prestigious out of state school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:34 pm

Before moving to Upper Darby, her family lived in West Philly and she attended Lea Elementary. You seem not to have actually read her book.

Submitted by Arnold (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:47 pm

Dude--Born in West Phila. until they moved when she was 13--check your facts, Skippy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:48 pm

Ms. Cary's parents were teachers. I believe she grew up in Yeadon and, went to St. Paul's boarding school in Vermont and then the Univ. of PA for college. One of her books is about her experience as the 2nd African American to attend the boarding school.

That said, her comments were a bit naive. Just as there are some adults with mental health issues, there are some children with mental health issue that aren't solved with a hug. While the "success academy" is one approach to addressing students who don't want to be in school and make things miserable for everyone else, it isn't the only solution. It is what Aspira uses at Olney and Stetson - the more difficult students are on a separate floor and sit in front of a computer most of the day. I assume they are stigmatized because they are segregated from the other students.

I assume students who commit arrestable offenses (e.g. aggravated assault, weapons, drugs, etc.), are sent to discipline schools like "Cato" (Miller), Boone, etc. (I know a few students at Boone who are there because they beat up another student to the point of requiring stitches, hospitalization, etc.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:16 pm

The district has its own disciplinary schools.

The rest of the district would love to forget this fact.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:19 pm

Positive behavior supports are great, BUT they take personnel--People COST MONEY! When they are cutting counselors, parent/attendance support positions, NTAs, etc....., there is NO chance that PBS can work.

Submitted by Arnold (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:57 pm

And that's by design, of course !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:14 pm


We keep stupidly operating under the assumption that our bosses want the school district to work.

They don't. I don't know how they can make it any clearer.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2012 9:59 pm

Good to know that the alternative region of this district is treated like garbage, an afterthought, a dumping ground for everyone's problems is because even the SRC considers students with disciplinary problems to be either 1) the bane of their existence or 2) students who should not be expelled.

Apparently nobody on the SRC knows what an alternative school is, or is supposed to be.

This explains so, so, so much about AD-4 and the treatment of students with disciplinary problems. There is no clear attempt by the district to educate these students. The teachers try, try, try, and try some more. Unfortunately, they are set up to fail. When they still don't fail, they make working in AD-4 even more untenable. When they still don't fail, they shut down the programs anyway to justify expanding "private providers."

This district's administration creates its own problems, and then cries foul.


Submitted by Trish (not verified) on May 8, 2012 10:53 pm

10 years ago, we had the ABLE Academies, disciplinary schools--6 of them. Downtown wouldn't support them so they closed down--a case of working very well but not politically supported.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 4:08 am

20 years ago I taught at Miller - one of 4 discipline schools run by the SDP (Miller, Boone, Shawcross, Allegheny). There was never more than a school counselor - no extra psychologists, social workers, NTAs, etc. We had a bare bone staff yet were suppose to work with students who had many mental health, socialization, family, etc. issues. Those factors contributed to why they ended up at a discipline school. In 1996, to save money, the SDP decided to close Allegheny, a school for girls, and make the remaining schools co-educational. There was no consideration of the ramifications and no extra supports.

It appears that the SDP now wants to have "in-house" discipline models for any student other than those who are arrested for aggravated assault, drugs, etc. It appears that the SRC either wants the students "with discipline problems" to be in "Success Academies" on computers 24/7 or signed up for a cyber charter 24/7. I don't know if this will provide the academic and social supports students need... City Council, at least Mr. Clark, and Mr. Ramos, seem to be sold on the Aspira model of "Success Academies."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 9:37 am

As many have stated....they are trying to just throw these students away. How very sad!!! We need to educate their parents, they are easy pray because most parents don't even know how the SDP works. Come to think of it, I the SDP itself doesn't even know how they work.

Submitted by Social St. teacher (not verified) on May 9, 2012 9:35 am

"SDP now wants to have "in-house" discipline models for any student other than those who are arrested for aggravated assault, drugs, etc"

Unfortunately, a lot of these In-house programs (ISIP) are housing students who commit these acts as well because schools don't want to raise their suspension numbers. Our school has put students in In-house for agg. assault, being caught w/ drugs in school, not just "small level 1" offenses.
And our Success Ac. attendance is so low it's laughable.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 9:00 pm

Nothing has changed in 20 years. The only reason every kid in AD4 isn't sitting on a computer all day is because the teachers refuse to do it.

Although, it will be interesting to see who they get to work there next year. They've thoroughly driven out everyone who actually wants to work with this student population.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 9:50 am

I want to see a walk through team teach in my AD-4 school.
They walk through and try to find things wrong with what we are doing....we have a great staff who work hard. We are making a difference, but the district needs to open their eyes and realize the kids we are teaching come to us not even knowing how to read.
The children we teach should be in small classes, instead, we have 29 yes I said 29 alternative students in one class. How can we truly help these children? I do know that at my school, we work hard EVERY single day to make a difference. Teaching these children how to relate to each other, how to handle all their anger, and loss in their lives is what we should be able to teach. We have to break down all their barriers before they can actually learn....the walk through teams and the administration of this district REFUSE to see that truth. Instead, they tear the teachers apart and it is really sad because we do care about our students. A one size fits all DOES NOT work especially for alternative ed students.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on May 9, 2012 5:56 pm

The SDP should also do unannounced walk-throughs of EVERY CHARTER SCHOOL!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 10:32 pm

Tomorrow it will be 33 of course.

But you know, there's always room for more according to Ben Wright, and the PFT will just say, well, it's alternative.

Let's call the whole thing off.

Submitted by Zach.O on May 9, 2012 1:02 pm

It is sites like these that allow to get an inside glimpse of what is happening in our schools as far as funding goes. It is greatly appreciated that you take the time to share the information that you obtain.


    Sometimes the information coming from the school districts can be less than transparent so it is good to read about the casino en ligne what is really happening.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 2:06 pm

"POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORTS"- Let them practice this at 440 first. Estelle Mathews could have used a lesson along with many others.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on May 9, 2012 5:38 pm

The City should also do its part and start collecting the hundreds of millions of unpaid property taxes. This would help the budget situation a great deal.

Here's a petition:

Submitted by A Concerned Citizen (not verified) on May 10, 2012 7:17 am

This whole thing comes down to how much real, personal pressure Corbett, Nutter, and the SRC are going to feel from the people of Phila. to stop this move to sell our kids to the highest bidder. Hopefully, we will raise hell in ways that they fear. If not, our kids are doomed because we all know or should know, which kids will be left behind. And yes, it's all called racism at it's core. Maybe Jordan is waiting for the right time to unleash the troops or maybe, he's part of ALEC and is sending our kids down the river or more accurately up to the new prisons Corbett is building. In any case, NONE OF THIS IS COMPLICATED--OPEN YOUR EYES.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2012 1:41 pm

Jerry Jordan testified before City Council yesterday. You can read his entire testimony on He is trying to stop the schools from closing and being turned over to Charters and he urged City Council to stop it that it's a waste of taxpayer money like it was under Ackerman.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2012 7:40 pm

A 440 Haiku:

Spring brings BCG
To make numbers look pretty
Yet they say nothing

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 11, 2012 9:13 am

Philadelphia is its own worst enemy. I have read only a few comments that don't just say, "Don't take my piece of the pie."

O.K. so ultimate disaster scenario: the PSD goes bankrupt, and we get to keep our children home for a few days... Well the State then becomes liable for its own legal requirement of educating the kids... hmmm.

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