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Commentary: The choice before the SRC on May 31

By Ron Whitehorne on May 29, 2012 05:22 PM

In one community hearing and meeting after another, the School Reform Commission has been told in no uncertain terms that its privatization plan and austerity budget are not acceptable to parents, students, educators, and community members.

In response, the SRC decided to defer a vote on its plan to farm out school management, the so-called "achievement networks," till next year. By law, the SRC must adopt a budget by May 31, and there is little question about what it will look like. Without the authority to raise revenue, the SRC is compelled to either cut or borrow more money.

At least two commissioners, Lorene Carey and Feather Houstoun, when pressed by students at a community meeting at Girls' High last week, agreed that they would go to Harrisburg to fight for more funding. But they said they would go as individuals. It appears that contracting out blue-collar jobs, expanding charter enrollment, and closing schools remain key SRC objectives.

By associating themselves with a slash-and-burn budget and a privatization plan that puts Philadelphia in the vanguard of corporate-sponsored school reform, the SRC, which is already compromised as an appointed body created by the state, has lost more credibility with school stakeholders. 

On May 31, the commissioners have a choice. They can either forfeit their remaining moral authority by passing this budget, or they can take steps to respond to popular protest. Here are some options:

  • Commit to a comprehensive effort to find more funding at every level in conjunction with community allies and other distressed school districts around the state. This should include looking at tax reform that will raise a greater share of revenue from corporations and the wealthy, payments in lieu of taxes from well-endowed nonprofits, and de-funding expensive prison construction. Renegotiating the District's huge debt with banks and bondholders should also be on the table.

  • Open the books. Appoint a community-labor advisory board that could review the budget in detail and consider all possibilities for savings.

  • Agree to work with District unions to find short-term solutions to the District’s fiscal problems that respect collective bargaining and retain union jobs.

  • Create a broad-based committee of stakeholders that will develop criteria for school closures in a transparent way. 

  • Halt all work by the Boston Consulting Group until the reports and their recommendations to date are shared with the public. The work they are performing is a public process and no additional consulting work on the transformation plan should take place without public discussion and a vote by the SRC.

  • Initiate a broad-based process in which parents, students, teachers, and citizens have a voice in shaping a plan that addresses how schools and the District should be managed.

  • Institute a moratorium on the conversion of traditional public schools to charters. Commit to supporting neighborhood schools as the bedrock of a public school system.

With many organizations mobilizing to bring people to the May 31 SRC meeting to press the fight against privatization and for full funding, the commissioners will have to make their decision in the glare of public scrutiny.

Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, an alliance of students, parents, school workers, educators, and community organizations, has come together in response to the school crisis and has issued a call for people to rally at District Headquarters at 4:30 p.m. Fifteen organizations have signed on, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Unite Here Local 634, Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, Teacher Action Group, Parents United, ACTION United, Fight for Philly, and several groups affiliated with Occupy Philadelphia. 

Comments (15)

Submitted by teachmyway (not verified) on May 29, 2012 6:00 pm

A bunch of crap to get Corbet and Nutter away from fully funding city schools and paying people that work in these schools what they should be paid. I am a teacher, and I expect to be paid and be paid well. like my friend said, people tend to think when y ou teach you do it because you love children, but teachers are no different that doctor and other professionals, we are prepared to do a job and we should be paid accordingly. I do not agree with corporate dipping into the education profession for the benefit of CEO's using tax payer money.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 30, 2012 11:38 am

And if the kids are not learning, should you still be paid the same amount as when they are?

The reason my kids did o.k. on the PSSAs is because of work we did outside of the PSD. (I have the proof of "before and after" scores). Plus I have not been to see a doctor (for various financial reasons) for 15 years now; Unlike putting my children into school (public since I can't afford private),I am not required by law to employ a doctor.

Here is the irony: the State requires that children attend school, yet it is the State that is disregarding its responsibility to fund the schools so they can be financially viable. The criticism that union/tenure led mediocrity as well as inefficient/misappropriated use of taxpayer money targeting the poor exist will continue to fuel the movement to charters/privatization. Unless this criticism can be adequately addressed there is no stopping this movement, because no other real alternative has been proposed.

My suggestion is to use the recently granted "Race to the Top" money PA acquired to better its teacher evaluation system concurrent with creating a real watchdog entity composed of reps from organizations such as Parents United, Teacher's Union, etc to anwer directly to the SRC. Also, middle management can be streamlined using technology. This might give a real alternative to charter schools, while still preserving the shared resource and political lobbying advantages that the District currently has.

Also, the SRC needs to look into opening the buildings that are not used to capacity to lease use by businesses that do not interface with lots of "strangers" daily, businesses such as law firms, certain nonprofits, code shops, etc. Use that EIC (Education Improvement Credit) where a business can get (State of PA) tax credit (75%) of what they pay to the District :) and still be able to deduct the expense on their Federal returns :) :) This credit was obviously created to favor those "in the know" - so why can't we use it?

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on May 30, 2012 12:07 pm

I commend you for your work with your children so that they are successful. It proves that it takes parental involvement to help children succeed. If a student is not learning, it is not always the teacher's fault. There many other factors that play into children not learning. So I do feel that competent teachers should get paid the same regardless of their students' scores on standardized tests.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 30, 2012 1:51 pm

I agree with you that there are many factors that will prevent children from learning, and I understand that there are many competent teachers whose students don't do well on standardized tests. Thus I agree that pay should not be based solely on this. However, how would you recognize teachers who put in extra effort then, if all are paid the same? Or (restated), is it fair to the competent teachers if the less competent teachers are paid the same? Is there enough incentive outside of pay (as teachmyway would imply there is not) to teach effectively?

You had to feel sorry for Mittster Romney when he said that factors outside the classroom were more influential on a child's learning achievement... well then Mittster, the solution is (not a Republican one) outside the classroom: How about sharing some of your wealth so that families are equally able to support their kids?

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on May 30, 2012 2:49 pm

Teachers do not get into the profession for the pay, they are in it because they want to work with and educate children. So there is enough incentive outside of pay. To recognize extraordinary teachers with a "thank you" or "nice job" goes a long way when most teachers in the SDP are bullied by administrators who use scare tactics.

I believe that there needs to be more opportunities for the less fortunate families to succeed - which does not correlate to "sharing" wealth. I don't have an idea as to how to create more opportunities, but hopefully one day someone will.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 30, 2012 3:01 pm

I would say/agree that the majority of teachers that I have had the privilege of working with are like you. Parents/caregivers do notice and are grateful for those who put in the exra effort - THANK YOU from me!

By "sharing wealth", I don't mean having what you have worked for taken away from you; I mean contributing to the common good by supporting social welfare programs and yes, maybe just a little more in taxes if you are of the 1% wealthiest. Mr. Romney contradicted his party's platform when he asserted that class size makes no difference, that factors such as family support override... meaning that only changing family support will make a difference, and how else would you increase that except by directly employing them/guaranteeing jobs (obviously tax cuts for the rich do not increase jobs), or increasing social welfare programs?.

Opportunities are a combination of individual enterprise and how optimistic public/consumer sentiment is. Government policy has a huge influence on the latter, therefore it can increase or decrease opportunities for all.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 29, 2012 8:37 pm

As usual -- excellent post. I really like your notion of "moral authority" and your point that the SRC will forfeit its moral authority if they just pass the privatization plan and do not respond to the protests of the public voice.

Trust formation is the most important element of effective leadership and credibility is the foundation of leadership and effective school governance. Once credibility and trust are lost, it is usually never recovered.

It is quite clear that the true stakeholders within the Philadelphia school community, have no trust in the Boston Consulting Group and the privatizers who have descended upon our community to impose their agenda upon us.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 30, 2012 11:20 am

Hi Rich, it might be hard to fight a deficit with just "moral authority". I would suggest that someone point out that School Based Administration as seen when Weighted Student Funding was being fitted to the District, has some very serious drawbacks. Charters can be seen as implementing the SBA model which uses WSF. The weighted model was found in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District to result in uneven distribution of resources favoring the more well off/politically connected schools. They returned to the template model.

The advantages that the District has with greater pooled resources (evidence that many charters don't have instrumental music programs, and that per student expenditure as low as $5,555 at Central can allow expenditure as high as $12,100 at Roxborough) would be lost by splitting the District into smaller entities. A better way to increase "high performing seats" would be to use this difference to target the high needs children earlier and with alternative, enriched curriculum. This is only possible with the greater pooled resources that the current unfragmented District has.

The probems of bureaucratic torpor and corruption might be alleviated better by having a watchdog entity created with representatives from organizations such as Parents United, Teacher's Union, etc. that would answer directly to the SRC.

The SRC needs also to take advantage of the money that is available (Race to the Top grant to PA to better teacher eval, Education Improvement Credit (State credit to businesses that donate to the schools)) to develop technology solutions to streamline management (specifically middle) costs. This in conjunction to giving real power to the caregivers and community in the watchdog body.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 30, 2012 11:32 am

I need to clarify that SBA does not necessarily use WSF, but both are based in the same reform ideology. The paper by the League of Women Voters for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District also identified other problems with the implementation of this ideology, which we now see with the charters. There was loss of standardization which made it hard to lobby lawmakers for greater funding.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 29, 2012 8:39 pm

By the way, everyone should be aware that BCG is now managing offices and projects within the district. This goes beyond their "consulting" role, I believe, does it not?

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 30, 2012 12:23 am

Can you be more specific? What offices and where? what specific projects?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 30, 2012 10:10 am

Can we get more information on what, specifically, BCG is doing?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 30, 2012 11:59 pm

City Council needs to ask all directors to testify on who has been guiding their work since April. Testimony will be covered by the PA whistleblower statutes.

I would love to think we could be so principled as Hope Moffitt and speak loudly and freely, but many of us have mouths at home to feed (and health insurance to carry).

Submitted by SOS 60 on May 29, 2012 9:28 pm

Thanks, Ron. Always thoughtful, always constructive, speaking truth to power.

Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on May 30, 2012 10:35 am

Teachers, counselors, nurses: the time to sit idly and complain while finding it "inconvenient" to protest is long gone. Step up tall and make whatever childcare or other arrangements you have to make for tomorrow. Take a cue from our brothers and sisters in maintenance and transportation who mounted a protest of thousands last week. We ALL need to descend en masse on 440. Walk your talk! I will be there with every single person from my school that I can cajole or shame into accompany me. Who is with us if we do not unite ourselves? NOW is the time; there are no more chances.

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