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More 'amicus' briefs: Activists and gubernatorial candidate back union's stance

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 17, 2014 01:38 PM

Two friend-of-the-court briefs filed this week with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court support the position of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that the School Reform Commission does not have the power to impose contract terms in areas that traditionally have been negotiated.

One was filed by the advocacy group the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) and the other by Rob McCord, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. McCord's brief was written by the PFT's attorneys.

PSP, PennCAN weigh in on District's move to impose contract terms

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 15, 2014 10:56 AM

The latest "friend of the court" brief in the legal battle over whether the School Reform Commission can impose contract terms on the teachers' union, in the face of stalled negotiations and a worsening budget scenario, is from the Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN.

The groups urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the SRC filed its motion, to act soon. "The situation has deteriorated to the point that it requires prompt and definitive resolution," says the brief, which was prepared by the law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young.

New arguments in legal battle over teacher work rules; PDE and SRC press urgency

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 7, 2014 06:15 PM

The legal battle over whether Philadelphia's School Reform Commission has the power to unilaterally impose new work rules on the District's teachers is getting more intense with the filing of new arguments urging quick action by the Supreme Court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) maintains that "the collective bargaining agreement ... has proven a particularly high barrier to the District effecting reforms essential to providing services in a fiscally responsible and manageable manner." 

The District's court petition and the uncertain future of collective bargaining

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 2, 2014 01:49 PM

In its petition filed last week with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Philadelphia School District is asserting its right to make changes that could have the effect of casting aside nearly 50 years of collective bargaining history, during which its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has grown to govern not just salaries and benefits but minute details of daily life in schools.

To the PFT, the contract codifies protections for its members and guarantees them everything from functional water fountains to the right of senior teachers to claim positions in preferred schools. The union has long argued that its working conditions are student learning conditions and that some provisions, like limiting class size and specifying when schools must have counselors and librarians, have acted as a bulwark against the steady erosion of services while also preserving jobs.

Steel, Muñoz-Marin elementaries chosen for possible Renaissance charter conversion

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 1, 2014 06:00 PM

Updated | April 2, 4:49 p.m. 

The Philadelphia School District is proposing handing over two additional elementary schools to charter operators, assigning Muñoz-Marin to ASPIRA and Edward Steel to Mastery.

If the school communities approve, the two will be the 21st and 22nd low-performing District schools to be converted to charters under the Renaissance turnaround initiative.

Lump sum budget counts on $440 million not yet secured; principals storm Council

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 27, 2014 10:27 PM

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a $2.8 billion “lump sum” budget for fiscal 2015 that counts on receiving $440 million more in revenue than it currently has secured.

It did so shortly after an unprecedented scene in City Hall, when a few dozen school principals clogged the corridors to dramatize the appalling conditions in their schools and ask Council members for more funds.

And State Sen. Vincent Hughes addressed the SRC directly after holding a rally on the District’s steps in which he called for taxing Marcellus Shale extraction – Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state in the country that doesn’t do so – to raise money for education.

Hite suspending seniority for September, seeking approval from Supreme Court

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 24, 2014 04:18 PM

Updated | 6:20 p.m.

With labor negotiations stalled, Superintendent William Hite said Monday that he intends to impose a system for assigning teachers to schools next year that eliminates seniority as the deciding factor and instead gives principals the power to fill all vacancies and assemble staff.

“It is our intention to implement a range of work-rule reforms, and these include teacher assignment and transfer, layoff and recall, staffing levels, leveling, and the use of prep time,” Hite said in an interview.

The District filed a 60-page motion asking the state Supreme Court to issue a "declaratory judgment" to affirm its legal right to make such changes unilaterally.

SRC approves building sales, ratifies principals' contract

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 20, 2014 10:04 PM

The School Reform Commission approved the sales of six vacant properties Thursday night, most of them schools that were closed within the last two years.

It also ratified a contract with the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents principals and assistant principals, who will reduce their work year and see lower salaries. 

The properties will be sold for a total of $37 million under the current agreements, but the District will net $25.8 million after closing costs and other costs are taken out, said Fran Burns, the District's operations manager.

Students ask SRC for fresher lunch food

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 20, 2014 07:50 PM

Student activists from Youth United for Change pressed their case Thursday with the School Reform Commission to change lunch vendors to one that serves more fresh and appealing food.

The District "has the opportunity to become a national leader in the campaign to change the way how children eat in school," said Daniel Frye of YUC, a senior at Kensington Urban Education Academy.

More Renaissance charter schools planned for the fall

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 11, 2014 12:54 PM

Updated | 2:40 p.m.

The Philadelphia School District plans to designate two additional schools, likely K-6 or K-8 elementaries, for conversion to charter schools in September, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said Tuesday, making this the fifth straight year of the so-called Renaissance Charter Schools Initiative.

But the process will be significantly different this time. In the past, the District has chosen the schools to be converted and approved a set of providers, each of which made pitches to the school communities. Each School Advisory Council (SAC) then voted on which provider to accept.

For this round, the District will match a provider with a school, and the "school communities" will then vote on whether to accept the choice or remain under District control. Athough the schools will have SACs, the goal is to have all parents at a designated school participate in the vote, Kihn said.

In a call with reporters, Kihn said that the changes in procedure were made in response to feedback from parents and community members involved in past Renaissance conversions.

Deadline Friday to comment on District's proposed new charter policy

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 5, 2014 05:50 PM

The School District is proposing an overhaul of its charter school authorizing policy to make it more rigorous and consistent and is seeking public comment on the changes.

The deadline for providing such comment is this Friday, March 7. Comments can be recorded here. Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said the proposed policy will be revised to take the feedback into account.

Specifically, the proposed rules are aimed to support high-quality charters and close underperforming ones, while offering more frequent monitoring, more transparency, and the opportunity for expansion to charters that meet new, higher standards and academic benchmarks.

Actress Anna Deavere Smith in town for project on school-to-prison pipeline

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 27, 2014 05:59 PM

Renowned actress, playwright, professor, and activist Anna Deavere Smith is in Philadelphia for research on one of her signature projects that combine journalism, ethnography, social commentary, and theater. Her subject: the school-to-prison pipeline.

Smith discussed her work-in-progress Wednesday night in a packed session at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, where the plan is for her finished theatrical work to be produced at the end of the 2014-15 season. A documentary is also being made about her process in crafting the piece.

As she has done for similar projects, Smith is interviewing dozens of people – in this case, students, teachers, parents, principals, judges, public defenders, prisoners, former prisoners, prison officials, politicians, police, advocates, school dropouts, thought leaders, and people working with the anti-violence project CeaseFire – to shed light on the sprawling topic.

SRC approves creation of three small, innovative high schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 21, 2014 12:27 PM

The School Reform Commission approved the creation of three small, non-selective high schools Thursday that are meant to personalize learning while stressing inquiry- and project-based learning. 

The schools, which are still being designed, will abandon the model of consecutive, subject-based periods for a school day to make more effective use of technology, off-campus internships, and community integration. They are meant to reinvigorate the concept of neighborhood schools, said Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn.

District grappling with a $14 million shortfall this year, says CFO Stanski

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 21, 2014 02:01 AM

The financially beleaguered School District is on track to end this fiscal year with a shortfall of $14 million, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski told the School Reform Commission Thursday night. 

The news of an unbalanced budget was a grim but not unexpected greeting for new SRC chair Bill Green, who also got an earful from an unhappy capacity crowd of about 250 people. New SRC member Farah Jimenez was not present, fulfilling another commitment that predated her appointment.

Hite says Philly schools need bare minimum of $320 million more next year

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 19, 2014 05:51 PM

The School District of Philadelphia will ask for $320 million in additional funds next year to reach "a bare minimum amount of improved and sustained educational opportunities for our students and families," according to a financial supplement to Superintendent William Hite's Action Plan 2.0 made public Thursday.

Ideally, Hite said, to fully realize his plan -- built on "bold expectations" for creating schools that can prepare all students for college and careers -- the price tag exceeds twice that amount.

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