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The city and District funding crisis: Use 2002 as a model for 2013

By the Notebook on May 3, 2013 03:36 PM

by Michael Masch

I am struck by how many supposedly politically sophisticated public school advocates appear to be urging City Council to give the Philadelphia School District more money, independent of what the state does. If that happens, most of the horrible cuts now looming will still occur, since $60 million represents less than 20 percent of the District’s identified 2013-14 budget gap.

It seems to me that Council President Darrell Clarke has a point when he says that Council has already increased city funding for the District two years in a row, even as the Commonwealth was cutting and freezing its funding, and it's just not smart for the city to do that again.

But here’s a thought. Rather than providing no more new city funding or providing new funding without conditions, which is what has occurred in the last two years, wouldn’t it make more sense if the mayor and Council were to say to the governor and General Assembly that the city will provide a third round of additional funding to the schools, but only if it is matched two to one by the state?

This is not so far-fetched. Mayor John Street did exactly that in 2002. Take a look at the deal that Street made with then-Gov. Mark Schweiker. A lot of people have forgotten that 11 years ago, with the District facing bankruptcy, Philadelphia's city government took the position that rescuing and reforming Philadelphia's public schools needed to be a city-state partnership -- both from a funding perspective and from a governance perspective. Ultimately, that position prevailed, and in 2002 and 2003, the Commonwealth provided roughly $2 in new state funding for every $1 of new city funding. Fiscal stability was restored, new District leadership was recruited, academic achievement began to improve, and school choice was enhanced through the expansion of charter schools.

Now we seem to have a near mirror image of the 2002 situation. In 2013 it seems that the city is expected to increase its funding every year – and it did so in 2011 and 2012. Yet the Commonwealth has given no indication that it is prepared to restore any of the $317 million in state funding that it cut in 2012 (and has essentially frozen since), no matter what this does to the quality of public education in Philadelphia. But the state retains control of the schools that it obtained back in 2002 specifically in exchange for assuming greater financial responsibility for the District.

It is time for the citizenry of Philadelphia (and Pennsylvania) to recall just what “the deal,” struck more than a decade ago, was that led to the creation of the School Reform Commission and the abolition of the former city-controlled Board of Education.   

The Philadelphia School District didn’t create this crisis. The District actually had balanced budgets -- and small surpluses -- in 2009, 2010, and 2011, before the state funding cuts began. It is not only unjust but simply not feasible for the current crisis to be resolved unless the Commonwealth is jointly responsible with the city for restoring the School District to solvency.

Michael Masch is the vice president of finance and chief financial officer at Manhattan College and the former chief financial officer of the School District of Philadelphia.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

 

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Comments (82)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 3, 2013 7:09 pm
The district has not been fiscally responsible for a long time. No one believes that. The stimulus dried up. Instead of planning ahead on losing the stimulus, the district kept spending with the expectation the funding would continue. Everyone who works in district schools kept asking why is the district spending money on things that are not sustainable. Mr. Masch thanks, but no thanks to your support now. You had the chance before and blew it. Now kids will suffer.
Submitted by Michael Masch (not verified) on May 4, 2013 9:34 am
As the saying goes, Anonymous, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. It is simply not true that the current School District financial crisis is related to the District’s receipt of Federal Stimulus funds in 2009-10 and 2010-11 and the subsequent discontinuance of those funds. When Stimulus funds were discontinued, the District discontinued the programs and initiatives that were funded with those dollars. This happened in fiscal year 2011-12. The District made cuts in spending in 2011-12 to offset 100% the loss of Stimulus funds. The District then ended the 2011-12 fiscal year with a deficit of “only” $20.4 million. Yet today the District faces a potential 2013-14 deficit of over $300 million. Why is that? The current School District financial crisis results from the fact that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania made unprecedented year-over-year cuts in 100% state funding for the District in 2011-12 (not related to the Stimulus) and has largely frozen its funding for the District at this reduced level ever since. In fiscal year 2011-12 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania eliminated $188 million of state funding that the School District of Philadelphia had received in the prior year and so far it has not restored any of those cuts. These were all 100% state dollars – none coming from the Federal government, none coming from the Federal Stimulus. At the same time, certain portions of the District’s spending have increased annually for reasons that are either not wholly or not at all within the District’s control (for example, the rising cost of providing health care to District employees and their families, and the rising cost of District purchases for items like utilities). These cost increases are not for new programs or program expansions; they are just for the maintenance of existing level of staff and programs, dramatically reduced by the massive cuts that were imposed in 2011-12. These increases are required simply to allow the District to do what it was doing in the prior year, not to expand programs, staff or benefits. A further strain on the District’s budget has been the expansion of charter schools. This is because about 30% of students enrolling in Philadelphia charters did not previously attend Philadelphia public schools. Providing charters with per pupil funding for these students is not simply a matter of shifting dollars from one school to another. The students cannot, as the saying goes, “take their money with them” because they were never in public schools in the first place. So roughly 30% of charter expansion represents an absolute increase in the District’s costs. As costs rise and funding remains level, a deficit emerges. The longer the period in which funding is frozen, the larger the deficit. A bit more about the Stimulus funds and their impact on the School District, as this has been largely misunderstood: In fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 the School District of Philadelphia received $145 million annually of direct Federal Stimulus funding that was then discontinued, and was not received by the District in 2011-12. Everyone at the School District understood that these Stimulus funds were going to be available for two years only and would then end. The majority of the direct Federal Stimulus funds received by the School District were provided as supplemental funding for two long-standing Federal education programs – Title I and IDEA. The District was required under Federal law to spend these additional Stimulus dollars in accordance with the rules governing Title I (which is intended to provide supplemental supports to low-income students) and IDEA (which is intended to provide supplemental supports to students with disabilities). One of the cardinal rules of Title I and IDEA is that these grants must be spent to “supplement, not supplant” existing programs and spending. In other words, the School District HAD to spend these dollars on new programs and program expansions, or else not accept and spend them at all. The District was careful to use these Stimulus dollars for initiatives that could be discontinued when the funding ended, but would provide positive benefits for the period in which they were utilized. For example, the largest Stimulus-funded initiative was the reduction of K-3 class sizes in schools in low-income neighborhoods. For those students who were in those smaller classes for the two years when Stimulus-funding made them possible, studies show that there was a positive benefit. But when the funding ended, class sizes went back to the levels they were at before the Stimulus funding was available. Other initiatives operated in a similar fashion. For example, Stimulus funds were used to increase the number of school counselors for two years. But when the funding ended, the number of counselors was rolled back to pre-Stimulus levels. The purpose of the Stimulus was to provide added public spending during the height of the national recession, to offset the decline in private sector spending during that period and slow down the decline in overall economic growth. It would have been desirable for those funds to have come in in smaller amounts, and for a more extended period of time. But the Stimulus is widely acknowledged to have accomplished its goal – to prevent an even more massive contraction of the U.S. economy at the height of the great recession. In the process, for a too brief period, school children in Philadelphia received some extra benefits. It would have been desirable for at least some of those short-term Stimulus-funded initiatives to be maintained, but the contraction and elimination of Stimulus-funded programs is in no way the cause of the School District’s current financial crisis.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 12:16 pm
Mr. Masch, Are you willing to go on the record to show how class size has an inverse relation to student success (the higher the class size, the lower the students perform)? This is a huge point that needs to be made, because we are not only taking students from different neighborhoods and mixing them, with no counselors to boot, but we are maxing out most classrooms in the city, which will lead to lower performance scores, which seem to be a huge factor in closing schools. If we are to believe that you do really care about the students, then please make a stand against this ridiculous situation. Sadly, no matter how many hours I give, for free, to y students, their neighborhood, or this district, no one will listen to me when I say class sizes matter, b/c I'm just a teacher, and, well, what the hell do I know?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 12:22 pm
You can't persuade yourself out of the mess you permitted to transpire during your reign. Extra teachers, counselors, parent ombudsman, reading and math programs (that sit in school closets) etc. were purchased with no way to sustain them post stimulus - the facts. If you are such a champion of Philadelphia's kids you would have told Ackerman in your closed meetings NO when she kept saying spend -Fact. Now schools are in a doomsday position because under your reign you did not plan ahead - Fact. Kids suffer and will suffer because of you. Sleep well.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 4, 2013 6:33 am
While it is ironic that Mr. Masch is giving the School District advice considering his tenure with the District, the "deal" made in 2001-2002 when the School District was taken over by the Commonwealth of PA was a "different time" than 2013. In 2001-2002, there were very few charter schools. The "deal" in 2001-2002 led to the hiring of Paul Vallas whose goals included destroying neighborhood high schools, expanding programs for the middle class (e.g. Center City District, special admit / magnet high schools), No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top, and the exponential growth of charters. Today, the budget has to be balanced under different local conditions. There also is no federal stimulus money, which Masch/Ackerman enjoyed; in 2013 we have a federal austerity policy or federal sequestration. Yes, the Commonwealth and the City have to find a way to equitably fund public schools. Relying on City property taxes, especially since the City allows hundreds of millions to go uncollected, is not a viable source of funding. There also are not enough "sins" (e.g. alcohol tax) to tax. Although City Council can't be held responsible for "the crisis" since the SRC members are appointed by the mayor and governor and the SRC since 2002 has created the conditions for this crisis (e.g. hiring Vallas, Ackerman, etc.), City Council has to answer to us - their constituents. We need a short term solution for 2013-2014 so schools open with more than a skeletal staff and program. Then, I hope, Pennsylvanians begins to look at other states which have much more equitable funding. There is a crisis in inequitable and inadequate educational funding in Allentown, York, Harrisburg, Chester, Pittsburgh, etc. There is also a crisis in small / rural districts. City Council needs to consider supporting the proposal by Rep. Roebuck (http://www.pahouse.com/PR/Charter_and_Cyber_Charter_School_Report.pdf) and work with other town/city councils around the Commonwealth. They can start with limiting funding to cyber charters.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 4, 2013 1:32 pm
Philly Parent and Teacher, You are exactly right that the situation in 2013 is not the same as it was in 2002 due to the number of charter schools, cuts in federal money due to the Sequester, and proliferation of special-admission high schools. What needs to happen is for the state's high-poverty urban and rural municipalities, school districts, and their legislators to mobilize and band together to exert political pressure on the legislature and the governor. School boards, city councils, legislators, and citizens need to form a coalition and lobby the legislature and the governor together. Philadelphia is not facing these issues alone and should not advocate alone. There is strength in numbers. Dr. Hite, SRC members, and Mayor Nutter should be advocating for more money for the School District of Philadelphia. However, since they have proven impotent on this matter, the City Council needs to take a stand. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 4:31 am
Also not the same since the total per pupil spending is up 100% (70% in real terms) since 2001. This constant financial problem seems to be a structural problem with the district's management. No matter what they are given, they will end up in financial mess.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 6, 2013 7:18 am
There is a problem in that the management seems to be insular to what happens at the school and classroom level. The increase in per pupil spending can be explained by the declining utilization (if you maintain the same structural capacity, which includes staff, and have fewer students, then the per student cost goes up). Why indeed did it take so long to realize the impact of fleeing families and charter growth? Mr. Masch's comment actually illustrates this bureaucratic insularity. All things were balanced in his cubicle of responsibility, but he did not see how things were wasted at the implementation level. The huge Federal Stimulous funds could have been "seed money" to building community partnerships with community organizations, such things as having eligible children in drama or specialty after school programs which qualify as "enrichment" or even building infrastructure into targeted schools for such partnerships, at the same time looking for ways for the community to make these sustainable. It would have been a significant step in creating community schools. To his office's credit, I remember that the purchase and distribution of take-home manipulables was suggested as a good use of Title I money. Such a use would have had long term positive benefits for the families of the poor children (other family members likely would use these) as well. Yet at the school level, how many followed through on this suggestion? How much was wasted (internal compliance is outright conflict of interest and definitely a waste of time) bureaucratically on "grant compliance"/"paper pushers"? Having smaller classes for the younger grades has been proven to make a difference through "research based" methods already - This should be something that is funded sustainably, not through grants. The suggestion that the SDP will operate with the proposed cuts, as outrageous as it is, may not be enough leverage to push for increased funding, even tying any Council money to money from Harrisburg. Yes, these are different times. A better threat would be to propose closing the charters first for lack of money; then to declare bankruptcy next (if the first option (predictably) were not allowed), before cuts that basically would render the District inoperative.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 6, 2013 8:43 pm
Anonymous and Ms. Cheng, Don't forget that the District's costs have increased because a large number of students who previously attended private schools are now enrolled in publicly funded schools (traditional public and charter). If I recall correctly, about 30% of students enrolling in charters are completely new to District-funded schools because charter schools are drawing students who previously attended private, mostly Archdiocesan, schools. At the same time, the Commonwealth has cut funding. So there is less funding and even more kids. The research evidence supporting smaller class sizes for grades K through 3 is strong. This should be a core expense, but if the Commonwealth and District are not consistently funding smaller K-3 classes, then there needs to be legislation or something in the PFT contract to address this issue. With regard to the draconian cuts, I believe that the news media needs to be more aggressive in making this a national story. Imagine Brian Williams with this story: "And in Philadelphia, schools are being forced to function with just a principal and teachers. No secretary, no school counselor, hardly any nurses, no librarians. Teachers have to buy all of their own supplies." AFT needs to get involved. Politicians need to get involved. Clergy need to keep raising their voices. Those with the power to do so need to organize a grass roots effort NOW to push for more money. PFT and Action United have stepped up to the plate, but there needs to be more mobilization. As a PFT member, I am out of the loop. Why isn't my building rep organizing meetings? How about the PFT demand that their reps organize meetings to get the members fired up. This can't just be about jobs because first an foremost, this is about kids and their education! EGS
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 6, 2013 8:44 pm
Anonymous and Ms. Cheng, Don't forget that the District's costs have increased because a large number of students who previously attended private schools are now enrolled in publicly funded schools (traditional public and charter). If I recall correctly, about 30% of students enrolling in charters are completely new to District-funded schools because charter schools are drawing students who previously attended private, mostly Archdiocesan, schools. At the same time, the Commonwealth has cut funding. So there is less funding and even more kids. The research evidence supporting smaller class sizes for grades K through 3 is strong. This should be a core expense, but if the Commonwealth and District are not consistently funding smaller K-3 classes, then there needs to be legislation or something in the PFT contract to address this issue. With regard to the draconian cuts, I believe that the news media needs to be more aggressive in making this a national story. Imagine Brian Williams with this story: "And in Philadelphia, schools are being forced to function with just a principal and teachers. No secretary, no school counselor, hardly any nurses, no librarians. Teachers have to buy all of their own supplies." AFT needs to get involved. Politicians need to get involved. Clergy need to keep raising their voices. Those with the power to do so need to organize a grass roots effort NOW to push for more money. PFT and Action United have stepped up to the plate, but there needs to be more mobilization. As a PFT member, I am out of the loop. Why isn't my building rep organizing meetings? How about the PFT demand that their reps organize meetings to get the members fired up. This can't just be about jobs because first an foremost, this is about kids and their education! EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2013 6:58 am
That is a good point regarding holding onto excess capacity and staff. Just last summer, City council's only input was to threaten to withold funding unless the SEIU was taken care of, making sure they could maintain their bloated headcount. Even now, there are protections against layoffs in that contract. Why? So Philly can keep 2 bus drivers doing the job that 1 person does most everywhere else in the country. Ultimately all City Council cares about is maintaining overpaid jobs for idiot friends and machine hacks. Why no one EVER gets laid off working for the city. Above all else, they want to keep their political machine running. Kids don't vote and when they do, maybe it is better for council that they are uneducated and unqualified to work anywhere other than in a city of Philadelphia patronage job. The whole house of cards is now falling down now that there is not a constantly increasing amount of spending going into the system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 7:02 am
Okay. So let me get this straight. Last Wednesday, after being told that myself and nine (!) colleagues were being cut from our school rolls - thanks in large part to Governor Corbett's fiscal F*** You to largely black/largely Democrat Philadelphia - AND to the financial mismanagement of several SDP administrators past and present - I was herded into the school library and warned by my principal that the upcoming Keystone exams were of paramount importance, and that I'd better administer them "with rigorous attention to protocol and security." Politely refraining from kicking the man in his nether regions, spitting in his face, and marching out, I simply raised my hand and asked: "Or WHAT?! I'll be laid off? Governor Corbett will do me dirt?" So here's the question: "WHY should I give a flying f*** whether every kid in Philadelphia cheats his/her pants off on this state test? Am I supposed to actually CARE about the AYP status of a school that is being decimated by inches from the ankles upward? A school to which I'll have no future attachment whatsoever? And let me make this very clear:The Keystones were NEVER about the kids; they were ALWAYS about state funding and punishing schools who didn't "measure up" to state standards.. Well, now that the state funding is gone, why the hell should I keep up MY end of the bargain? It's more than a little reminiscent of the bewildered Holocaust Jews who were forced to dig their own graves just before the smirking Nazis gunned them all down. Well, thank you very much but I'd rather not jump to the final orders of the very state and school district administrators who have just facilitated my demise. Let THEM administer the goddamn Keystones. I intend to be out with a rare tropical disease that entire week. (At this point, I'd rather use up all my sick days and get 100% of their value rather than get 25 cents-on-the-dollar for their redemption come lay off time.) I heartily recommend the same "sick out" action to my esteemed colleagues across the district. Namaste!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 8:02 am
Not a very professional attitude! (I'm getting screwed so let's screw the school and the students who attend.)
Submitted by Another Teacher (not verified) on May 4, 2013 9:35 am
I couldn't agree with this anonymous poster more. We must all remember that we owe our allegiance to the School District of Philadelphia and that we are contracted to do what it is they tell us to do. While it may or may not be true that Keystones have little to do with our students, that is really not the point..Suggesting a Keystone "sick out" is out-and-out mutiny. Like this poster said, we must show a Professional Attitude - which means supporting Dr. Hite and our District administrators even if we disagree with them and following their lead even if our own days with the district may be numbered. It's called sacrifice, and we must all be willing to practice it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 10:09 am
I respectfully disagree with your stance that we (teachers) owe our allegiance to the SDP. While I don't support a sick-out, blind allegiance to a system that has questionable motives and that engages in top secret decision-making processes is asking for trouble. Respect and trust are earned, and it's too early to say whether the current administration has earned my respect or my trust. I will continue to take the high road and support my students in whatever ways that I can, and I will continue to be a team player in my building, but I will NOT blindly follow the lead of someone, just because he/she has a title. Would you want your own children or students to do that?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 12:19 pm
Contracted to put up with their lies, bigotry, corruption, incompetence, nepotism, etc. You're describing a doormat, not a teacher. My allegiance is to the children who want to learn and nobody else! Yours seems to be the Boston Consulting Group. Go tell your bosses you failed with your pathetic post. A "sick-out" it will be, and that's if 440 is lucky, if Hite and his posse continue their hate parade into our city. Professional Attitude has nothing to do with allowing liars and thieves to walk all over you. How unAmerican can you get!?!?!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 12:11 pm
ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Thanks for checking in Pedro
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 4, 2013 2:42 pm
Another Teacher, I agree more with your attitude than of the anonymous poster who wants to take sick days for a "rare tropical disease." I am a District employee, but that doesn't mean I have complete allegiance to what Dr. Hite and the SRC say. I remember that the District isn't about them, the adults, but about the students it serves. The District is about providing an education to the students of Philadelphia. Therefore, even if the District is basically screwing its employees, I would ask these employees, who is the bigger person here? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Where is each of us standing in this time of adversity, this time of trouble? The situation in our schools is difficult for all involved. How do our actions affect the students in our care? The School District of Philadelphia Employee Code of Ethics states the following in the Core Principles section on page 1: "The first and greatest concern of an employee shall be to promote the School District's mission to provide students with a quality education in a safe setting that also reflects the District's commitment to the highest ethical standards." We should all be asking how well each one of us is promoting the mission to "provide students with a quality education in a safe setting" with a "commitment to the highest ethical standards" regardless of how other employees or trustees of the District, including the superintendent and SRC members, are acting. I agree with you, Another Teacher, that showing a professional attitude is extremely important. I don't necessarily believe in supporting Dr. Hite and administrators. However, I do believe in doing the best for the students in my care, even in the adults in charge of the District are making my job difficult. Dr. Hite, most members of the SRC, and other employees of the District may not be doing what is best for students. It is incumbent upon teachers and other staff members working in the buildings to "be the bigger person" than the higher-ups and work in the best interest of our students. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 1:23 am
So let's all join hands, sing "Kumbaya" and think of rainbows and unicorns, Education Grad. You talk like a genuine troll for 440 (which you probably are). I'm sure you'll go very far in this District, you precious little Stepford Teacher, you - on your knees!
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 5, 2013 3:30 pm
You've totally twisted my comments, which makes me wonder if you're a troll. I certainly am not, and my comments on this and other stories are evidence of that. EGS
Submitted by Urban Educator (not verified) on May 6, 2013 6:15 pm
I'll vouch that you are definitely not a troll.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 6, 2013 8:20 pm
Thank you!
Submitted by a teacher (not verified) on May 4, 2013 10:32 am
In my many years as a teacher in Phila, I have never seen the teaching corps freak out like this . . . in my school and across the District. The relentless assault by Dr. Hite and his out-of-town buddies on the city's teachers (his own employees) is really unprecedented. Dr. Hite's vision for a stripped-down education system is literally insane and his disregard for how this will impact the teachers is mind-boggling. Does it make sense to announce the firing of thousands of hard-working teachers two weeks before the Keystone exams? What exactly is the plan here? Dr. Hite is paid a lot of money to do his job, but he is not paid to care. It is the city's teachers who care about the children they teach and the community in which they live. Of course the teachers are upset.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 11:59 pm
Spoken like a true ditch digger. Just never complain when people don't hold your (nonexistent) professionalism in esteem.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 4, 2013 1:09 pm
I can't make my own comparisons to the situation in 2002 because I didn't live in Philadelphia then. However, there are two issues here. First, the School District of Philadelphia's administrators who managed the money, e.g., Mr. Masch, cannot completely wash their hands of this mess. Second, we all agree that the Commonwealth under the "leadership" of Gov. Corbett and a Republican-controlled legislature is at fault for cutting funding to the District. However, the District has not been the best steward of its money. The District would still have a deficit even if its fiscal management had been better, but the fact remains that District administrators bear some responsibility for the current predicament. Here are some examples of fiscal mismanagement: - My understanding is that there were bond swaps that have now resulted in the District paying 10% of its revenue to debt service. - The District approved far too many charter schools. The District knew that the state law prohibited capping charters. Therefore, the District would have been wise to have more restraint in the process it could control, granting charters. - There were frivolous expenses such as Dr. Ackerman having her own driver. - Previous superintendents didn't make the hard decisions to "right-size" in light of excess capacity. Had "right-sizing" occurred more gradually, the massive upheaval that will happen this coming school year---students attending new schools, large numbers of transfers and retirements of both teachers and principals, principals having to reapply for jobs at their same schools, and so on---would have been distributed more evenly over time instead happening all at once. - The District spent over $62 million building The School of the Future which opened in 2006 (http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/f/facilities-master-plan/individua...). Yet the District's own data showed that a number of its high schools were undercapacity at the time that The School of the Future was built. I don't know what the utilization looks like at the schools, e.g. how many of the "empty" classrooms are in use for other purposes. But here's what the District's own data says concerning some other high schools in West Philadelphia, schools which the opening of The School of the Future would most affect. The oldest data I could find was for 2006-2007, the school year in which The School of The Future opened. Overbrook HS Capacity: 2446 Enrollment in 2006-07: 1,911 (Enrollment has declined every year since.) Sayre HS Capacity: 882 Enrollment in 2006-07: 584 (Enrollment has fluctuated since, but has never exceeded 636.) University City HS Capacity: 2,605 Enrollment in 2006-07: 1,331 (Enrollment has declined every year since.) (Data for Lamberton HS isn't useful because it shares a building with Lamberton ES. I couldn't find data from 2006-07 for the old West Philadelphia HS building.) The decline in the number of students at each of these three high schools is due to multiple factors: More charter schools, city-wide admission schools, and, possibly, a decline in the school-age population of the catchment. (School-age population decline may be most relevant for University City HS.) The point is that the District had plenty of room for students in these three comprehensive high schools. That being the case, WHY DID IT SPEND over $62 million building the The School of the Future? The District spent $62 million on a state-of-the-art high school which it didn't need, yet many classrooms in the District still have blackboards and some schools need millions of dollars of capital improvements. In addition, the District has spent millions of dollars on leases for schools like Constitution HS. And the District approved the expansion of the Philadelphia Performing Arts CS yet the District's own highly-respected performing arts high school, CAPA, can't afford to put on its own musical! And this doesn't even touch the issue of large contracts that the District has signed.... We all acknowledge that the Commonwealth's funding cuts are the biggest reason for the predicament of the District. However, the District has not been the best steward of its own money. Therefore, Mr. Masch cannot pass the buck completely to the Commonwealth. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 5, 2013 6:31 pm
EGS---I love you but you need to lose the could have, should have, might have stuff. ALL of this, was/is by design and NONE of it is about helping inner city kids learn. ALL of it is about making money through a business model for the corporate types like Scotty 2 shoes, Gleason and folks WAY above them like The Koch Bros. and Gates and The Broad Foundation. In short, THEY KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING. They're smart, bean counter folks who simply don't really care about collateral damage to the communities nor the kids themselves. Stop looking for something that ain't there. If it looks like a pig, and smells like a pig, it ain't a duck.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2013 8:05 pm
2002 is over, we can't go back. Mistakes were made by the hierarchy of the school district for decades, the real issue, at point is the state takeover. When the SRC was formed it was appointed to guarantee accountability. However, since its inception that has never happened. After Paul Vallas was dismissed for fiscal mismanagement, the SRC claimed they were going to right the ship. For about a year, it seemed this was going to happen. Then they bought in Queen Arlene and she showed no accountability to fiscal management of the district. Her team blew money like they were printing it themselves, worst of all - she hired people on district payroll whose sole job was to promote her reputation. Since the SRC allowed this to happen. the only legitimate response at this point is for the City of Philadelphia to sue the Commonwealth for allowing this fiscal mess to spiral out of control. Otherwise, there is nothing to save the district from ruin. A federal investigation should, likewise, ensue to prevent further abuses from occurring and to get the real real people responsible for this mess - Rendell, Ballard Spahr, members from the City Chamber of Commerce, the William Penn foundation, and the representatives from of the state legislature like Anthony Williams, Dwight Evans, et al. Since a task so big would involve such enormous man power, the culprits are poised to get away with their crimes against the children and taxpayers of Philadelphia.
Submitted by g (not verified) on May 5, 2013 12:15 am
I think a "sickout" during the Keystone exams would be fine. Who would it hurt? It really is not about the kids-and F*** the State. If we don't get rid of Corbett in the next election-Our schools will definitely be dead-in the-water. I guess if the majority of Phila's citizens are too apathetic to vote-Phila will get what it deserves. As for Hite-the level of disrespect that he has shown his employees is so egregious that he-and the members of the SRC need to go. Even now-he has a long list of new- highly paid -do nothing positions he is seeking to fill.(Each one earning more than a lowly teacher.) The only people given as little respect as the teachers are the children.
Submitted by tom-104 on May 5, 2013 8:56 am
The SRC must be replaced with a local elected school board.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 5, 2013 3:27 pm
Tom, A local elected school board is a must. However, an elected school board is no panacea to the enormous problems that the District faces. The state must do its part to adequately fund the District. Furthermore, in order for an elected school board to be accountable to the public, citizens need to take seriously the responsibility they have to VOTE in school board elections. AND, Philadelphians and others need to mobilize big time in 2014 and defeat Gov. Corbett. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 5, 2013 6:43 pm
EGS-----Yes, Corbett is the biggest obstacle overall but The SRC and Nutter are slithering not far behind. You are right about people needing to take action and it must be loud, very unfriendly and concerted. This is nothing more than blatant abuse and the pols are complicit-----------of course. Corbett, thank God, can't get out of his own way but if he gets back in, ALL is lost maybe forever in Phila and I am not exaggerating. The damage will be enormous and repairing it would be almost impossible realistically. The elections of 2010 ushered in these Tea Party Puppets and hopefully, we all shall have learned a harsh lesson-- "-Elections Matter, " ----Vincent Hughes--2010. Don't even get me started about Mutt and Jeff AKA Nutter and Obama. Can't you say, Sellouts??
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 11:13 pm
Ha ha. So the teachers union can dominate the school board election and a bunch of machine hacks will do their bidding. That will be a big improvement to schools and children (if you are on the take it will be). I am sure they will operate with all the effectiveness of the sheriffs office and rest of Phillys overpriced crappy government. Problem you face is the district is insolvent. And it is very doubtful any private creditor would lend to an elected school board due to your history of mismanagement. So you are completely dependent on state support for the majority of funding. Of course we all love spending other people's money with zero accountability...
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 6, 2013 7:40 am
The School District of Philadelphia has never had an elected school board. Senator Dinniman, the forward thinking minority leader of the Senate Education Committee, has already put forth the idea and a procedure for a "non-partisan election process" for a local school board in Philadelphia. All of our well functioning and financially efficient school districts in Pennsylvania have elected school boards. The ills you describe in your comment are all outcomes of our non-elected, politically based appointed school boards. Since the state took over our schools and imposed our board members, the SRC, Philadelphia's school system has worsened year after year financially, educationally, and ethically. Our appointed SRC has ushered in the worst possible scenario. The proof is in the pudding. Look at the mess our district has become. I have never seen our district so bad off. The SRC has obviously not worked in the last decade. In case you haven't read the U.S. Constitution and the PA Constitution lately, or if ever, we have a democratic system of governance in our nation and state. If we moved to an elected school board, it would not be the PFT that would dominate the elections. It would be "the citizens of Philadelphia" who would speak. The mess we have today has been created by our non-elected politically appointed leaders. There is no reason any school district should have to borrow money. The only reason we ever have had to borrow money is because our politicians have chosen not to fund our schools adequately, and instead, have chosen to drown our children's schools in insurmountable debt. While it may not be perfect, "democracy is the purification process" for the ills that plague our schools. It is just amazing to me that in the "birthplace of American democracy" and the home of the National Constitution Center, we have one of the least democratically governed public school systems in our nation.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on May 6, 2013 7:51 pm
Very well said!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2013 6:01 am
Elections for traffic court, sheriff and other minor offices have proven that more elected offices is no solution to incompetence, corruption and mismanagement. Elections for school board would be no better than the SRC. And it would be moot in Philly anyway since the district is broke and could not issue debt without a state guaranty. That state guaranty gives the state the right to oversee spending decisions. Do you really think the voters in the rest of the state should/ would give Philly and its bottom of the barrel machine politicians a blank check? Sure, just issue as much debt as you want that the state will have to repay! So elections are a non-solution to the problems here which have been building up over decades of mismanagement citywide.
Submitted by tom-104 on May 7, 2013 7:54 am
That is due to citizen apathy and/or cynicism that they can make a difference. To say we are not capable of democracy in Philadelphia is just the same cynicism that brings about the corruption you condemn.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 7, 2013 8:38 am
tom-104 there is some contradiction here. The same "democracy" that is electing to transfer their children to charters are to be vested with the decision to choose a school board? They can't see that charters are no better than the SDP schools, right? Let's just say, the most popular candidates are not always the most qualified. Yes, add poverty and lack of education to apathy and cyncism and you have a pretty significant difference between Philly and the suburban school districts that run successfully with school boards. Until you fix these factors, even with a democracy, you will have problems, including corruption. You and Mr. Migliore have yet to explain why Camden is having the same problems as Philly, but with an elected school board.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2013 9:48 am
poverty!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 7, 2013 9:59 am
Ms Cheng. Do you understand what just happend in Camden? The elected school board refused to turn their schools over to private management organizations. Then, the republican governor Christie acted to take over the district. He immediately turned over the schools to a guy named Cerf who has an agenda of privatization of public schools. Cerf, immediately turned an elementary school over to Vahan Guergian. The same guy who has seized control of Chester Community Charter School and milked millions from their schoolchildren. and of course, that school cheats on their PSSA exams with impunity. Newark's schools have been taken over by the state for many years now, with no improvement of their schools educationally or financially. The educational problems of Camden are caused by poverty and what poverty does to people. What just happened in Camden is a power play and money play. It is not about improvement of public education. It is about people trying to line their pockets.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 7, 2013 10:44 am
Camden, with its elected school board, prior to this year/ the State takeover, has suffered the same problems as Philly. The elected school board then, has made little difference.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 7, 2013 10:55 am
The only differences now is that the people of Camden have no say in what happens to them and their public schools, and the schools will be given to private organizations who will run the schools for their own personal profit. There will be no improvement in educational outcomes. Just more money for greedy people like Vahan Guregian and the Narcross fellow who only care about lining their pockets. Great gig for those guys. Taxpayers pay -- they profit. Is that the intent of public education?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 7, 2013 10:09 am
The elected school board was just a segway then wasn't it? Definitely not a solution. What is key to whatever has worked in our Democracy, is a "balance of power". I agree, market forces are not it, but neither is an elected school board it either.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on May 7, 2013 9:24 pm
I do think here in Philly, a school board that is elected by the voting public many of who are parents of school age children would make a difference here. When I had a problem I went to the principal who ignored me, then I went to the superintendent who shrugged at me when I asked for help in front of an auditorium full of parents, I then went to an SRC meeting with a prepared statement and asked for help. I received none. And I have no say in who is managing my property tax dollars in the district. I can't vote them out when they ignore my concerns regarding my child's access to a decent public education. I am not perceived as a customer and my valid concerns were dismissed. But I do believe if you had a Superintendent and board that had real authority and would be accountable for all decisions within the district, the district might start to be concerned on how they are serving the public who pays their salaries as public servants or they may find themselves voted out or asked to leave even earlier if necessary.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 8, 2013 9:03 am
In an ideal scenario, yes you would get better service. Ironically, where there is responsive management that shares your values (as in an elected board in the suburbs) you may not have had the issues you had to begin with. Elections don't always provide more trustworthy and responsive officials. I have seen where they don't, both because of misrepresentation of candidates and an uninformed electorate. Timing was manipulated as well. Who chooses to run matters as well. The greater the potential gain (as in huge contracts) the greater is the motivation to manipulate who is chosen as a decision maker. Good candidates who are qualified, but lack the self gain, or self importance motive might not run for office, and are best found (in my opinion) through appointment. I would cite Sandra Day O'Connor's advocacy of appointing judges by merit rather than election, with which I agree. There is a good comment about how the size of the District is a major factor in the unresponsiveness of the management. I received the same lack of response that you experienced with several issues I had as well. I'm not sure that if we had an elected board, which could be replaced at the next election, that that would really make the difference. Would your complaint be enough for a school board to reconsider their appointment for Superintendent for example? Or more likely, if the Superintendent did not satisfactorily resolve it, would it get "brushed off" as before? (My principal had the best "brush off"s. For example, "You are absolutely correct Ms. Cheng... I'll look into it..." which can be repeated ad infinitum...). Parents/caregivers do need a say in how their taxpayer dollars are used. Not every parent is as informed/educated or responsible as you however. Just because you are a parent does not mean you will advocate for what is best for a child/students. We do not have a way to screen voters for who has the best interests of students in mind, and we do not have a way to make sure that these individuals take the time to vote. This means that other interests will come to play. If you need an example of where an elected school board has not made a difference, take a look at Camden. Gov. Christie, just made the decision to take over their district, and he cited chronic problems similar to Philly's. They are a much smaller district even.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 8, 2013 9:27 am
Ms. Chemg: Camden is not an example of how an elected school board has not made a difference. Christie took over Camden's schools only because the elected school board refused to privatize their public schools and turn them over to corporate entities who only want to take them over -- for profit. Camden comes with a history. The elected school board did not mismanage anything and their educational problems are only that their students do not score as well on standardized tests as their affluent neighbors. That is solely a result of demographics. What is happening in Camden is only about the power and money games being played by Christie and those who seek to profit from Camden's children. It was a political power play.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 8, 2013 9:22 am
I disagree about the mismanagement: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/us/new-jersey-camden-schools. $23,709 per child spent in 2011-12 for little/less progress. Are you saying this is good management? Yes, CNN is only because I don't have the time to find other stats - if you can find another source, please post it.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 8, 2013 12:21 pm
Ms. Cheng. The school board in place at the time of the state takeover by Christie was not an elected school board. The mayor had appointed its members before the takeover, too. Even they resigned in disgust with what is going on there. Camden has a long history of state oversight. I am not the expert on the history of Camden's elected school board vs. its appointed school board. I do believe they had a mix at one time, too. The issue in Camden now is its forced privatization of its public schools which is being imposed on it by Christie and Cerf. http://articles.philly.com/2013-04-16/news/38558969_1_kathryn-ribay-pres...
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 8, 2013 2:31 pm
Thanks for the research Mr. Migliore. Will look more when Spring recitals finish. Would be good to have an example of a successful elected school board running an impoverished district, and if and how they are making a difference.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 8, 2013 9:33 pm
MBA to M'Ed, I totally agree with you about the lack of responsiveness. If one is not fortunate enough to send your child to a top tier school in the District, good luck. In terms of people being public servants, that is a nice line, but in reality, to many if not most people who work for the District, it's a job, not public service. If you get stuck at a school with a principal who doesn't do his/her job...good luck! My principal is someone I like personally, but cannot stand as a manager. There is no oversight of what happens in the building, except for what he/she has to do. The dysfunction permeates throughout the building and the kids suffer the most. There is a code of silence and speaking up doesn't do much good. Speak up too much and it could impact a legal case or could be blackballing other union members or other people will turn against you. Yes, there are some tough kids at the school, but it's the adults that are biggest problem. There are some who do their jobs and do them well, but a large number who in a private or non-profit organization would never last. EGS
Submitted by the interlace condo (not verified) on June 7, 2013 8:29 am
Well connected to Major Expressway such as Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and Central Expressway (CTE) to get you to places in no time. the interlace condo
Submitted by tom-104 on May 7, 2013 9:29 am
Camden has been taken over the state just like Philadelphia. Let's see how that goes! As to parents putting their children in charters, children grow up fast. I don't judge any parent for looking out for their child if they are in a bad situation. The Philadelphia school district since the state take over ten years ago has been like a medieval village which has been encircled by an alien army, starved of resources and support staff, until now it is so weakened it is ready for the final assault. The number one concern of parents at the school closure community meetings was safety. The security personnel were cut along with all the other support staff and the schools drained of resources, even as resources were poured into unregulated charters. People are cynical because neither of the two parties are representing the community and people do not see a way forward. Once that is dealt with you will see the apathy disappear.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 7, 2013 8:30 am
The machine politics of Philadelphia is why many advocate for "non-partisan elections" in just about every proposal to move to an elected school board. How well is the state overseeing spending decisions today? It is the state's responsibility to provide for a "thorough and efficient" education system. Again, that is stated in the Pennsylvania Constitution. It is Corbett who decided not to pay off the debt and force the SRC to borrow millions more money at exorbitant interest rates paid to bankers who could care less about any schoolchild in Philadelphia. The mismanagement you speak of has been supervised by our unelected school boards and the SRC who have been appointed and overseen by the Mayors and Governors. How has that worked out lately?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2013 4:17 am
For 8 of its 11 years the SRC was run by Philadelphia's elected politicians (counting Rendell obviously as a Philadelphia politician) who delivered constantly increasing budgets and ignored structural problems like overcapacity, overstaffing and administrative mismanagement to fester while building up debt. The district was a mess before the SRC. And it is a mess now mainly because the budget is no longer increasing. The idea that direct elections are the answer is naive. What is needed is both more state support AND a smaller, more competent, less monolithic school district that actually attempts to attract parents who have alternatives. But elections will accomplish neither of those objectives.
Submitted by tom-104 on May 8, 2013 7:44 am
I just can't get over people saying democracy is naive. Who benefits from such thinking except the corporate elite? You list the past corruption in the school district as if it has nothing to do with the city or state government...and this is who you think should run things! The problem is we have two parties that serve the interests of the 1%, not the people.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2013 4:54 am
Saying the solution to the school district's problems is direct elections in Philly is like prescribing penicillin for a broken arm. Not that penicillin is bad, it just has zero value in solving the problem. And if you then pat yourself on the back for prescribing the penicillin and ignore the broken arm, then you are actively harming the patient. You're 1% rhetoric is silly- who actually benefits from electing the Sheriff or Traffic Court judges in Philly- we get people who have turned these basic offices of government into completely incompetent, ineffective, and/or criminal operations? The US is a Republic. We elect representatives. People have a limited attention span for politics. They might give thought to mayor or council, but they aren't going to investigate traffic court judges and make an informed decision. Likely the same would be the case for the schoolboard.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 9, 2013 7:42 am
You said it fairly well: "The US is a Republic. We elect representatives." Who does an appointed school board represent? You don't see any value in having a school board which is an independent body whose members are free to think on their own? Whose interests do the SRC members represent? I do not agree with your analogy. A school board is the brain of a community's school system which is the body, and it decides how the broken arm is treated. It is not analogous to penicillin. Democracy is the cure for an "unhealthy organization" which the School District of Philadelphia has become.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 9:34 am
Mr. Migliore, it looks like as late as 2008, Camden had elections for their school board (http://www.camdencounty.com/election-results/2008schoolboard/Official_Sc...) . Apparently New Jersey has Type I and II schools, Type I being those with appointed school boards, and Type II with elected school boards. Not sure why Camden went from Type II to Type I, but could we not anticipate/have we not seen the same for Philly, that is moving more away from local, and eventually to State control? The point being that at one time Camden had an elected school board, but justification was made to change/move away from this. Here is another interesting fact: For those districts with elected boards in NJ, the voter turnout is very low. Some stats from as late as 2007-8: http://www.njsba.org/PI/facts/bmr30-43.pdf (scroll down to "School Elections, Voter Turnout in Annual School Elections"). The max is 18.6% in 1991, with a low of 7.3 % in 1985, and looks close to 15% for an average. These are state wide, not just Camden. How does a democracy work on such low voter turnout? I would guess that the elected school boards work in the Type II districts because there is homogeneity in values and culture there, that is there is not much controversy or even real decision making to be had.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 9, 2013 10:50 am
I appreciate your zeal. The best way to trace their history is to go back to before the NJ Education Law Center filed suit for equal funding. I believe it may be the Abbot case. Then trace the political history of Camden's school boards. Neither an elected or an appointed school board cures the effects of economic devastation and poverty. It will always be a struggle and will always cost more to educate the needy. It just changes the power dynamics, and we have seen that Christy took over the district to put his boys in power and profit -- Vahan and Narcross. Two people whose main purpose in life is their personal private profit at the expense of the most downtrodden. It is all not about children having good schools run efficiently -- it is all about exploiting the situation for their profit motives. Even the mayor's appointees quit in disgust with the back room politics.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 10:05 am
Would this takeover have happened had the money been better managed however? This is where some of the discussion reaches an endpoint, and becomes circular. Yes, it costs more to educate impoverished children; but the problem here is that the money being spent is not reaching the children for whom it is meant. Political power play may complicate this while solving little, but political power play was enabled by inherent or systemic corruption to begin with.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 9:29 am
Also, an elected body's members are not "free to think on their own". The closest we see to this ideal is the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed, then approved by elected officials. Ironically, this freedom to think on one's own is enjoyed more by the 1% than any other group. And even they have the limit of their experiences.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 9:10 am
o.k. final response. City Council is elected. They passed a non-binding resolution for a one year moratorium on school closures, even being informed of the dire financial situation of the District. Now, they hesitate to follow through by making it a priority to find more funds for the District. It reads, "you must listen to us", followed by, "you're not our responsibility"... these are our democratically elected officials. Appointed officials could do no worse.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 9, 2013 10:28 am
So you think the mayor should appoint city council? Should the governor appoint the mayor, too? It looks like City Council is doing more for the community than anyone else. Ms. Cheng, Our American ideal is "governance of the people, by the people, for the people." That is the democratic value for which we send our children everywhere in the world to protect. It is not government of the politicians and their friends, by the politicians and their friends, for the politicians and their friends. Like Joe says -- "Elections Matter."
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 11:35 am
We are agreed that elections are not the solution to poverty and mismanagement. Your point about the mayor appointing council, sheds light on another even bigger point, which is "balance of power". Elections, when they work, work because of this; not the other way around. I particpated in electing my Council Rep. I am not happy with the job Council is doing, yet, voting in the next election for a new Council member is not a guarantee that things will be done differently, because factors out of my influence are determining both my available choices, and then the actions of who is elected once he/she gets into office. Politicians exist because they can win elections. Elections are not the solution to our current problems. You are quick to champion elections, and equally quick to villainize politicians. Politicians come from elections.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2013 4:32 pm
The problem is the School District of Philadelphia WAS that unhealthy organization before the SRC. Schools need leadership that caters to parents (different from voters of Philly), leadership that tries to make public schools attractive and successful, not a parasitic political machine operation that uses them as a host for their patronage jobs and contracts racket. That is unfortunately what Philly schools have been under Philly control. And what other offices like Sheriff's office, traffic court and many others ARE despite the "cleansing power'" of elections. So like I said, elected school boards are penicillin for a broken arm.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 8, 2013 8:55 am
I worked for the district from 1975 through 2009 and the district was never in such a state of shambles and devastation as it is now. It is far worse today than I have ever seen it. I do not mean that just financially either. It is worse off pedagogically and ethically. Under the SRC and the leaders which it imposed upon the district, the district has turned into what I call an "unhealthy organization" with an unhealthy organizational ethos. Those in charge think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whoever they want -- with impunity. They think they can ignore education laws, tenure laws, and labor laws. You are correct about being under the rule of "elected politicians" such as Rendell, Corbett and Nutter who play their political power and money games at the expense of children. Look at the political games being played by them. Their games include allowing major decisions being made by unelected "shadow people" such as those on the Gates Compact Committee which has only one purpose -- to privatize public schools. While they do hold public comment sessions, the SRC does what they want to do anyway. Pedro himself said that Corbett is his boss. It is not about the best interests of children. It is all about the best interests of those who want to profit off of the schoolchildren and self serving political ideologues. I assure you I am not naive about "how things work" and that elected school boards are not a magical cure for the ills that plague our school system. Some elected school boards are dysfunctional, too, but at least their residents can vote them out. But I assure you that putting our school board members through the "public scrutiny" of a non-partisan public election process will yield school bard members who are more responsive to 'the public" than those we have in power now. Maybe we could even elect an experienced K-12 educator. All of our SRC members were selected by politicians in a manner that is secret and not open to public scrutiny. Did Governor Corbett or Mayor Nutter have a public "application process" before selecting their SRC members? Do you think it is better to choose our school leaders in the back rooms of politics or in the light of a transparent and ultimately democratic election process. Look at the mess the SRC and the politicians who have appointed them has begotten. Democracy is the least bad way of doing things and is the only purification process for the ills that plague our schools.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 8, 2013 9:22 am
I agree with you, especially your points about the size of the District. I am sad that the idea of "achievement networks" was not explored. This was a way to make smaller more responsive units of management while keeping the District intact. Had these "networks" been granted authority to seek their own contracts for materials for example, it would have broken up some of the large, opaque District-wide contracts, and created better transparency for the public. The cooperative potential amongst schools with similar methods of instruction was great. Oh well, change is scary.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 8, 2013 9:18 pm
Ms. Cheng, I am skeptical of the idea of achievement networks when it comes to teaching and learning. However, I think that an achievement network structure or internal competition would be a great idea for something like custodians and building engineers. I have worked and volunteered in numerous places. Most of my work has been in private or non-profit settings. In all my years of working, I have never worked in a dirtier building than the school building in which I work now. Yes it's an old building, but an old building doesn't have to be a filthy building. I almost feel compelled to put my clothes in the wash after one day of wearing them, that's how dirty I feel from working in that building. I did some custodial/cleaning work when I was in college, so I know how to mop floors. One cannot lightly drag a mop over a floor and expect it to be clean. Mopping requires elbow grease. There's at least one custodian in the building who does a good job. The building engineer is responsive and friendly. But the custodian for my part of the building is terrible. There are mice droppings all over the place. The floors aren't even swept. The door handles and areas around them are disgusting. The drinking fountain hasn't been cleaned in God knows how long. But I digress. Part of the problem is that the principal doesn't do his/her job. The principal wants to minimize the amount of paperwork he/she does. Thus, a dysfunctional and lackadaisical climate permeates throughout the building. This is detrimental to the children. Unfortunately, there's a culture of silence in the building. Employees talk amongst themselves and many bemoan the dirty condition of the building and other things as well. However, the principal, the person who has the power to do the most about the situation, isn't interested in being proactive. The principal is a nice person, but a terrible manager. What I would like to see is some sort of incentive system for cleaning the buildings. Every month, send teachers and other staff surveys. Ask them about their satisfaction with the cleanliness of the building. Provide a rating scale and comment box. HOLD THE CUSTODIANS ACCOUNTABLE! The time that staff spend filling out the survey may save them time because they will spend less time cleaning their classrooms. Have a random lottery in each region or area under the control of an assistant principal to reinforce those who do a great job with maybe $100 or a gift card or something. Do the lottery at an SRC meeting to make it transparent. This is just good practice. People do respond to reinforcers and if anything, it could improve the performance of those who do a pathetic job. It's worth a try. I understand that it can be tiring work being a custodian, but it's your job to make sure the building is clean. I don't want to spend my time doing your job. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 1:52 am
EGS, it isn't competition that is the main idea here, but having management closer to the actual schools and classrooms. It is a balance between the drawbacks of School Based Management, where schools are individual units, and the strong points of the same, where schools can tailor their programs to their student body. It would also introduce some independence from a single bureaucratic "line of power". I don't know about your principal, but I know mine cared more about making 440 happy, than what he knew was best for the children. He was a great person, but his focus was not at the school itself. There are understandable reasons why nonprofits were suggested as the managers of these school networks. Their financial records are publicly disclosed. Nonprofits tend to rely on community support and might have more experience cultivating this asset. None would have a monopoly on control of the entire District... as in control of huge District wide contracts...there's your competition. Managers of school networks do not necessarily have to be nonprofits. They just need to not depend solely on the District for their existence. Really when the District awards contracts to charter management companies, they are trying the idea of smaller, more autonomous and school based control.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 9, 2013 7:33 am
EGS, sorry for the mistake: "School Based Administration" instead of "School Based Management".
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 9, 2013 9:35 pm
My principal sounds like yours; great about doing what is required, compliance and so forth. But in terms of day to day management of the school, support for behavior problems, creating a well-organized and learning-focused environment, walking around and checking in on what's happening, there is very little of that. My principal is very hands off. Doesn't interfere with any PFT business...my understanding is that some principals will. Also, my principal is a very nice person, but the hands off management style doesn't work. And because of that, there is a lot of dysfunction in the school and many of the employees get away with doing the bare minimum. Even when people complain, the principal is not responsive. I don't completely agree with your statement about charter management companies. In my experience, Mastery is very top-down. The expectation is that employees buy into their system, core values, put in long hours, follow their instructional format and principles, and so forth. With regard to the communities, Mastery has their system and style, they bring it in, and mold the school in that image. However, in my experience, they are more responsive to parents than the District is but also expect more of them. In my experience, this Mastery school did not kick out kids, they worked with the kids. However, I can't generalize to other Mastery schools. At the Mastery school where I spent time, there was a very warm, collaborative culture. The principal was great, very respectful of teachers. At the same time, deans, assistant principals, and apprentice school leaders could say to a teacher, here, you need to do some more work for such and such or we need to meet during a prep every other week. Even if teachers disagreed with it, they kind of had to go along with it. Now, if there were some disagreements with the teachers and lower-level admins, the principal could sit down and have a meeting and come to a fair solution. I sat in on a meeting like this. But what happens if there isn't this kind of trust between the principal and teachers? It would be very hard for teachers to do their jobs. And I know a teacher friend of mine working in the District. She went "over the head" of her principal by asking someone in 440 a special ed question. And the principal harassed her for the rest of the year. Or a charter could not renew a teacher's contract if the charter finds out that teachers are trying to unionize. So I understand totally why teachers need the protection of tenure...they need to be able to speak up and contact people above the principal when things aren't going well. They need due process. People need to be able to dissent without fear of losing their jobs. Now, one of my big issues with PFT is that I feel like dissent isn't openly tolerated. Everyone is supposed to tow the PFT line. Don't speak up about colleagues who aren't doing their jobs because you don't want to blackball fellow PFT members. So there's a double standard that I see here with regard to speaking up about principals and speaking up about other PFT members, and it's frustrating. It's hard trying to make management closer to the actual schools in the District. I guess this is what assistant superintendents are for? I agree that so much gets lost in the shuffle and the District feels so unresponsive. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2013 2:00 am
Charter management companies like Mastery, Universal, KIPP, Young Scholars, etc. are NOT about school based control. They are very top down, centralized control just at a smaller scale than the School District. They have their program and staff must follow it. You either drink the cool aid of you don't work for the company.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 10, 2013 9:15 am
Thank you, and EGS for the correction. They may not use SBA, but their methods target subgroups of students. When the District allows them to operate schools, this is similar to creating "networks" of management philosophy/method within the District.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 8:06 pm
Michael Masch has alot to say now that he is not under the thumb of Ackerman. Where was he when she spent all of that money? Yo Masch, just make sure your real estate taxes are paid.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 5, 2013 9:56 pm
Joe, Obama is not a sellout, he's always been this way about schools and Nutter is a sheer waste of time, You continue to converse with EGS, I've had it with his research.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 6, 2013 9:46 am
Paralysis through Analysis is what happens when you keep looking for something that isn't there. You become consumed with research no matter who is doing it. Obama pandered to union workers when he needed votes. FACT-------------Charters are not Public Schools !! You are correct.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2013 5:17 am
Mike Masch is absolutely correct. City Council should not give SDP a single dime.
Submitted by Robert Scherf (not verified) on May 6, 2013 8:26 am
There should be no 'for profit' charter schools. One must remember that charter schools operate only on tax dollars just like any other public school, regardless of the spin politicians have created, so charter schools are the same as any other public school with the exception that these 'for profit charters' take tax dollars away from children's education and put it in the pockets of politicians, their family, and friends. No taxes should increase because of education, as long as there is money 'for profit'.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2013 9:43 am
Teachers are both proofessionals and union members at the same time. People CAN be professional in their duties and have opinions at the same time, and a good teacher will instill in students the idea that their opinions are worthwhile. When entitles are attempting to destroy your profession, credibility, and morale darn right you speak up.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2013 9:05 am
Stimulus money was a one time thing not to be confused to with the yearly state budget.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 6, 2013 1:47 pm
There is no chance that the state is going to come through with $120 when that number would one and a half times that amount of increase for the whole state. We can whine, plead, and/or stand on our heads they money is not coming. Now what? Maybe we ask the United Nations or Hamed Karzi to give us some of the bags of money given to him by the CIA. This is not 2002 and that strategy will not work.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2013 4:16 am
We could get that money, but at least a few of our Democrat reps would have to agree to fund it by getting rid of the state stores. God forbid I buy liquor in PA from someone employed outside of the public sector. So you are correct. There is no chance. State store employees trump kids everytime.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2013 7:12 pm
Is there any chance that the AP's will be put back? We are hoping not......but ours put her name on our reorganization list for next year!! Needless to say, no one is happy about that possibility. She is all about vengeance and cares nothing about what's best for the kids.

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