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Are health care changes fair to teachers compared to central office workers?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 24, 2014 04:43 PM

Updated | 10/25

 If and when proposed changes to teachers' health benefits take effect, most non-unionized central office employees will have access to a better health care plan without having to "buy up" to it, while all teachers' union members will have to start paying significantly more for the same coverage.  

Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have complained about being shifted into a plan that has higher out-of-pocket costs, although they have expressed a willingness to start contributing something toward their benefits.  

As the acrimonious fight between the SRC and the PFT plays out in court and both sides vie for the moral high ground in the realm of public opinion, there are many ways to parse what is fair and reasonable.

Some insights from controller's latest report on charters

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 22, 2014 10:51 PM

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz has been studying charters in Philadelphia for a while now, looking into fraud and keeping tabs on the quality of School District oversight

In his latest report, released Tuesday, he concludes that the way charters are funded is crippling the District's finances.

The Butkovitz report mostly goes over well-trod territory, but he comes up with a few facts and figures worth drawing attention to:

Pa. court hears arguments in teachers' contract dispute; no ruling yet

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 22, 2014 07:17 PM

Lawyers for the School District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers traveled to Harrisburg on Monday for one of the legal skirmishes in the battle over whether the School Reform Commission has the power to nullify the union's labor contract and unilaterally change health benefits.

The session in Commonwealth Court before President Judge Dan Pellegrini was scheduled to start at 9:30 and lasted until 11 a.m. As of 7 p.m., there had been no ruling. 

Malala accepts Liberty Medal, says education is a right for all

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 21, 2014 11:33 PM

The stage was set to celebrate the power of women at the Constitution Center on Tuesday night as the Liberty Medal was presented to the world's most famous schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai.

The 17-year-old Pakistani, whose outspoken defense of girls' right to an education led to her being shot by the Taliban -- and then becoming a world-famous human rights activist -- accepted the award under a tent set up on the Constitution Center's lawn.

Crucial court hearing on PFT-District dispute Wednesday morning

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 21, 2014 05:56 PM

A crucial hearing will occur Wednesday morning in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg in the legal dispute between the School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers over the union contract.

The SRC on Oct. 6 nullified the PFT contract and unilaterally imposed changes in teachers' health benefits, saying that 21 months of negotiations had been unproductive and that it needed the savings to put resources back in schools. 

SRC listens to anger for hours, after thousands protest contract cancellaton

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 16, 2014 11:37 PM

For nearly three hours Thursday night, the School Reform Commission listened to harsh and bitter criticism of its move last week to cancel its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and unliaterally change health benefits for the union's 11,500 members. 

Winners and losers in release of new District funding allotments, leveling

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 9, 2014 05:03 PM

The District giveth, and the District taketh away -- at least for some Philadelphia schools.

Principals got a memo Wednesday offering additional per pupil allocations for their schools as a result of the School Reform Commission's move to cancel the teachers' contract and cut health-care costs.

[Update, 10/15: The District has finalized the amounts to be received by schools in this first round. Very few school allocations changed, but the earlier spreadsheet slightly misstated the enrollment at some schools.]

But for many principals, it was no windfall. At dozens of schools, the extra money was accompanied by a decrease in teacher allotment because of “leveling,” or the adjustment of staff size to match actual, instead of projected, student enrollment.

The District promptly released the school-by-school breakdown of additional funds and changes to teacher allotments Thursday afternoon in response to a request from the Notebook.

Details of the health benefit changes

By Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Socolar on Oct 6, 2014 01:21 PM

The District will require all PFT members to contribute to the cost of their benefits. Those earning less than $25,000 will pay 5 percent of the plan's premiums. Those earning between $25,000 and $55,000 will pay 10 percent, and those earning over $55,000 will pay 13 percent.

The District says monthly payments for PFT members will range from $27 to $71 for single coverage and $77 to $200 per month for family coverage.

SRC revokes teachers' contract, changes health benefits, redirects $44 million to schools

By Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Socolar on Oct 6, 2014 09:30 AM

After 21 months of fruitless labor talks, the School District made a bold move Monday to unilaterally restructure teachers' health benefits and send $44 million in savings directly back to schools.

At a special meeting that was barely publicized until hours before its 9:30 a.m. start, with no public testimony before acting, the School Reform Commission unanimously voted to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in order to rework its health-care provisions. The District also filed a legal action in Commonwealth Court to establish its right to rewrite the contract based on special powers granted to the SRC.

Two Philly charters owe their existence to appeals to state board

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 2, 2014 07:22 PM

The new cigarette tax bill that sends badly needed money to the School District comes with a controversial provision -- that the District start accepting applications for new charter schools.

To the consternation of the charter community, the School Reform Commission has not considered new charter applications since 2007, citing its precarious financial situation, although it has continued converting low-performing District schools to charters.

In Philadelphia debate, Corbett and Wolf spar again on education cuts

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 1, 2014 09:28 AM

The very first question to Gov. Tom Corbett in his debate with challenger Tom Wolf went straight to the point: Are schools better off in Pennsylvania since he took office?

The issue of education took up the first 17 minutes of the candidates' hour-long debate on Wednesday morning. Starting at 8 a.m. in the studios of KYW Radio, it was broadcast during morning drive time.

In a round of lightning-fast questioning marked by verbal zingers and frequent interruptions, the two men largely repeated their campaign positions on the issue, which, polls have shown, dominates voter concerns.

PSSA scores stay flat; Hite encouraged by results

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 24, 2014 06:09 PM

Less than half of Philadelphia students in District schools read and do math proficiently, but the rates stayed essentially flat this year despite severe funding cutbacks.

Superintendent William Hite called the results good news.

Judge denies Palmer charter's request for more funds; school's future uncertain

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 24, 2014 04:23 PM

A Common Pleas Court judge refused Wednesday to order the Philadelphia School District to immediately pay Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School nearly $1.4 million in disputed funds, endangering the school's ability to stay open.

Hite sees some progress in resource-starved system

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 23, 2014 12:21 PM

This article will appear in the Notebook's print issue focusing on school funding in Pennsylvania, due out Sept. 26. 

 

Students in Philadelphia returned on Sept. 8 to understaffed schools and often oversized classes, with teacher labor negotiations at a stalemate and Harrisburg still dithering over a cigarette tax to provide the District with needed funds.

Still, said Superintendent William Hite, things aren’t as bad as last year, when some schools opened with teaching staffs at bare minimum and counselors and assistant principals scarce.

In the opening weeks, Hite tried to put an optimistic face on what is shaping up as another year of uncertainty for the District.

Principal Saliyah Cruz leaving the LINC for job in Baltimore

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 17, 2014 11:29 PM

After spending the better part of six months designing a brand new high school – meant to be a model for transforming the educational experience for ordinary students – Saliyah Cruz disclosed abruptly this week that she will be leaving to take a new job.

To put it mildly, everyone from Superintendent William Hite to students and staff who had made leaps of faith to join the new school were surprised and disappointed. The school, called the LINC (for Learning in New Contexts), shares a building with Roberto Clemente Middle School in Hunting Park.

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