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Countdown, Day 11: What is the story with counselors?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 29, 2013 05:14 PM

The District has said that, so far, it has recalled 126 of the 270 counselors that it had laid off, all but 10 of them by using some of the $50 million in additional funds that the city has promised to deliver as a contribution to helping close the District's budget gap.

Although officials have not confirmed this, it appears that schools with fewer than 600 students were not allotted a full-time counselor. By looking at school enrollment projections from June, the Notebook calculated that only 85 of the District's 212 schools have 600 or more students. Ten additional counselors were also assigned to Promise Academies, seven of which have enrollments below 600.

Barring more recent purchases of counselors by principals or special allotments, that still leaves more than half of the District's schools, including half of the District's 48 high schools, without a counselor -- a situation that is unheard of in fully functional school systems.

Countdown, Day 12: Jordan offers one-year pay freeze, benefit changes

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 28, 2013 01:37 PM

[Updated, 3:30 p.m. with additional quotes from Charles Zogby]

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce that the union is willing to forgo a salary increase -- at least for one year -- and "make changes to our health care and benefits" in order to find savings that will allow positions to be restored to the schools.

"We know the current staffing levels cannot assure parents, students and employees that schools will be safe and more than just functional," Jordan said. He said he was particularly upset about split grades, the lack of counselors and libraries in every school, and enough support personnel and secretaries.

He didn't attach any dollar amounts to the benefits changes, and the School District immediately issued a statement saying that the offer "falls well short" of the $103 million in savings that it wants from the PFT. 

Countdown, Day 14: Most noontime aides rehired; asst. principals to be recalled soon

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 26, 2013 05:43 PM

The School District has recalled 1,109 noontime aides -- rebranded "school safety officers" by their union -- which is just about all of those who had been laid off and had not chosen to leave or retire.

Altogether, according to a document made public Monday, District officials used the $50 million in additional funds promised by the city to restore 907 positions, including some counselors, teachers, and others. That came on top of 742 positions that had been restored with $33 million that Superintendent William Hite eked out of his existing budget, for a total of 1,649.

Among those being recalled are 45 assistant principals, although none of them have yet been notified, according to Robert McGrogan, head of their bargaining unit.

Philly Say Yes students head to college, as Obama commends Syracuse program

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 26, 2013 12:58 PM

Kadidja Dosso spent last Thursday packing to go off to college, preparing for the ride ("depending on what kind of driver you are, it could be four hours or seven hours") to Hampton University in Virginia, where she plans to do a five-year program and get her MBA.

Anthony Walter is staying closer to home, at Chestnut Hill College, so he can be near his parents, both of whom are disabled. He plans to major in criminal justice.

Neither could have afforded college without help from the Say Yes to Education program, founded by philanthropist George Weiss in 1987. Kadidja and Anthony are members of the last Philadelphia class to benefit from Say Yes; they were made the promise when they were about to enter kindergarten at the Bryant Elementary School 13 years ago.

Countdown, Day 17: NCLB waiver frees up federal money, but it's no help in Philly

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 23, 2013 02:41 PM

When Pennsylvania received its waiver from No Child Left Behind, school districts around the state gained flexibility in using once-restricted federal dollars. But Philadelphia was not so lucky.

By law, districts were required to use 20 percent of their Title I money for Supplemental Education Services (SES) – generally, afterschool tutoring from private providers – and to transport students to better-performing schools. Philadelphia is scheduled to receive about $140 million in Title I funds in 2013-14, which is what led PFT president Jerry Jordan to send out a press release earlier this week, saying that $33 million could now be redirected to other purposes in the District, like bringing back laid-off classroom staff or restoring intervention and enrichment programs.

Countdown, Day 19: Facing the threat of split-grade classrooms

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 21, 2013 03:30 PM

A big way for school districts to save money is to hire fewer teachers. And one way to hire fewer teachers is to fill each classroom with the maximum number of students allowed under the teachers' contract and to use "split grades," in which students on two grade levels are mixed together.

For instance, if there are 44 1st graders and 44 2nd graders in a school, they could have two 1st grades and two 2nd grades, each with 22 students. But if the pressure is on to hire fewer teachers, they could have one 1st grade with 30 students (the contractual limit for K-3 classrooms), one 2nd grade with 30 students, and a split-grade classroom with 14 1st graders and 14 2nd graders. The split-grade classroom in this case saves the District the salary and benefits cost of one teacher -- more than $100,000.

Countdown, Day 20: Schools bring back staff, but many can only afford aides

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 20, 2013 05:07 PM

Less than three weeks left. The good news: Each school is staffed for student registration. Either a secretary who has been called back from layoff or a temp worker is at each school. Hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on all weekdays but Wednesday, when the hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The bad news: Principals have been confronted with difficult personnel decisions, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the $50 million accepted from the city last week with such fanfare is not going very far.

Schools received details about their additional staff allotments last Thursday. The District has so far declined to provide those details, but some facts are clear from information that principals have shared with staff and parents.

Countdown, Day 21: Mayor says kids, not teachers, being asked to do heaviest lift

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 19, 2013 02:43 PM

Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission continue their commitment not to budget a penny that they are not sure of getting as schools struggle to prepare for opening under unprecedented conditions. They have decided that the $50 million from the city is gettable, despite the tug-of-war between Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke over how to raise it.

So they have put those millions back into the District budget. Not so for the $45 million grant the state has committed but is holding back, pending concessions from the teachers' union in contract talks.

Over jeers and shouts, SRC suspends parts of school code

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 15, 2013 09:10 PM

[Updated 10 a.m with correction regarding school nurses and clarification on Donna Cooper quote]

Entering the overflowing room to a chorus of boos, struggling to be heard above the derisive shouts of hundreds of teachers, students, and parents, the School Reform Commission voted Thursday to suspend parts of the Pennsylvania School Code.

The move, permitted by the law under which the state took over the School District in 2001, gives Superintendent William Hite the ability to call back laid-off teachers and other staff selectively rather than according to seniority. It also lets him suspend the salary scale that automatically awards raises to teachers for each additional year of service up to a certain point. A provision that would have allowed the District to hire nurses who are licensed but uncertified as school nurses was removed.

Hite has said that these moves are temporary and designed to get the District through an "untenable" fiscal position -- a $300 million budgetary shortfall that forced nearly 4,000 layoffs and raised the possibility that schools would not open on time this year or with enough personnel.

Countdown, Day 25: Mayor, Council promise schools $50 million, but disagree on source

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 15, 2013 03:01 PM

Mayor Nutter and City Council presented dueling plans Thursday for getting a needed $50 million to the School District, but both the mayor and Council President Darrell Clarke said that Superintendent William Hite can count on the money.

Hite said that he would immediately begin recalling critical staff so that schools could open as scheduled on Sept. 9.

"The bottom line here is that schools will open safely and on time," Nutter said.

Even so, they will open with less than optimal staff. It is still not clear, for example, whether each school will have a counselor.

The money, Hite said in a statement, "will enable us to provide many crucial school functions and restore critical staff positions, including assistant principals, counselors and hallway, recess and lunch monitors."

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that a detailed breakdown would not come until next week. 

Amid the battle in City Hall over the source of the $50 million, advocates continued to assert that $50 million is not enough.

Countdown, Day 26: Hite wants SRC to suspend school code's seniority provision

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 14, 2013 02:45 PM

[Updated, 10 p.m.]

Still lacking sufficient funds to open fully staffed schools on Sept. 9, Superintendent William Hite will ask the School Reform Commission to suspend parts of the state school code at a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Many of the changes involve provisions governing labor practices. The District is seeking to bypass seniority rules as it restores positions and calls back laid-off workers. It also wants the ability to put at least a temporary halt to automatic pay increases based on longevity -- called "steps" -- for professional staff.

"We are in an untenable position," said Hite in an interview Wednesday afternoon. The requested changes, he said, will give the District more flexibility "to grapple with a budget that does not adequately support schools."

Countdown, Day 27: Philly's elected officials want $45 million now; Zogby says no

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 13, 2013 02:34 PM

[Updated with further reaction, 6:50 p.m.]

The city's legislative delegation, Mayor Nutter, and City Council leaders joined Tuesday in urging the state to immediately release $45 million in state-authorized dollars to the District so that schools can open on time.

They sent to Gov. Corbett a list of reform accomplishments that they say fulfills the state's requirements for release of those dollars. In passing the fiscal code in June, state legislators stipulated that the School District must implement "operational, educational and fiscal reforms" deemed by the state's education secretary to be sufficient before money appropriated by the state for city schools can be released.

Countdown, Day 28: Amid scramble for $50M, activists demand more and principals meet

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 12, 2013 12:35 PM

As Mayor Nutter and City Council worked on plans to put $50 million in the School District's coffers by the end of this week, a coalition of education activists and the faith-based organizing group POWER planned to demand more than that minimal amount, which Superintendent William Hite has described as "necessary but not sufficient."

The groups say that the patchwork funding package worked out in Harrisburg is far from sufficient for the District to meet its long-term needs. They are demanding a more long-term solution to the District's funding, one that can sustain a level of resources necessary to provide city students with the "thorough and efficient" education they are entitled to under the state constitution.

Countdown, Day 39: Hite says staffing levels 'nowhere near sufficient'

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 1, 2013 01:13 PM

Superintendent William Hite said that his voice might stay calm, but he is definitely not calm about whether he will be able to open schools on time. He was expecting at least to have access by now to $50 million in new funds from the city -- and he still doesn't have it as Mayor Nutter and City Council remain at odds over the best way to make it available.

"I will not be irresponsible in putting students into environments that are not able to serve their needs," Hite said in an interview Wednesday. "At the moment, a principal and a secretary in a 3,000-student high school is not sufficient to serve the needs of students there."  Northeast High School has 3,000 students.

Two 'receiving' schools to get $3M from Philadelphia School Partnership

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 31, 2013 03:56 PM

The Philadelphia School Partnership is giving $3 million to two District-run North Philadelphia schools that will be receiving additional students in September as a result of nearby school closings.

William D. Kelley and James G. Blaine, both K-8 elementary schools, will each receive $1.5 million "to support the development of a school turnaround model" that will focus on accelerating academic improvement.

"The Great Schools Fund is committed to supporting turnarounds of all types of schools," PSP executive director Mark Gleason said in a statement. He added that the schools' principals, Amelia Brown at Kelley and Gianeen Powell at Blaine, are "laser-focused on improving instruction."

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