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Groups plan actions for when education funding body meets in Philly

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 16, 2014 11:55 AM

The Pennsylvania legislature's Basic Education Funding Commission is coming to Philadelphia for hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and two advocacy groups have announced plans to make sure that its members hear from the public whether they want to or not.

Four schools approved for redesign

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 12, 2014 06:00 PM

Update | Friday, noon 

The School District has approved three elementary schools and one middle school for redesign overhauls that could significantly change how students experience education. 

All the plans, in one way or another, appear to involve more intensive use of technology and a shift to inquiry- and project-based learning.

The schools are:

With days until deadline, 46 new charter applications

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 11, 2014 05:04 PM

The deadline for filing is not until Nov. 15, but the School District of Philadelphia already has 46 letters of intent from groups wanting to open new charter schools.

It is seeking help to evaluate them all.

A letter sent to universities says that "budgetary constraints require the District to seek application reviewers who are willing to give of their expertise on a volunteer basis." 

Hite and others see racial disparities in funding as alarming

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 7, 2014 05:14 PM

"Stark" and "alarming" are words that were used Friday to describe the results of a recently published analysis of state education aid. It shows that Pennsylvania districts with similar rates of poverty that are almost all White get higher per-pupil amounts of basic education funding than districts that are more racially diverse.

Racial bias evident in Pa. funding system, analysis shows

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 6, 2014 10:39 AM

During the gubernatorial campaign, advocates emphasized that Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has no education funding formula. In other words, it has no rational, predictable, enrollment-based system for distributing state school aid.

The process now in place is based on an accumulation of old formulas and ad hoc decisions made over decades.

And a new analysis shows in dramatic fashion that this system, now under review by a special legislative commission, has a discriminatory impact based on race.  

Legal battle between SRC and PFT heads to Commonwealth Court

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 28, 2014 11:06 AM

Updated | 2:30 p.m.

The legal battle over whether the School Reform Commission can impose benefit changes on teachers has shifted to Commonwealth Court, which could hear arguments in the dispute as early as December.

On Monday, Common Pleas Court Judge Nina Wright Padilla made an injunction permanent that delays any benefit changes until the matter is resolved in court, and the District appealed that ruling to Commonwealth Court. 

Both sides said they are pleased by the outcome of the latest legal maneuvers.

The District says that the legal proceedings will accelerate a final resolution in court of the extent of the SRC's powers. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says the ruling points the parties back to the bargaining table, a move that the District says it remains open to. 

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

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 24, 2014 03:43 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 09:51 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 06:17 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 10:33 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 04:56 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 10:37 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 04:03 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 12:21 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 08:30 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.

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