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SRC budget vote to draw protests

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks
 

After months of maneuvering, the School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $2.55 billion operating budget for the 2012-13 school year, including a projected $218 million gap that will likely be plugged through deficit borrowing.

But first, parents, advocates, and labor unions – angry at deep cuts to schools this year and fearful of a new “transformation blueprint” that would radically overhaul public education in the city – are planning to turn out in force to protest.

“We’re not taking it anymore,” said parent Shakeda Gaines, president of the Home and School Association at Finletter Elementary, one of more than 40 schools that will send parent representatives to Thursday’s meeting to stage a “vote of no confidence” in the District’s budget and transformation plan.

The final straw at Finletter, said Gaines, who has three children at the K-8 school in Olney, was when parents “were asked to buy toilet paper for our children to go to school.”

The “vote of no confidence” is being coordinated by Parents United for Public Education and the Philadelphia Home and School Council.

Fifteen organizations, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and student organizing groups Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union, have also signed on to participate in a protest rally outside District headquarters at 4:30 p.m. 

The SRC meeting itself will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad St. An overflow crowd is expected. 

The proposed District budget to be voted on by the commissioners includes another round of cuts to basic services, including the elimination of nearly 100 counselors and the elimination of summer school for the vast majority of students. 

Even so, the District will need to borrow up to $218 million to plug the remaining gap in its operating budget. Spokesman Fernando Gallard said the District intends to ask the State Public School Building Authority to authorize issuance of 20-year bonds next fall.

District officials, however, want to discontinue the practice of borrowing to cover operating costs. At least one prominent ratings agency, Moody’s Investors Service, already considers the District “below investment grade” – essentially, junk bond status – but has indicated that operating deficits in 2012-13 and beyond could lead to further downgrading of the District’s rating. That in turn would drive up borrowing costs.

In order to help close the gap between revenue and expenses in future years, the District is counting on Philadelphia City Council to approve Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed “Actual Value Initiative,” a change to the city’s system for assessing property taxes that would generate an estimated $94 million for the District this year and continue to provide revenue in the future.

To date, however, Council has been resistant, and now there is talk of raising more city money for the District through other means.

No additional city funding this year would mean a gap of $312 million – a “truly unmanageable” amount, according to District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen.

And a one-time influx of funds from a source other than AVI won’t provide the District with the long-term relief it needs, Gallard said.

“It is the District’s position that structural balance can only be reached by having recurring revenues,” he said.

But the city’s final contribution to the District will likely not be settled before Thursday’s vote. Though the SRC is required to adopt a budget by May 31, neither the city nor the state is required to pass a budget until June 30.

It also appears unlikely that the District will have a resolution with its largest blue-collar labor union, SEIU District 1201 Local 32BJ, before Thursday’s vote.

The District has already projected tens of millions in savings from modernizing the custodial, maintenance, and transportation services now provided by 32BJ members, possibly by outsourcing those departments entirely.

Officials from both the District and 32BJ have said negotiations are ongoing.

Teachers’ union president Jerry Jordan, on the other hand, said he will not come back to the bargaining table before the expiration of the teachers’ current contract next year.

“We made a $58 million concession in October 2011,” Jordan said. “We have an agreement and we plan on living up to that agreement.”

Jordan said his members are deeply concerned about both the impact of further school budget cuts and the District’s transformation plan, which he described as “intertwined.”

“By reducing the allocation to schools, cutting back services to children, outsourcing positions, and eliminating vital services, it’s setting up [schools] for failure,” he said.

Jordan said he planned to address the pre-meeting rally, then give testimony against the proposed budget before the SRC.

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Comments (32)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 11:16 am

I heard that the budget vote has been postponed and will not actually occur tonight. Can anyone confirm this?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:31 pm

It has to occur tonight under state law. It will probably be amended when things don't work out with 32BJ, Council doesn't have $94 million more for the District, borrowing ends up costing more than projected and a whole slew of other things go wrong that force more layoffs. /pessimism

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 3:06 pm

They aren't voting on Creighton becoming a Charter tonight!!!! They are voting for budget though....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:38 pm

Every September all of the parents at my daughters school, a K-8 charter that I love, are asked to bring in a bag of supplies. Each parent does their best to contribute tissue, handi wipes for desks, supplies from crayons to white board markers, pencils, paper, etc. I am happy yo do this. I feel lile I am supporting my child, her teacher and her school when I contribute in this small way. As a teacher myself I know how expensive and troublesome needing supplies can be.
I would suggest that Ms. Gains and all parents try and find creative ways to help their childrens financially troubled school rather then demand a change by outside forces that seem unlikely to come.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:10 pm

I believe most parents do both. Even the most engaged parents can't bring more staff to the school for bilingual support, foreign language, AP courses, mentally gifted programs, instrumental music, etc. These parents are fighting for much bigger things than pencils. They're fighting for their kids to have a comparable education to what I had at my private school and I commend them for it.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:51 pm

with all due respect, we need more parents like Ms. Gains to take a stand and announce that enough is enough. the govenor needs to stop playing tea party, get his priorities straight, go back to the drawing board and fund public education. i'm sure his fracker friends, whom he refuses to tax, aren't wanting for copy paper or toilet paper. polite acceptance of the status quo won't change anything. these people have no shame.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 10:21 pm

I'm not advocating polite acceptance of the status quo but there are small problems, toilet paper, that can be solved. I think as a state we should find, nominate and then elect legislatures that would share the wealth of the state equally among school districts. Wealthy suburbs have great schools with all the stuff we all want our kids to have and the broke cities are left fighting for crumbs. Furthermore, we could really stretch our imaginations and consider a reality where the private school families have to send their kids to public schools. I'm sure they could employ some political capital to effect radical and fast change to this broken system. Our schools are, for the most part, racially and economically segregated which seems to me to be the root of the problem. How are we going to solve that? I'm not being rhetorical.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 10:22 pm

President Obama could set an example. The Obama children go to Sidwell Friends School which is one of the most prestigious schools in the US. His children do not take PSSA type exams, sit through 7 step lessons, nor worry about toilet paper in their bathrooms. If President Obama would send his children to DC public schools, he might realize "Race to the Top" is inequitable and No Child Left Behind is destroying public education. (President Obama also did not attend public schools...)

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:33 pm

Which charter school are we talking about here? Do you know how much the CEO and executive officers are making? Do you know who they are paying rent to and for how much? Do you know what other contracts are extended to outside entities that may be connected to the CEO and board of trustees? Such as management fees? Do you know where your children's money is really going?

It is illegal for charter schools to ask for "contributions" from parents for things which they should be supplying!

There is no reason parents should be asked to chip in beyond what is normal for parents to supply. A school bag, notebook, notebook paper, pencil and pens. Maybe some markers, too, and some kleenex when your child needs them.

There is no charter school which is hurting for money because they are underfunded.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 2:44 pm

Charter schools, in fact, do not receive as much per student as district schools. The district is allowed to hold back a small percentage of the per-student allotment given to charters for administrative costs. So, they are hurting for money, just like all of the other publicly funded schools in the city.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 2:29 pm

I can't find the link but I swear I remember reading that Philly charters have a TON of money in reserves. They may be hurting but only enough to cry poor to get parents and donors to chip in!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 2:05 pm

Charters don't pool money - individual charters create and approve budgets to pay for facilities, staff and faculty, and have to do so at less per capita than district schools. I would hope that a well-run charter (like any well-run organization) would have some cash reserves for an emergency and to ride out the ebb and flow of getting paid by the district.

Some schools associated with outside foundations or donors might have additional revenue. Most charters will also do fundraising, but I would guess they are suffering the same downward trend in donations that almost all non-profits have been facing in the last several years in addition to seeing their funds cut along with the district's.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on May 31, 2012 2:02 pm

Charter schools receive more money per student than individual district schools. The cost per pupil in regular district schools is because of the huge amounts of money wasted on central administration and mismanagement centrally. The amount of money that actually reaches the school is less than charter schools.

The bottom line is where is the charter school's money really going? I will bet you lunch at your favorite restaurant that your charter school does not publish its budget publicly and account publicly for where every cent goes. It should at least account to you because it is your child's money and it is supposed to be functioning as a "public school" for the sole purpose the best interests of its pupils.

I am sure your charter school is a good school because it has "teachers" in it who care about their students and parents who have the wherewithal to get their children into a charter school. Every school I know has a core of excellent teachers who really care about their students.

So what is the name of your charter school?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 2:07 pm

Well, I think it's important to note that your definition of getting more money is getting less money but not "wasting" as much of it as the district does. I'm not sure why that's a strike against charter schools.

My children attend Independence Charter School. Board meeting minutes are posted on the website and usually involve discussions revenues and expenditures. I can't find a budget posted, but I'm sure I could obtain one if I asked. I do know that they commission regular financial audits and recently went through the Middle States accreditation process. I should also note that board meetings are open to the public.

ICS has great teachers - wonderful teachers and administration that create a safe environment for learning.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 1, 2012 9:08 am

I looked into this and found out that copies of the budget are available by request, and printed copies are usually available at the board meetings, which are open to the public.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 1, 2012 9:49 am

Have you actually looked at it, and does it make sense to you? ICS looks like it is an immersion school (which is pretty neat I think). Also, how does the school deal with behavior issue students; Does it have any of these?

The dilemma with charters and now the contemplated move to "Achievement Networks" is the trade off between greater autonomy and diminished pooled resources. I agree 440 has a reputation for greater waste; however the District's Instrumental Music instruction program is a model of efficiency. Does ICS also provide instrumental music instruction? How is the dance program (listed on the website)? What need if any does it fill in the neighborhood where it resides?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 6, 2012 4:42 pm

I have not looked at the budget, so I can't comment on that. As I mentioned earlier, financial disbursements and revenues are discussed and voted on in public meetings. I haven't been given reasons to not trust the process, unlike some charter schools that have been in the news.

As far as behavioral incidents, I don't have much experience with that either. From the experience with my kids, it doesn't seem like they have any, and the ones I've been aware of seemed to have been communicated appropriately. I do know that there is due process for dealing with incidents, and I'm pretty sure that expulsion or suspension is a board-level decision.

ICS does not have a musical instrument program, although they have hands-on participation built into the music program. Dance/movement seems to be their answer to PE, adjusted to their limited facilities.

The neighborhood question is interesting. I think it was originally conceived as a neighborhood school, but the realities of the charter school law don't really make that possible. Since its second year, there have been more applications than open slots, which means that admission goes to a lottery system. They have students from 40+ zip codes. One upside I see to this is that my children go to school with a very diverse group of students who represent pretty much any demographic you can think of - income, class, race and ethnicity. As for the immediate neighborhood, ICS purchased the old Durham school building, which had been closed by the district, renovated it and put it back into use.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 8, 2012 7:51 am

Thanks for taking the time to respond. Your answers reflect what is most parents' perspective. Budget details (so long as there isn't a crisis) are usually not delved into, mostly for lack of time. Notably, lack of time is greater when the commute to school is longer. Though understandable, it is not ideal, because in rare cases of abuse there is no check, and it robs the school of valuable caregiver input.

The criticism that charters can remove kids with behavior issues looks to be a valid one. For parents/caregivers whose kids don't fall into this category, and for enabling traditional classroom instruction, it is a plus. From a policymaker's or general public's perspective however, it results in excluding students who most need instruction/resources, and thus defeating the very purpose of public education. There has to be a better solution.

You should inquire about the possibility of establishing an instrumental music program, and/or a vocal music program. There is a great benefit in having to translate abstract music notation into physical (and emotional) reality and directly seeing the results of persistence and discipline. Having such programs be part of a public education is essential as the cost of renting instruments and private or even semi private lessons is prohibitive for a lot of families. My point in bringing up this instruction was that currently instrumental teachers are deployed very efficiently in the District through a central office, where one instructor teaches at several schools. Decision makers need to realize that with greater "school based administration", this pooled resource/advantage will be lost. The evidence is that most charters can't offer this.

Dance is great. It also teaches discipline, persistence, and focus, and, as all arts instruction, self connectedness and communication. I would hope to see this instruction in all public schools someday. Again, a central administration would more easily enable this to happen in a greater number of schools. Instrumental music is perhaps more cerebral. Certainly I have seen the direct benefit in my younger son's ability to deal with challenging academics. He and his classmate, also fellow orchestra mate (who is African American), tested into honors Mandarin next year.

Being a language immersion school, ICS needs to exist as a charter right now. As several commenters wrote here, it is not these schools that the main objection is to; rather the charter operators or the ones whose main motive is profit.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on May 31, 2012 9:29 pm

The toilet paper offensive...such a novel approach. What a money-saver that would be applied to all levels of government! Corbett could set an example by banning TP in all state office buildings and donating the savings to the charter schools run by his cronies and fundraisers. Maybe we should ban toilets altogether. Think of the savings in water and cleaning supplies...and it would be a great boost for the adult diaper business as well.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 12:34 pm

Please be a fair reporter, Benjamin.

"from modernizing the custodial, maintenance, and transportation services currently provided by 32BJ members"

Calling what the District plans to do modernizing is incorrect. They plan to cut costs. Period. I don't have a strong opinion about their attempts to cut wages--I like good wage jobs but I also think the district needs services at a competitive cost--but I do know that we should not pretend it is modernization.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 3:42 pm

Charter schools receive less than district schools. This is a well documented fact. Administrative, construction, and facilities costs are paid for by the charter from one pot of money. Keep in mind that charters cannot raise taxes, are not able to go to City Council or the state for additional funds if they mismanage, and are held accountable for the spending practices of their host district. Because of this, it is fiscally responsible that charters have reserve funds.

Regarding administrative salaries, the average charter school CEO salary in 2010 was equal to or less than the average secondary Principal salary in Philadelphia. Principals are not responsible for legal, human resources, fundraising, compliance, or governance issues in the school. Principals also do not have work with construction funding and other issues reserved for central office staff.

One final thought. In past generations, when economic times were tough (at home or in organizations), people knew that money had to be saved by spending less. When a parent lost a job or had unexpected bills, the family didn't go out to eat, by unnecessary items, or spend at the same levels. This life lesson was passed down to children. What lesson are we teaching children when in the midst of economic turmoil, our simple solution is to ask for more money? Where's the money that people want to be given to schools? A few years ago, the district had a $300 million bail out. Stimulus funds were then made available as another bail out. Yet, we are in a bad fiscal situation and simply look for more money to spend. Does this make any real sense?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 3:02 pm

If every public school district employee was a crackerjack, every student was on or above grade level, the right wing powers that be would find a way to privitize
public education. Their neofacist objective is to put and end to the entire public sector altogether and to use your tax dollars to further enrich corpoorations and the1%.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 3:30 pm

When faced with facts, respond with rhetoric.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 31, 2012 4:59 pm

when the power that be (bankers, financiers, 1%ers, whatever) were in distress, there were trillions - trillions with a capital T - that they made available to themselves to fend off the wolf at the door. they went shopping with interest-free, risk-free money (they had absolutely nothing to lose) and bought valuable assets at 10 cents on the dollar and made multibucks while joe schmoe sat helplessly by and watched his assets (house, 401-K, pension, job prospects) tumble in value with no where to turn for help. if you want to buy into their groupspeak that the nation is broke and there's no money for anything for the masses, you go right ahead. just realize which side's putting out the rhetoric. there are choices being made every day where the money will flow and those choices are being made with little regard for the little guy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 9:27 pm

great post. 99% of us little guys can all come together and be far stronger than the 1%. All I know is there were an awful lot of cars going by 440 honking their horns in support. The 99% can win this fight. Let's keep the momentum going. Let's keep the pressure on. Let's organize all city unions to come together and march up Broad Street together.
We can not and will not stand for privatization of OUR public schools!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 1, 2012 9:46 pm

This isn't the 99% vs. the 1%. In fact, a small percent of the population is subjected to Philly schools. Plenty of suburban Districts are okay, they pay their teachers well and have adequate funding. Plenty of people in Philly send their kids to private schools. A relatively small percentage of the regional population cares about Philly schools because a relatively small percentage of the regional population cares about poor mostly minority students. Most of the middle class parents I've talked to about educational choices 1) move to a rich catchment to get ther kids into Meredith/Penn Alexander/etc. 2) move to the suburbs or 3) stick their kids in private schools. These are not the 1%, they're around median income levels and they don't care about public education because many of them have fled from it (at least in Philly).

Submitted by Ken Derstine on June 1, 2012 9:22 pm

You are wrong about suburban schools being OK. I suggest you follow the Keystone State Education Coalition blog at
http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.blogspot.com/
to see what is going on in Pennsylvania.

Look at this video from Upper Darby: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh8RNhMo4Ks&feature=plcp

Check out this article in the Lehigh Valley Morning Call:
Financial outlook for Pennsylvania schools in crisis stage, survey shows
http://tinyurl.com/cubqvma

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 4:39 pm

We don't need AVI. The city has already raised property taxes 3 times in the last 3 years. We need concessions from these public unions, such as having them pay for half of their healthcare costs, just like everyone in private industry does.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 31, 2012 7:11 pm

Everyone in private industry does not pay half in health insurance.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 1, 2012 9:10 am

True, but costs are usually shared, and there are often a range of choices, so that employees can choose lower-cost plans to save money, or choose plans with a higher cost and share in those additional costs. Additionally, costs are usually changed yearly to reflect increases, again sharing the burden of insurance costs.

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParents (not verified) on June 1, 2012 9:41 am

For those who are bashing on the unions, you should now what you are talking about before you speak. Teachers and all members of PFT DO pay a portion of there health benefits. Don't know where you are getting your information, but it is incorrect. They pay a heck of a lot more that the tools at 440.

What concerns me the most, is they say they are cutting costs at 440, but there are still done of deputy superintendents that do absolutely nothing....and they don't pay towards their health benefits ;-p, yet at my son's school they have cut the classroom assistants for kids with special needs from 6 to 1. Yes 1 classroom assistant for a K-8 school with over 600 children. But, it's all about the kids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 1, 2012 11:19 am

If we had a progressive president in office we would most likely have either a public option or single payer health care by now, and a good portion of the district's
financial distress would have evaporated.

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