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Back to the drawing board: huge deficit means it's time to re-engage the public, re-establish priorities

By Helen Gym on Sep 17, 2009 10:54 AM

And so we’re here again.

One week into school and we’re facing an almost certain $150 million budget deficit and counting. I say “we” because $150 million is not a number accountants and creative bookkeeping can make disappear. It’s a number that’s likely to touch every school, and possibly be felt in every classroom in the city.

It’s a situation the School District ignored as it signed off on millions of dollars in contracts for the past five months – despite appeals that contracts should be prioritized or even held off until the state budget came through. It’s a situation the School District steadfastly refused to acknowledge even when the governor’s budget was clearly dead in the water. It’s a situation that the School District’s only apparent preparation for was a “doomsday budget” in the event of a worst-case scenario.

But it looks like something very close to a worst case scenario is at hand.

Notes from the news, Sept. 17

By Erika Owens on Sep 17, 2009 09:55 AM

On the Side: Stalking the corner-store school snacks Inquirer
Inky food columnist Rick Nichols looks at the impact of corner stores, where students get an average of 360 calories of food on each trip, on student health.

Pa. budget stalemate is killing social services Inquirer
From the perspective of Caring People Alliance CEO Arlene Bell: "We won't be around to talk about early-childhood education in a couple months," she said. "There's not going to be anybody left to provide that sort of thing."

See also: Pa. Lawmakers May Be Close to a Budget Deal KYW
Budget Impasse Impacts Student Supplies

Elementary School Dropout Philadelphia Weekly
Philadelphia Student Union gets a shout out in the opening paragraph of this first-person account from a TFA teacher who left the classroom.

Academic rewards South Philly Review
50 students at James Alcorn Elementary School received bookbags from Tackling Together, a Cherry Hill nonprofit. Former Eagles player Barrett Brooks also visited the school.

Notes from the news, Sept. 16

By Erika Owens on Sep 16, 2009 10:03 AM

Notes from the day:

Charters outpace District schools: Let's give ALL schools more flexibility

By Eric Braxton on Sep 15, 2009 08:36 AM

School-by-school PSSA scores were released recently. The Inquirer reported that 73% of Philadelphia’s charter schools made AYP compared to only 41% of District schools

Some of this may be attributed to the fact that charters have a tendency to attract families that have it together enough to search for the best schools for their children, and some concerns have been raised about whether charters push out students they do not want. There is a lot of debate about whether charters engage in this kind of “creaming.” 

Putting that aside for the moment, I think the main reason that many charters are successful is that they have much more flexibility to do innovative things and to make decisions that work best for their students and staff than District schools. 

The real question we should be asking ourselves is how do we get that flexibility for all schools? 

Notes from the news, Sept. 15

By Erika Owens on Sep 15, 2009 08:32 AM

Notes from today:

'Hold back ... until we get a firm budget'

By Paul Socolar on Sep 14, 2009 09:28 PM

District Chief Business Officer Michael Masch told the Notebook Monday that the District has not yet made budget cuts or canceled programs - despite an anticipated massive shortfall in revenues coming from the state, which currently looks to be in the range of $150 million.

But he said that because of the uncertain state budget situation, the District has "held back on fully contracting all the slots and all the dollars for multiple pathways programs" - alternative programs for returning dropouts.

Philly "c"elebrity teachers welcome Tony Danza

By Samuel Reed III on Sep 14, 2009 11:54 AM

There are critics who say that cameras will disrupt the education of students in Northeast High School, where Tony Danza, a former talk show host and sitcom star will co–teach with a certified Philadelphia School District teacher. 

This post is not going to argue the merits of having cameras in the classroom. Maybe the resigning School Reform Commissioner, Heidi A. Ramirez , could do a better job than me arguing against it; she was the only commissioner who voted not to approve the filming of the reality show.

Mr. Danza presumably made it through his first week without resigning. He is blogging on his Web site Daily Danza, during the production of 13 episodes for the Arts and Entertainment Cable network reality show “Teach.”

Notes from the news, Sept. 14

By Erika Owens on Sep 14, 2009 12:11 AM

Notes from over the weekend:

Notes from today:

  • The Philadelphia relief budget is now for the state Senate to decide. Unless the bill passes, Philly will have to shut down many city services including the libraries.
  • Local ed policy research group Research for Action named a new executive director. Dr. Kathleen Shaw was Deputy Secretary of Postsecondary and Higher Education in the Rendell Administration's Department of Education. She will assume the position Dec. 1.
  • Tomorrow there will be a “What it Takes 2” forum presented by Urban Youth Racing School and the School District of Philadelphia Office of High School Reform. It's at 3:30 at 440 N. Broad and the focus is part of an effort to reengage minority male youth. High school boys must register at, including name, grade, and school.

Blowing a huge hole in the District budget

By Paul Socolar on Sep 12, 2009 09:38 PM

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Dan Hardy writes Saturday that with the proposed Harrisburg budget agreement, the Philadelphia school district will fall at least $144 million short in state aid this year compared to what was in the budget plan of Gov. Rendell. The governor is still threatening to veto the proposed agreement.

Empowerment School list grows to 95

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 11, 2009 05:05 PM

The School District released its list of Empowerment Schools Friday, and a quick review indicates that no schools (except for one that closed) were removed from last year's list of 85 while 11 were added.

That makes 95 such schools, all designated as "low-performing" and targeted for intensive interventions.

Teaching Hope

By Molly Thacker on Sep 11, 2009 01:01 PM

I find teachers inspiring. And I’m not just saying that because I am one. As anyone who has spent any time in the classroom knows, the description “challenging yet rewarding” does not quite do it justice.

Teaching is life altering, worldview changing, and all consuming. It can be hilarious, heartbreaking, invigorating, emotionally draining, physically taxing, and enriching beyond belief – all in the same day. In short, it is a roller coaster that lasts nine months. There are really high highs and some pretty low lows. And in order to make it until the ride comes safely to a halt in June, one definitely needs a safety belt.

The secret weapon of all teachers everywhere – from the first year twenty-something shakily standing beside their classroom expectations poster, to the experienced veteran making final changes to a finely tuned syllabus – is hope.

Notes from the news, Sept. 11

By Erika Owens on Sep 11, 2009 11:19 AM

The news from today:

Notes from the news, Sept. 10

By Erika Owens on Sep 10, 2009 10:35 AM

News from the past day:

And now the responsibility rests with students

By Erika Owens on Sep 9, 2009 03:31 PM

President Obama kicked up quite the storm with his speech to schools on Tuesday and the suggested lesson plans. In the cacophony of complaints, people questioned taking time out of the school day and his presumed desire to indoctrinate students in socialist politics, but there was relatively little discussion about the content of the speech. Again President Obama went back to his refrain about personal responsibility, but this time, instead of targeting parents, he spoke to his student audience.

Luckily, some people are taking a critical look at his speech itself.* The Washington Post's new ed blogger Valerie Strauss discussed the speech with Jay Mathews. Strauss zeroed in on one facet of this focus on personal responsibility--Obama called for students to develop creativity and ingenuity, but there are forces out of the students control that dictate the curriculum those students encounter.

More democracy equals a stronger union

By Ron Whitehorne on Sep 9, 2009 12:21 PM

The most frequent question asked of PFT building reps over the years is undoubtedly, “What’s the union going to do about this?”

The way this question is formulated tells you a lot about what’s wrong with unions today. 

The questioner sees the union, not as a group of workers to which he or she belongs, but as an outside agency that has the responsibility to fix the problem. The individual member pays dues and, in exchange,  expects to receive services.  This is the essence of modern, bureaucratic unionism.

Democracy, in the sense used here, is much more than rules and procedures.  

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