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City, District move to improve services for students involved with child welfare

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 10, 2014 03:31 PM

The city and School District are moving to provide more intense and coordinated services for nearly one in five city students -- 17 percent -- who have been involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice system, officials said Tuesday.

They plan to place 27 additional social workers in schools that serve high numbers of these students, work harder to coordinate community-based services for them and their families, and provide attendance officers to keep track of absentees, said Karyn Lynch, the School District's chief of student support services. 

The officials released a report showing that these students need special education services at much higher rates than their peers and that their outcomes -- attendance, test scores, grade promotion, and graduation rates -- are poorer.

City charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 5, 2014 02:12 PM

Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to a Notebook analysis of state documents.

That is a nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers in District-run schools due to severe funding shortfalls. Payments to charters, which are fixed under law, make up nearly a third of its $2.4 billion budget.

The issue goes beyond Philadelphia. Statewide, charters, including cybers, collect about $350 million for special education students, but spend just $156 million on them, according to calculations from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The Notebook used the PASBO analysis of state data to calculate the numbers for Philadelphia, which has half the state’s 170 charter schools.

Two former District educators surrender licenses in wake of cheating scandal

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 5, 2014 12:29 PM

The former principal of Elverson Military Academy and a former teacher at John Welsh Elementary School surrendered their credentials last month as a result of allegations of cheating on standardized tests.

Notices of the disciplinary actions against Robert Manning and Michael Reardon were posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website Tuesday.

Manning, 62, was principal of Elverson when scores soared in 2011 and then plunged the following year after stricter test protocols were put in place.

School police officer from George Washington High School dies on duty

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 2, 2014 05:44 PM

A 50-year-old school police officer at George Washington High School died Monday after he took ill at the school, according to District officials.

Daryl Giles, a 19-year veteran, was found unresponsive in a staff bathroom, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

"It's a sad thing," said Gallard. "We are saddened and shocked; we lost a member of our family."

SRC renews one charter, postpones two others; goes with Maramont for food contract

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 29, 2014 09:38 PM

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to grant a five-year renewal to New Foundations Charter School, but postponed a decision on two others.

It also gave a $93 million, three-year contract to Maramont Corp. for school lunch services, but only after extensive questioning of company representatives and the District's food service staff.

SRC won't adopt 'Doomsday II' budget

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 29, 2014 06:07 PM

Updated | 11:30 p.m.

The School Reform Commission declined Thursday to adopt a budget proposal that would raise class sizes as high as 41, cut 800 teachers, reduce special education services to their bare minimum, prevent all but the most basic building maintenance, and make further cuts in services like counselors and nurses.

The SRC made the decision even though failing to adopt a budget before the end of May violates the city charter.

"Rather than adopting a 'Doomsday II' budget – and give anyone the impression that the cuts it contains are feasible or acceptable – we are going to not act on the budget tonight," announced SRC Chairman Bill Green. "Instead, we will continue to focus our energy and attention on securing the needed funding for our schools."

Besides budget, SRC to consider charter renewals and contract for food provider

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 28, 2014 03:41 PM

In addition to adopting a budget for the 2014-15 school year, the School Reform Commission will vote Thursday on renewing three charter schools and extending the contract of a food service manager, according to a list of pending resolutions.

The charters that are up for renewal votes at the 4:30 p.m. meeting are Esperanza Academy, New Foundations, and Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter. All specify enrollment limits and come with other conditions.

Schools have emergency procedures; not all have defibrillators or staff trained in CPR

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 23, 2014 01:07 PM

Accounts of the collapse of a 7-year-old boy at Jackson Elementary School on Wednesday say that at least two first responders -- a library volunteer who was a retired nurse and an employee of a behavioral health organization trained in CPR -- were not regular staffers and just happened to be in the building.

That raises the question of whether Jackson had in place an emergency plan required by the state departments of Health and Education that identifies "specially trained" staff and specifies staff responsibilities. 

"In true emergency situations, the school should do all in its power to render emergency care," say the guidelines. "To prepare for emergencies that can be reasonably anticipated in the student population, the school should have written first aid policies and emergency management practices in place. These policies and procedures should reflect staff responsibilities and district expectations for staff action in an emergency situation, including identifying specially trained and designated individuals who, in addition to the nurse, will render first aid."

District officials plead again with City Council for funds to avert a new round of layoffs

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 21, 2014 10:51 PM

City Council summoned School District leadership Wednesday to answer more questions on the needs of the schools and to argue over what the city can and should provide.

But after three hours of sharp verbal sparring, they seemed no closer to a breakthrough that could get the District enough money in time to avoid triggering hundreds of layoffs and planning for class sizes in September of 40 students or more.

Arrests imminent in cheating scandal, sources confirm

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 7, 2014 08:38 PM

Sources have confirmed that an unknown number of Philadelphia educators have been told to turn themselves in Thursday in connection with a criminal investigation by the state attorney general into cheating on standardized tests in Philadelphia schools.

The imminent arrests were first reported Wednesday evening by the Inquirer.

Despite entreaties, Clarke is firm on splitting sales tax between schools, pensions

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 7, 2014 03:30 PM

At hearings this week, School District leaders, education advocacy groups, and others have been imploring Philadelphia's City Council to swallow hard and do what the state legislature authorized it to do: extend the 1 percent surcharge on the sales tax and devote the first $120 million to the city's schools.

District leaders have already budgeted the money, and each day that goes by without a guarantee of recurring dollars, they pointed out, increases the chances of another school year marked by instability and disinvestment.

Council President Darrell Clarke has given his answer: No.

City and state still locked in battle over responsibility for Philly schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 3, 2014 02:12 PM

At Monday's annual budget hearing, City Council will hear pleas from School District leaders for more money.

It is a familiar scenario. The same thing happens every year, only this time it is worse. The District says it needs $216 million just to keep the current level of service -- a level in which many schools do not have full-time counselors or nurses, most have no libraries, course offerings have been cut back, and virtually all are scrambling for basic supplies.  

Report says recent state funding trends hit poorer districts hardest

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 30, 2014 07:54 PM

A report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released Wednesday says that school districts with large numbers of poor students, like Philadelphia, have been hurt disproportionately by cuts in education funding since Gov. Corbett took office.

Written by the center's executive director, Sharon Ward, the report calls the scale of cuts to districts "unprecedented." It says that Philadelphia has lost $1,351 per student, the most of any district in the state. PBPC is a non-partisan, progressive research center.

District redesigns school evaluations

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 28, 2014 05:12 PM

The School District has redesigned its school report cards, making it easier to compare schools with the same grade spans and similar demographics.

The new report cards measure academic achievement, progress, and school climate, dividing schools into "peer groups" and highlighting the top performers in each. For high schools, college and career readiness is also measured.

SRC votes to terminate Palmer charter, approves 4 others, adopts new charter policy

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 25, 2014 12:02 AM

The School Reform Commission approved a resolution calling for closure of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School on Thursday night, ignoring pleas from two City Council members, a state legislator and Palmer himself to "let calmer heads prevail" and postpone any action.

Before the 4-1 vote for closure, SRC Chair Bill Green pointed out that hearings must still take place before the school can be closed. Commissioner Sylvia Simms opposed the action.

It was a packed and noisy meeting that took more than six hours, with more than 60 people signed up to give testimony.

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