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Coalition reacts to Hite's plan

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jan 7, 2013 06:41 PM
Photo: Bill Hangley, Jr.

Jerry Jordan (second from right), head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, calls for additional school funding and a halt to school closures outside of Philadelphia School District headquarters. He is flanked by PCAPS members Quanisha Smith of Action United (left), and Anne Gemmel of Fight for Philly (right).

Members of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a group that includes the city’s teachers’ union, say that despite the many promising proposals in Superintendent William Hite’s newly released plan for the Philadelphia School District, the numbers don’t add up.

The coalition responded to Hite’s new plan by reiterating its request for a temporary halt to 37 proposed school closures and by calling for a concerted push by District leaders to secure additional funding for public schools.

Coalition member Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, rejected Hite’s proposal to secure significant additional savings through labor concessions in upcoming contract talks.

“What is the expression? If you want to pay peanuts, get some monkeys,” Jordan said.

The current contract expires in August.

PCAPS members praised Hite for providing a thoughtful, detailed document that considered community input. They spoke approvingly of such strategic priorities as strengthening the curriculum, expanding early childhood education, improving special education and programs for English language learners, and providing  more targeted interventions for troubled students.

However, they expressed skepticism about the savings that school closings will provide.

“Dr Hite is sounding incredibly reasonable, and everything that he puts forth as far as school closings sounds nice. But when you get past the reasonable talking points, the numbers don’t make sense,” said Anne Gemmel, political director at Fight for Philly and a PCAPS member. “We need additional investment, and there are revenue solutions at the state and city level that should be a priority for the city and the District.”

Gemmel said that the projected $28 million in savings from 37 proposed closures won’t amount to much -- about 1 percent of the current deficit -- even in the best-case scenario. What’s more, she said,  transition costs -- such as the cost of new transportation and safety measures for transitioning students, and the cost of maintaining and selling unused buildings -- will most likely eat up much of the projected savings.

District officials said in response that they won’t back off the closure plan.

“The District believes that the recommendations for school closures is the best path towards financial sustainability and academic growth,” said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard in a statement. “We cannot afford to waste further resources on empty seats. We need to place those resources into the classroom.”

Hite, however, has also acknowledged that funding is a challenge the District should address. Hite’s plan notes that the District has become a “bare bones” operation in part because of “historically low levels of state education funding,” and notes that 88 percent of teachers cite “inadequate funds” at the school level as a major obstacle to academic success. The report names “seek additional revenues” as the fifth of six financial goals.

Jordan said either savings or increased funding will be necessary if Hite is to deliver the many improvements proposed in his new plan. “We can’t put in art and music. We can’t provide safety for all children, using an austerity budget,” Jordan said.

But he showed no appetite for wage or benefit cuts for union members.

“Philadelphia’s teachers are paid 13 percent lower than the teachers in the surrounding districts. So I don’t think that’s a place we should be even looking for savings,” Jordan said. “I’m certainly not talking about concessions. That deficit was not created by the teachers and other employees of the school district. That deficit was created by the state-appointed SRC.”

Instead, Jordan says, savings can come from reining in projected charter school expansion. “If you look at the school district’s five-year budget plan, there is an increase of over $300 million over the next four years … to expand charter schools in the city. That $300 million can go into our traditional public schools,” Jordan said. Although Hite plans continued charter conversions of low-performing schools, he said in an interview Friday that he feels charter enrollment in Philadelphia had reached a “saturation point.”

Gemmel said PCAPS is pleased that Hite will continue to sample public opinion about his plan, which lacks a timeline for implementation of its many proposed priorities. District officials call it a “living document” that can change.

“It’s wonderful that [Hite is] going to take community input -- that’s what was missing from the BCG plan,” said Gemmel, referring to the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendations for District reform, released in the spring. “The PCAPS coalition is waiting to see how much input we can have.”

PCAPS members know they have an uphill battle where increased funding is concerned. Asked about the political support for the PCAPS plan, Jordan said, “I don’t know, and we won’t know until we all go there and demand.”

During the weeks to come, the coalition will be organizing community members to testify at the District’s upcoming neighborhood-based meetings on the proposed closures. They also plan to lobby elected officials to back their call for a temporary halt to closures until a “community impact” analysis is done for each.

PCAPS also hopes City Council will soon consider a resolution supporting a temporary halt to the closure plan -- a symbolic measure to be sure, given Council’s lack of direct authority over the District, but one PCAPS hopes would encourage Mayor Michael Nutter and others to more aggressively pursue additional revenue. PCAPS members believe that significant funding opportunities are available that could eliminate the need for the full slate of closures, including local tax reform and an effort to step up collections of unpaid real estate taxes. PCAPS cites reports that as much as $500 million is uncollected.

And although additional money is important, PCAPS also wants to change the basic frame of the debate.

“I’m tired of the conversation, as a parent, of ‘how much less can your kids do with?’” said Gemmel. “I want to have the conversation about how our elected leaders [are] going to do the hard work of finding the revenue that our kids deserve. That’s where we’re trying to push this conversation – away from an austerity frame, into an investment conversation.”

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Comments (24)

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 7, 2013 8:13 pm
Boy oh boy, what a bunch of crap !! The State has a giant excess of cash but not for Philly. Lots of money for prisons and Corbett's charter buddies but not for the poor who need help to even survive. Gee, I wonder how it got this bad !! Oh now I remember, WE elected this slithering, poor excuse for a human who is carpet bombing our kids and any hopes they might have at a real future. Funny, how quiet Nutter is too as he watches the destruction of the people who elected him Mayor.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2013 9:38 pm
As always, thanks for keeping it real Joe!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 5:12 pm
Wow. Are you that naive? Philadelphia voted for Corbett's rival in 2010. Likely, he has written off Philadelphia for support in any reelection bid. Don't you thing these things shape policy?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 5:43 pm
Philly did not vote for Corbett in 2010. Onorato won Philly. Corbett lost Montco, too. The rest of the state voted in Corbett.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 8, 2013 6:23 pm
Speaking about naive, yikes, 63% of registered voters in Philly didn't vote for anybody. That's the point, Skippy. WE sat while Corbett became Gov. What part of this don't you understand?? WE did it !!! Maybe not you or I but collectively WE are to blame. Read more, please.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 7:18 am
7/2012 from Prince George County Public School district had poll to have Hite removed from district & asks how do they clean up the mess he made there: http://pgcpsmess.wordpress.com/tag/corrupt-superintendent-dr-william-hite/
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on January 8, 2013 6:12 pm
Yes, so he's our man for sure !! He's here to do the same thing but on a larger scale. When his usefulness is gone, he'll be sent packing just like Arlene and another "Bum of the month" will slither in. Just gotta love it.
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 8, 2013 10:05 am
How do we stop their plan? Is there anything we can do besides show up to meetings and protest with logic, statistics, and common sense- because those methods do not seem to reach the School District or our elected officials.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 8, 2013 7:02 pm
Speaking of the meeting, how did it go last night at Alcorn? They may not listen very well, but if people keep making noise and protesting, it can't hurt. Change has to come from the bottom up, not the top down. EGS
Submitted by Sally E. (not verified) on January 8, 2013 11:35 am
I'm disappointed that there is no discussion in this about the interest swaps which STOLE money from our school district. Why aren't we demanding "austerity negotiations" with Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo et al who stole money from our children's education????
Submitted by Anne Gemmell (not verified) on January 8, 2013 1:09 pm
With regard to the swaps, the district has not conceded losses on paper as much of the fees are folded into subsequent bond deals. They failed to show up to Councilman Kenney's swaps hearings in person. Conceding it the losses is the first step to filing a lawsuit. However, on a more positive note, they have no new swap on the $300M bond most recently floated. With regard to activist energy, perhaps it is better spent fighting in upcoming state and local tax fairness battles rather than pushing for a lawsuit against banks that the district is unlikely to file. Hite says he is pursuing private Chamber of Commerce investment for our communities. The local Chamber is tightly affiliated with large global banks. Maybe Hite can get them to "donate" to his plan since banks were bailed out and schools are again getting sold out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 1:53 pm
What plan? The only thing I see is lofty goals, and no feasible way of achieving them. Oh, and a warning that they're going to bankrupt teachers, the people responsible for ALL of this. No mention of the fact that nothing will change these schools until the families/neighborhoods change. But then we couldn't possibly mention the reality of the situation, it's not politically correct. What a joke!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 4:47 pm
Katie, I have to disagree with you. Since the organization of PCAPS last spring, we have been able to organize many parents and community members to fight school closings. Dr. Hite seems to be taking some of the alternatives suggested at the meetings seriously. In addition, we were able to delay the SRC's vote on a large part of its five-year plan. An alternative to the BCG plan is getting serious attention. Go to the community meeting in your neighborhood (go to "Facilities Master Plan" on the SD's home page for the schedule). Go to the SRC meeting on January 17 at 5:30 at 440. Contact your Councilperson and ask him/her to support the moratorium on school closings. We cannot give up. There is too much at stake. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 8, 2013 7:14 pm
Lisa, I agree that the protests and grassroots organizing is making a difference. He did take into account some of the PCAPS plan in the Action Plan v. 1 report. He also said that the charters have reached a "natural saturation point." That point alone shows that he appears to have some independent thinking. People have to remind him of what he has said so that it's not just the "school reformers" who are influencing him. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 5:10 pm
Wise Up. The GOP-controlled state government is not going to contribute an additional penny unless the PFT takes a significant hit, whatever the restructuring plan. Forget about the smokescreen over accountability, etc.. This is payback time for decades of bullying by the PEA and PFT. And why should statewide legislators care a fig about Philly students? Their constituents could care less. In essence, this is a hometown problem. Looking for outside help is a distraction.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 11:56 pm
Hite's plan is more of the same crap that doesn't work or address the real issues. SDP needs to place a filter / block on cell phone use in high schools buildings. So much time is wasted on instruction with students, music head/earphones, calls, and texting during class time since they refuse to put them away. Additionally, until the SDP gets real and deals with the discipline,safety,and climate in the schools not much will ever be accomplished. The District always try to sugarcoat this concern. Just blame the teachers for all the problems. Teachers should entertain,(ahh,students are bored, as if, learning should always be fun and not real hard work) engage students more, use more cooperative / group learning activities (which only results in more social talk,copying,and cheating-not collaborative learning), keep motivating students (even though some could careless), pamper and coddle students -- no matter what (even if they are defiant, disruptive or disrespectful to teachers). Administrators get as ridiculous as suggesting teachers call students house to make sure they get to school on time or come at all. You got to be kidding!How would that ever make a student responsible? Students apparently run the schools in Philadelphia and getting worse -not better.Schools in Phila. are so short-handed already.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 9, 2013 12:56 am
"Administrators get as ridiculous as suggesting teachers call students house to make sure they get to school on time or come at all. You got to be kidding!How would that ever make a student responsible?" Why is this unreasonable? It's not reasonable to do every day, but calling a kids house or the parent may work with some kids. It shows that you care. If you can't do it, ask someone at the front desk to call the parent. Doesn't the District have a sophisticated system for dealing with truancy?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2013 1:31 am
In many districts a phone call automatically goes home if a student's not in school. Having teachers do it seems like a way to make it much less mechanical. "Where is Johnny" coming from a homeroom teacher who actually knows Johnny has a much better chances of both being effective and building some rapport with the families.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on January 9, 2013 7:27 am
The SDP does have an automatic phone system available for schools to use. It can do absent notices or other information. Having homeroom teachers call is sometimes just putting one more task on a person who is over-burdened with paperwork and such already. We also have the problem of many phone numbers changing frequently. It is much easier and more efficient to use email, but many people do not have it. It would be great if we had the Parent ombudsmen and student advisors the district cut. They were very helpful in dealing with attendance and other issues.
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on January 9, 2013 7:36 pm
let's make an effort to restore Facebook access in the SDP....bet we could get those unidentified parents then...smile
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 12, 2013 9:50 am
You have no idea what your talking about! I teach two subjects to a total of 100 students. In all I am responsible to grade 200 total students. To ask teachers to call parents and remind them that coming to school is important for their child is absolutely ludicrous! Not to mention there is nobody in the office to make these calls. We are already severely understaffed to begin with. Teachers already show how much we care everyday when we show up to teach our students. Which is more than you can say for most of their parents!! In the end for many students we are the parent, caregiver, nurse, psychologist, and guide! This is the real problem, but our leaders are to afraid to address it for fear of losing votes!!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2013 8:25 pm
To: Education Grad Student To: Education Grad Student The reason it is ridiculous is as mentioned in another blog it is just another unnecessary task for the overburdened Phila. teacher. Ask the front desk to make the call -umm they will look at you like what you do it.Do you have an advisory class ? What was implied by the administrator is calling the students in the morning as a wake-up call. I don't ever remember when I was in high school getting a call from anyone at school in that regard. Yes, I did get automatic call stating I was absent. But that was seldom, because I know I had an intrinsic obligation to attend school daily and not attend 70 out 180 school days. Calls by me are made to parents / guardians for positive and negative feedback. Don't think it's necessary to call for attendance all the time. It once again takes away from instructional or planning time for the teacher. SDP is one of the only Districts I've ever been at that didn't have an attendance officer at the school to deal with all those attendance issues of cuts, excused, unexcused absences, notes, calling, writing letters, reconciliation, etc. It is a full time job and the advisory teacher gets the reward of that extra task. It's not the teachers fault the SDP has budget woes caused by their foolish spending over the years.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 1:06 pm
How is Dr. Hite expanding early childhood education? Where is this in the plan? The Office of Early childhood is eliminating half of Head Start and it's teachers, assistants, and numerous support staff this year( with the rest to follow) and suggesting we follow the children to the daycare centers...the average day care worker has less education and makes a little above minimum wage...teachers are required within 5 years to have a masters and a level 2 certification...we just passed a rigorous federal inspection and now that the leg work was done to receive federal dollars we are thrown to the wind...doublespeak...expansion sounds nice but what is the reality? And this figure of 3000 children on a wait list...has anyone checked this out? I have an opening ...no takers out of 3000? Right...
Submitted by gabriela (not verified) on June 4, 2014 7:37 am
The situation is getting pretty tense. Cutbacks are already very severe...an effort needs to be made to find money some other way. faceti asigurari

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