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Activists call on Philly schools to limit teacher seniority, unilaterally

By thenotebook on Sep 30, 2013 08:05 PM
Photo: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Nina Liou is a parent of two Bache-Martin Elementary School students and is in favor of site selection. 

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

It's been called the "nuclear" option.

On Monday afternoon, a coalition of education groups called on the Philadelphia School District to bypass negotiations and unilaterally impose new contract terms on the District's teachers.

The groups, led by Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN, specifically want the District to do away with teachers' union seniority provisions that give teachers with more years of experience their preference among available positions.

Instead, these advocates say the District should implement a system of 100 percent "mutual consent," where principals and prospective teachers agree on every new placement. This system — referred to within the District as "site selection" — is already in place in 169 of the District's 212 schools.

In 2012-13, nearly half of 1,047 open full-time positions were filled through the site selection process, the rest by traditional seniority procedures.

Reformers say the status quo prevents principals from building school teams that believe in the principal's approach.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers strongly opposes eliminating seniority as a factor in placement.

A 1st-grade 'travesty'

Nina Liou, parent of a kindergartner and 2nd grader at Bache-Martin Elementary in Fairmount (where she's also Home and School Association president), was there to advocate for the change.

She said, in recent years, one of the school's 1st-grade teachers was laid off and eventually replaced by someone with more seniority — a District employee who had been working as an administrator at District headquarters. Liou claimed the person came back into the classroom after a 10-year absence in order to ensure full retirement benefits.

Liou called the year a "travesty" for the students.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (50)

Submitted by Dan Fitzsimmons (not verified) on September 30, 2013 8:50 pm

Do they think that because people are site selected that somehow teachers will all of a sudden want to go to the hard to staff schools?
These schools will still be hard to staff and will take what they can get. More experienced teachers will leave the district if they are given a choice. Site selection isn't going to solve the problems we have in our schools.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 2:00 am

I teach at a neighborhood high school. We did not have enough applicants for the site selection positions. I'm sure magnets were swamped with applicants - some of our teachers left for magnets.

While it is important to have a "team" at a school, giving principals sole authority again assumes competent principals and available applicants. There is plenty of nepotism in the system already - principals have ways to hire their friends / family or friends of friends. This will also give principals enormous power to write up a teacher who doesn't go with the principal's whims and "game."

If parents want a quality school environment, they need to look at the administration. Principals will surround themselves with "yes" people rather than thinking teachers who are willing to challenge the status quo for the betterment of the students.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 4, 2013 10:04 pm

Annonymous,

The District had to fill many vacancies centrally starting around September 1st in order to have enough special ed teachers and/or secondary level teachers. I know this first hand. Many if not most of these vacancies were at schools with Full Site Selection. However, at a certain date, HR fills these openings because it is a quicker process than site selection.

My question is this. My understanding is that FSS openings are supposed to involve input from the building committee at the school. But how does the building committee provide input during the summer when people are on vacation and have other obligations?

EGS

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 4, 2013 10:13 pm

Most Building Committees come in voluntarily during the summer to conduct the interviews.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2013 7:46 am

Some of the staff at my school volunteered to come in during the summer for interviews. I went in at least 5 times. We still did not have all positions filled through site selection because we did not have enough applicants. These positions were filled through HR at 440. They did NOT send people with the appropriate certifications - they just sent people. So, we still do not have enough teachers with the appropriate certifications.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 5, 2013 8:58 pm

Annonymous,

You raise some interesting issues. I am a new teacher in the District. (I was already working for the District in a support staff position when I was hired as a teacher.) I am teaching at a school with FSS. However, HR hired me and I picked my school from the vacancy list. Since I have been teaching, I have met the teacher who was previously in my position because she has come back to the school to retrieve some of her supplies. This teacher had the opportunity to go to a different school through the site selection process. She interviewed and was hired through FSS on one of the last days of site selection. Therefore, there was no time for the site selection process to take place for my position. So HR hired me and I am considered special assignment.

HR was hiring and reassigning many teachers the week before school started. My question is, How can the site selection process work if the District doesn't have any money? Didn't the lack of funds have a lot to do with why the District was filling positions at the last minute, in order to make sure that there were enough teachers to staff schools when the first day of school came? City Council/Mayor Nutter only loaned that $50 million dollars in mid to late August, if memory serves me correctly. Mistakes are bound to happen when the HR people are just rushing to assign people to schools.

At the school where I had a support staff position, I know that there were some discrepancies with regard to certifications. There was a teacher who was previously teaching at a school which was closed. This teacher then had 2 choices of schools and chose the K-8 school where I worked. However, when this teacher came, he and another teacher were both certified in English but neither was certified in social studies. The principal told the new English teacher, "We'll put you to work," that they'd figure out the situation, but also emailed HR about the discrepancy and about the need for a couple of other teachers. So principals have to communicate with 440 about what positions are still necessary, the discrepancies in certifications, and so on.

My current school still has an opening for an art teacher. Right now, a sub is filling the position. My question is, Why is the District short on the specialist teachers? Is this due to a lack of applicants, lack of funds, or what?

The bottom line is this. While all these school reform advocates are pushing for site selection, the financial situation makes life very difficult for a smooth staffing process to take place.

EGS

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 5, 2013 7:40 pm

Kristin,

Thank you for the clarificatin.

EGS

Submitted by matt (not verified) on September 30, 2013 8:49 pm

Truly sorry for the travesty.

Teachers, students, staff are almost always dismayed when someone who's been working desk at 440 for awhile comes back to a classroom - or into the office as an admin. (Notice I said almost - there are exceptions).

On the flip-side, this is why the teachers union prefers seniority over "let the administrators choose who will be 'best for the team'" (look who gets picked for promotion to 440 - not usually the teacher that you'd love to have teaching your child... not sure what the criteria are, but talent isn't always what gets a person onto "the team.")

In general (and yes, there are exceptions - but they need to be treated as exceptions and dealt with through a process for exceptions), more years in the classroom = more talent in the classroom. Seniority is a safer bet.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 1:57 am

In a nutshell, this is the problem with the district. Promotion by seniority is a blunt tool protecting teachers against incompetent leadership making capricious hiring decisions. But it also protects mediocrity and worse. Of course, how can management be judged either if they have no control over staffing? So incompetence reigns and creates the need for blunt protections like seniority.

The whole system was designed to fail, or at best teeter along producing mediocrity. The larger and more centralized the district, the worse this problem is.

Good leadership values experience, recognizes talent and treats it accordingly.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on September 30, 2013 9:18 pm

Bache-Martin is ALREADY 100% site selected because it is classified as a high needs school! So, this just goes to show that site-selection is not the panacea some imagine it to be.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 30, 2013 9:23 pm

Wait? People who work at 440 don't qualify for PSERS? The article states, "Liou claimed the person came back into the classroom after a 10-year absence in order to ensure full retirement benefits". I was under the impression that EVERY SDP employee paid into PSERS. I guess I have been corrected by the parent.
And how does this parent know the Principal doesn't want said teacher in the building? This should be investigated. A Principal should never tell a parent "I didn't want this teacher in my building".

I would love to hear this teachers response to being called a travesty.

Submitted by linda (not verified) on October 1, 2013 10:18 am

I have always thought you are in PSERS unless you leave the union or possibly [though I can not imagine why] opt out [which would be insane]

I think the person was down at 440 in a non admin job for 10 years or maybe had taken sabbaticals and was opting to get the best $$ he or she could before hanging it up.

Linda K., just thinking about the same things you were

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on October 1, 2013 12:55 pm

Most Principals I have worked with would not know which teachers were competent it he/she tripped over one on the way to get a donut from one of his toadies.

Principals pick favorites based on who they like and who appears most servile to their will,

Such a system will not improve schools and these reformers are only destroying seniority to make sure it does not spread to their charter schools and hurt the bottom line.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 1, 2013 4:03 pm

Henry Ford once said, The answer to every question is money because all roads lead back to money." You are so right, these squirrels are trying to increase their profit margin by eliminating overhead like worker rights through unions. It's stunning how these scum bags simply don't care about other people. Money rules them at the exclusion of all things moral, even where little, poor children are concerned. These are the kind of semi primates who would steal from church poor boxes just because they're there.

P.S. I will take my leave of The Notebook now. Thank You for allowing me to "share" overall the last 3 years. I need to take a break from this and practice my dunking skills such as they are.
Unless "The People" turn their resistance up several hundred notches, the end is near for democracy in Phila. and really all inner cities where poor, predominately people of color reside. The inner city people are easy prey for these slithering types who have no conscience to begin with so nothing to lose. They get sellouts like Nutter and The SRC to do their bidding for them.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 5:09 pm

I am sad to see you go Joe. I hope your leave is temporary.
You speak a truth that desperately need hearing and you do it with
a style all your own. I will miss your intelligence, your very unique humor, but most of all your dogged adherence to the truth.Perhaps someone new will step up in your place, but no one can take your place. Best.
Solidarity,PFT member

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 5:38 pm

I will miss you on the notebook Joe.
Your intelligence, your humor, and your dogged adherence to your truth has been an inspiration. I hope your departure is temporary.
You are always welcome back. Perhaps someone with similar values will step up in your absence, but no one can take your place.
Solidarity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 8:20 pm

Best wishes Joe and thanks for all your insight over the years. I am so glad you are putting yourself first now....you, and the ones who truly love you, deserve it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 8:25 pm

You can't possibly be serious! You can't leave, Joe. I look forward to reading your posts. Please reconsider.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 1, 2013 9:59 pm

Say it ain't so Joe.

Joe say it ain't so. You are my Alter Ego.

I too look forward to your comments and they always make me smile from ear to ear even in the face of this tragic comedy which ain't no comedy Joe. It is a tragedy of Man's Inhumanity to Man.

I know what it means to feel burned out because I have walked there before, and I know you need a rest from "All of This" -- because you care.

And if we can't respect that Joe, we can't respect anything.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on October 2, 2013 7:54 am

say it ain't so joe.
i, for one, will miss your - perhaps not eternal, but something damn close- vigilance on this board. we could always count on you to duly note and comment on the latest news and postings, whether it be gleason throwing a hard high one at our collective heads in primetime or some poor insomniac blabbering on about nothing in particular at 3:30 in the morning - little got past you. as one of those late night insomniacs myself, twas a good feeling knowing you were out there paying attention and keeping things honest.
of course, within these tributes, lie the strands for the counterargument that taking a break from all of this agita is a timely, healthy and perhaps necessary thing to do. the roses beckon us to pause and inhale their fragrance. godspeed to wherever you choose to turn.
but like that saying about taking the kid out of the city, but not the city out of the kid, i suspect the rebel we know lives on, perhaps taking matters underground or going guerilla for the time being. come the revolution (or strike), we'll see ya out in the street, waiting for us.

postscript: wrote this last evening and fell asleep and woke this morn to see it still on my screen. looked at the additional posts and saw rich's. funny how everyone equates you to shoeless joe. maybe you've been playing the wrong sport.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 2, 2013 8:57 am

Here is a fitting tribute to you Joe from Roger Daltrey back in the day, who lived his life as the front man for a rock band named The Who, who were born and raised, like Joe and many of us, during the civil rights era. Roger Daltrey, like Joe through the years, never had a problem of "telling it like it is." Daltrey's famous words in their signature song about our "marching in the street with our children at our feet" during the 60's ended with the now famous words - "We Won't Get Fooled Again, No No No"

Joe, you too are a middle class hero in the eyes of many. Enjoy this one Joe and laugh a little.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bVGTVrQd6M

Everyone needs to understand our civil rights history and our labor history as "our rights" are not a given but they were fought for, and some of us like Dr. Martin Luther King, died for us and those rights. That fight continues to this very day.

Thanks Joe, and you can always rescind your resignation as soon as your batteries are recharged -- we need your wit and wisdom - Joe.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on October 2, 2013 10:12 am

sorry, I just couldn't resist. thank you jokkker. the level of race baiting and class warfare should decrease exponentially.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 2, 2013 1:00 pm

Keep the pitchforks handy, Joe.

 

Submitted by Cheryl M. (not verified) on October 2, 2013 10:24 pm

Amen!

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 5, 2013 8:25 pm

NO JOE! YOU CAN'T GO! WE NEED YOUR VOICE OF REASON...AND YOUR PITCHFORK!

EGS

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 1:34 pm

Contact this Democratic State Representative who is being a sell out and tell her not to propose or support the elimination of seniority. The rep. is Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) about the so-called - Protecting Excellent Teachers Act she is introducing.

Her Numbers: (Vanessa Lowery Brown)
LOCAL OFFICE: 215-879-6615, HARRISBURG OFFICE, 717-783-3822

As for the proposed state legislation, Cetel said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would be introduced Tuesday by State Reps. Tim Krieger (R., Westmoreland) and Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.)

Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on October 1, 2013 1:51 pm

This is one parent's perception of a story that may or may not be true! We are suppose to re-write a major building block of our union because of this one instance? Who knows what really happened and honestly - who cares?

These people are not your friends! The so called "reformers" want to turn public education into a for profit business and dont really give 2 hoots about the kids. If a story supports them then they run with it, but unless you have proof and witnesses and the FULL story its just a disgruntled parent, complaining because she didnt get the teacher she wanted for her child. Happens all the time and usually no one pays any attention.

Why should we pay more attention now????

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 1, 2013 1:49 pm

Activists?   Other than write op-eds which the Inquirer dutifully prints, holding press conferences with a couple of people, and handing out money to politicians eager to feed at the trough what have these people done to demonstrate broad support for their proposals?   In spite of all their well funded efforts, the overwhelming majority of Philadelphians our elected officials and not the union for the schools crisis.

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 3:53 pm

I noticed this right off Ron. These are the activists?

Submitted by Karen Lewis (not verified) on October 1, 2013 7:55 pm

Do not let these people fool you. CPS took our seniority away in 1995 for "mutual consent". These people will always use a "crisis" to impose their ALEC agendas. Do not give up your seniority. Our members wish we still had it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 3:42 pm

Thank you, Karen, for being such an inspiration. You have my admiration.

For Notebook readers who do not know who Ms. Lewis is, she is the head of the Chicago Teacher's Union. She took on the old guard and helped to reframe and restructure their union.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2013 10:54 am

Karen, thank you! We do need to stay strong and stick together.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on October 5, 2013 12:27 pm

karen,
thank you for your words of support. the crisis we face is not unique to philadelphia, chicago or any other city. public education is under assault throughout the urban centers of the nation and once the cities go, the suburbs will follow. we've noted with admiration and envy your effectiveness in organizing your members, holding them together as a cohesive unit, and perhaps most importantly - nourishing and maintaining the support of the citizens of chicago.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 8:32 pm

So now the federal government union workers are on furlough. Does anyone miss them? No. Now would be a good time for the teachers union to demand a pay raise. LOL!

Submitted by A Teacher (not verified) on October 1, 2013 8:03 pm

Be careful, when you laugh at others hard times......your own could be right around the corner.....in a blink of an eye....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 8:03 pm

Contact this Democratic State Representative who is being a sell out and tell her not to propose or support the elimination of seniority. The rep. is Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) about the so-called - Protecting Excellent Teachers Act she is introducing.

Her Numbers: (Vanessa Lowery Brown)
LOCAL OFFICE: 215-879-6615, HARRISBURG OFFICE, 717-783-3822

As for the proposed state legislation, Cetel said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would be introduced Tuesday by State Reps. Tim Krieger (R., Westmoreland) and Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.)

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 1, 2013 9:43 pm

Whoa! Can we talk? I was a protester at the PSP event at the Union League. I spoke briefly to one of the philanthropists, a beautifully coifed and dressed woman who informed me that the SDP teachers would be better paid if our principals did not make so much money. As an SDP lifer, I do not often feel inclined to defend management, but the sheer idiocy of this comment--as if paying principals nothing at all would put a dent in our deficit-- called for at least a minimum of reality, so I responded that charter school principals often make more money than public school principals. She was thrown off by this, but bounced back triumphantly with the comment that "parents get to choose to send their children" to charters. When I responded, with a smile, that most charters don't allow any old parent to choose them, but instead are pretty darned choosy themselves, she dashed into the Union League. Her husband, equally well-dressed, was just wrapping up his peroration about the superiority of TFA's, barking out that they "are the real teachers."

Yeah, this couple...they are education's "reformers". One thing they can be sure of, no person in education is worthy of the salary that they themselves command. Running a company...now that's worth something. Teaching kids? Come on, that can just about be outsourced to a third world country. Bill Gates is perfecting the software, and he's going to give us a deal on the computers.

On top of the chic wardrobes, careful grooming, and fabulous first, second, and third vacation homes, the great thing about money is the instant expertise it confers upon its owner. We're just so lucky to have these rich tax-haven plutocrats deign to set us straight.

It's the principals. They're paid too much. Problem solved.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 11:51 pm

Rich people mostly feel so entitled to everything. It's repulsive! Most are actually know-it-all's when it comes to education but know nothing about it in reality.The educ. reformers keep your filthy rich mouth and money to yourselves.Most of you are greedy, selfish bullies anyway.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 12:14 am

Contact this Democratic State Representative who is being a sell out and tell her not to propose or support the elimination of seniority. The rep. is Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) about the so-called - Protecting Excellent Teachers Act she is introducing.

State Rep. VANESSA LOWERY BROWN - contact information below:

Her Phone Numbers: LOCAL OFFICE: 215-879-6615, HARRISBURG OFFICE, 717-783-3822

FACEBOOK: https://facebook.com/RepLoweryBrown

CONTACT VIA EMAIL: http://www.pahouse.com/Brown/?pg=contact

TWITTER: Vanessa Brown
@ RepVanessaBrown
Philadelphia, PA

As for the proposed state legislation, Cetel said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would be introduced Tuesday by State Reps. Tim Krieger (R., Westmoreland) and Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.)

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 2, 2013 6:22 am

I sent in my email to Lowery Brown, inspired by a conversation I had with a former Math Science and Civics Charter teacher. She insisted that her principal at Math Charter visited teachers to collect cash contributions for the principal's own birthday. Sadly, I find this believable. It's one petty abuse that springs from having no oversight over administrative prerogative. Does anyone believe that race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and a zillion other factors won't be used to discriminate against many individuals in the name of teacher "excellence"? The forces against us get scarier and scarier.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 3:38 pm

Had a similar thing happen in an SDP school. The principal was in an accident and somebody came around with an "envelope." Everyone's name was recorded who didn't give. Not many people gave.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 2, 2013 4:49 pm

That's bad...but not as bad as a principal shaking down the staff themselves.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 1:29 pm

Contact this Democratic State Representative who is being a sell out and tell her not to propose or support the elimination of seniority. The rep. is Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) about the so-called - Protecting Excellent Teachers Act she is introducing.

State Rep. VANESSA LOWERY BROWN - contact information below:

Her Phone Numbers: LOCAL OFFICE: 215-879-6615, HARRISBURG OFFICE, 717-783-3822

FACEBOOK: https://facebook.com/RepLoweryBrown

CONTACT VIA EMAIL: http://www.pahouse.com/Brown/?pg=contact

TWITTER: Vanessa Brown
@ RepVanessaBrown
Philadelphia, PA

As for the proposed state legislation, Cetel said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would be introduced Tuesday by State Reps. Tim Krieger (R., Westmoreland) and Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 3:51 pm

I remember a time when parents worked WITH the schools and not against them, and these were pre union days.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2013 9:17 am

Seniority, teacher selection and evaluation are all moot points when your principal is spending all day every day putting out fires with lack of assistant principal or counselor on hand. Time for a reality check!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2013 1:34 pm

More of your nonsense!! You know nothing about our principal or how principals continually dump their workload while hiding in their offices "taking care of business". The teachers are the ones putting out fires every day and damn well deserve their seniority for putting up with this crap day in and out. We have a counselor and the assistant principal we use to have spent most of his time trying to hide from the staff. Be quiet because you obviously don't have a clue what is going on in the schools. Check your own reality.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2013 2:00 pm

Um, I think you misread my comment. I am a teacher and favor seniority. I have taught in a few schools and am well aware of ineffective principals. My point is that even those who are capable of being effective (and yes they do exist!) are unable to implement site selection or evaluate teachers in our current climate.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 5, 2013 8:29 pm

My question is this: How is a teacher able to spend 10 years out of the classroom while working at 440 and then maintain his/her seniority?

Another issue that Ms. Liou should consider is the reason for the layoffs. The layoff of the first grade teacher was likely due to budget cuts which forced the District to lay off teachers. SO THE REAL ISSUE MS. LIOU SHOULD BE ADDRESSING IS A LACK OF SUFFICIENT FUNDING, NOT SENIORITY.

EGS

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 5, 2013 11:58 pm

Exactly. And, the teacher was NOT laid off, but force transferred. Those are two very different things! A person who is force transferred still has a job!

Submitted by Education Grad ... on October 6, 2013 8:11 pm

So was the first grade teacher who was force transferred selected through Full Site Selection?

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