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October 2012 Vol. 20. No. 2 Focus on A Portfolio of Schools

District news

The new face of a district

Superintendent Hite works to rebuild momentum – amid a funding crisis, a cheating scandal, and struggles with Harrisburg.

By by Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 10, 2012 11:15 AM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

To balance the budget, Superintendent Hite will need help from Jerry Jordan (left) and the teach-ers’ union. The union contract negotiation is coming up.

For the School District of Philadelphia, 2012-13 is shaping up as one of its most challenging school years ever.

The School Reform Commission must close dozens of schools, borrow $300 million to stay afloat, and begin a challenging negotiation with the teachers’ union on a new contract. The District will seek big financial concessions from teachers but also changes in seniority practices and how teachers are evaluated and compensated.

Through the Great Schools Compact, the SRC is setting a goal for creating more “high-performing seats” and more choice for parents through “portfolio management” of schools, a strategy that assumes the continued expansion of charters. But its careful planning to manage that expansion without running out of money for District-managed schools is threatened by charter legislation pending in Harrisburg.

The labor talks, the charter growth, the funding crisis, the Harrisburg politics – all are in the lap of a new superintendent hired this summer to take Philadelphia into a new educational era, one that will likely be marked by escalating demands to accomplish more with diminishing resources.

But William Hite is starting off upbeat.

“The challenges in Philadelphia are not atypical to the challenges of many large, urban areas,” he said in July shortly after he agreed to become the new superintendent.

Hite says that his bottom-line tasks are to “operate more efficiently with the resources that are available,” and “make sure all students have quality options available within their communities or their neighborhoods.”

The District faces pressure for higher student achievement as it copes with an ongoing cheating scandal that has undermined confidence in recent gains.

This year was the first in a decade that overall scores on the PSSA went down in Philadelphia; however, proficiency rates are still 25 points higher than they were 10 years ago. The state is blaming the decline on past cheating and stricter testing protocols.

The scandal, which has touched about a fifth of District schools and several charters, is making it harder for education advocates to make a point that they think is obvious – that test score drops reflect a precipitous cut in funding.

Meanwhile, people working in schools are hoping that last year’s disruption – midyear cuts, loss of support personnel – won’t be repeated. But the SRC’s new five-year financial plan calls for balancing the budget by cutting the District’s payroll by 16 percent next year, and continuing reductions for three more years after that.

As principals go about their day-to-day jobs running schools, the system for supervising and supporting them is not fully in place. The central office has been severely cut back and the regions dismantled, but weeks into the school year, the structure was still in flux.

More than 70 schools have been granted new levels of autonomy. The shrunken central office is now expected to function as a hub for support services rather than a command center dictating policy to schools.

Hite hired an outsider, Paul Kihn from the global consultant McKinsey & Co., as his second-in-command. The District is still putting in place a team of assistant superintendents to supervise and evaluate principals, according to spokesperson Fernando Gallard.

All schools have been assigned to new “principal learning teams” to share educational best practices. On hold for right now are plans to organize schools into “achievement networks,” some of which would be run by outside operators.

An alliance that includes the teachers’ union and local organizing groups, called the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, is countering the reliance on privatization of management, budget austerity, and massive school closings by devising a community-based plan for improvement.

As some chafe against the reform direction the SRC has committed to, the city’s education policymakers are fighting in Harrisburg to avert legislation they say could turn their efforts to manage charter expansion into chaos.

Local officials expect that by 2017 charters will educate fully 40 percent of the city’s public school students. But while the growth of charters is seen as a given, District leaders are seeking to control the financial impact by asking charter operators to turn around low-performing District schools rather than open new ones.

But in Harrisburg, Gov. Corbett is backing legislation that would take away the District’s ability to be the sole authorizer of charter schools, invalidate any enrollment caps, and give charters 10-year authorizations.

“This means in essence that once it has obtained a charter, a poorly performing charter school may grow without restraint unless it is so bad that it meets the stringent standards for revocation,” says a memo from the mayor’s education office obtained by the Notebook.

The pending law would make it “difficult, if not impossible, to manage charter school quality and execute on the portfolio management approach we are all supporting,” the memo says.

Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said in an interview that Harrisburg “would listen to the concerns of the SRC” but must take into account the needs of all schools statewide.


About the Author

Contact Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa at

Comments (26)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2012 4:58 pm

Before making concessions, let's find out how much everyone at the District Office earns. Also, I believe there are some Retired "Consultants" who continuously re-invent themselves. One of them being Ed Williams. How much money is he sucking from the taxers?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 10, 2012 1:49 pm

Now here is a blog packed full of arguable points and issues if I ever saw one.

Let the dance begin....

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on October 10, 2012 3:09 pm

Similar to medieval dance frenzies?

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on October 10, 2012 4:47 pm

I don't know about the rest of you, but I still can't get the seats in my room to dance, sing, or do trapeze. I've even kicked the students out to make them sit in the hall so they don't disturb the seats. But the seats just won't perform.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 10, 2012 5:47 pm

Yeah, the seats just won't act like children. Children laugh and play and dream. Sometimes they act out and demand that they be treated like humans. They have multiple intelligences and multiple emotions. Some are good at this and some are good at that. They all have their own little interests and motivations -- and personalities. But they all have Smiles.

Now those seats. They just take whatever happens to them. They never think -- never act. They just sit there. Even when you kick them in the seat.

And you know, their teachers -- the teachers of seats. I think they are more like the humans. They have feelings and hopes and dreams, too. They have families, too! But you know what? Most of them really love their students. That is the children students. Not just the seats.

Teahers, they work hard. Most of them even give their hearts out to children. Wow. Maybe they should be treated like humans, too!

Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on October 10, 2012 5:04 pm

A 16% reduction in payroll? How about we start with eliminating the serial "takers" like Ed Williams, the original glad-handing blowhard and standard-bearer for PSD corruption? Then step right on up to cutting the yearly $1000 given to principals for materials who are using that money to buy themselves I-Pads (as opposed to teachers who receive $100 for materials and spend 8-10 times that much on their students). Oh yeah, and let's NOT put in place yet another new team of incompetent and overpaid assistant superintendents whose productivity and usefulness are marginal at best. And trash-can Teach for America, an expense not worth the poor performance and high turnover of its recruits. THEN you can talk to me about concessions. We invest our bodies, intellects, and souls into our students every single day, and the rollercoaster ride from September to June leaves most of us exhausted and spent by the time our, you know, UNDESERVED SLACKER time off arrives in July and August.

Take a lesson from Chicago, folks, and demand a fair salary RAISE, not the elimination of steps, cost-of-living raises, and reductions of sick time, personal time, and medical benefits. I love the children I serve, but I am about done with this morally bankrupt district. Chucking it all is looking better every year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 10, 2012 5:00 pm

The 1000 given to CASA members DOES not come from the SDP budget. Our union dues are much higher than PFT. We need to promote unity as unions, not throw stones. It appears positions are being created at the cabinet level with high salaries.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 10, 2012 7:39 pm

There are a lot of places to trim the fat. Let's take a look a Central Office staff for the 16% reduction in payroll. Let's start with the Special Assistants to the Deputies and Deputy Chiefs and Penny's small army of people. Let's hear from those who actually work in Central Office and know of the people who do nothing all day.

Submitted by James C. (not verified) on October 10, 2012 7:02 pm

As well as Hite and Knudsen's chauffeurs, vehicles, and security escorts.

Submitted by 440 worker (not verified) on October 10, 2012 8:27 pm

I work at central office and, while I will not pretend there is no "fat" that could be trimmed (as there is in every one of our predominantly excellent schools) it is not like it was in times past. As someone who in the last year has taken a 4% pay CUT, 3 furlough days (which represents an additional 10% pay cut for those three pay periods) and now pays over $925 a year for healthcare premiums (where I previously paid nothing), I'd like to hear an end to the argument that we should "start with central office" to find the cuts. We've already started there and dozens of friends have lost their jobs in the process. The entire salaries and benefits of EVERYONE at 440 doesn't approach 1% of the total payroll cost of SDP let alone 16%. We're going to have to share the financial pain to maintain the health of this District that so many of us love and serve daily. I'm doing my part and hope others who love the students and teachers of this great District as much as I do will step up when their time comes.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012 5:07 am

As one 440 worker to another....well said.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012 8:05 am

How much did you pay last year for the privilege of working? At the school level, we pay for paper, tissues, curricular materials, etc. The cost for the privilege of teaching increase each year. While I "get" that you, a non union employee, had to take cuts, that means you are making a hefty salary. If the SDP wants to keep teachers, slashing salaries and expecting us to keep paying more and more out of pocket won't keep teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 5:44 pm

At 440 I had to pay for my own computer and software. I have to bring in my own office supplies too.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 12, 2012 6:39 pm

Teachers have been buying their own supplies for years.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 8:52 pm

I'm sorry but there is no reason for anyone who never sees a student to have a job when we're being asked to buy our own student textbooks. We don't need anyone else to carry water to sea. Schools are woefully understaffed and people who care about the education of our children are needed desperately. Just not in a monolith down on N. Broad.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 10, 2012 11:27 pm

Cut our dental benefits.
I can't find a dentist that likes our dental plan.
And many will not accept it at all

Maybe we're going about this the wrong way
The steamroller isn't stopping
How about PFT start applying to PA as a charter provider?
Pick up some of the schools that are being given away.
Teacher run - public charters; cuts out the excess at the top.

Submitted by tom-104 on October 11, 2012 1:02 am

Union run charters are not working in New York. Of course Randi Weingarten depended on "hefty grants" from the Broad Foundation to fund them and I'm sure that didn't help.

Opened to prove a point, UFT’s charter school could be closed

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 8:25 pm

The district doesn't pay for the dental or vision benefits to begin with. Those are through the PFT.

If teachers got to run schools, who would make money off of them?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012 9:02 am

A great place to start cutting is the 12 month principals and assistant principals. Ok maybe the principals should be 12 months, but not the APs. Without summer school this year , what did they do???????????

Submitted by Works with Kids (not verified) on October 15, 2012 2:39 pm

Great suggestion! Won't be surprised if it happens! There is quite a difference in pay..

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012 11:11 am

"Will step up when their time comes"? Sounds like: it's your turn to accept getting screwed like we were because we have no union.

Their time comes when they sit down at the bargaining table and expect a fair contract. Does step up mean giving back everything that union members have fought for over the years? Does it mean being threatened to get thrown on the trash heap or else the way they did to the custodians? Does it mean having to pay for the mistakes of a series of incompetent administrators and superintendents?

Teachers step up every day when they pay out of pocket for things the district says it can't afford, including paper. Not to mention working under conditions which become increasingly oppressive and difficult with each year.

What an insulting comment.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012 11:13 pm

While I meant no insult by my comment, I am curious: what does a fair contract look like when the school district is broke? Is it fair for PFT to continue to demand raises that outpace the federal cost of living increases and continue to have ZERO COST health care when virtually nobody else in any other industry in the nation does? I am well aware that teachers pay money out of their own pockets. But this is not a new phenomenon. When I started teaching in West Philly in the mid 1990's I got one ream of copy paper PER MONTH for 150 students. I had to buy the rest. That hasn't changed. What has changed drastically since then is the cost of health care, for instance. Don't get me wrong - if the money was there, I would gladly agree that teachers should get free health care. But the money isn't there. Now what do we do? I'm really asking, because I don't know that anyone has a completely satisfactory answer.

Submitted by tom-104 on October 11, 2012 11:25 pm

The PFT has not yet made a pay proposal in a new contract. It is a fact, however, that Philadelphia public school teachers are among the lowest paid in the state.

The SRC in their five-year plan announced a few weeks ago said that they are proposing an 18% pay and benefits cut for school district employees next year.

The money is there! When Corbett cut almost $1 billion dollars from school funding last year, he made a $700 million dollar increase in the prison budget, including three new for profit prisons. It all depends on what your priorities are!

The federal budget for Defense is a little over $700 billion. The next closest nation is China whose budget is $150 billion. Our defense budget is larger than the defense budget of all the countries in the rest of the world combined.
Our education budget at the federal level is a little under $70 billion.

As Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 4:46 pm

I would love it if we got a federal cost of living increase. You obviously have no idea what you're talikng about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 4:10 pm

The school district does not have any money because Corbett is intentionally starving the district. There is plenty of money in America to fund our schools. There is plenty of money in America to fund an equitable health care system, too.

The politics of austerity is not working anywhere in the world and more and more economists are pointing that out. The way to end the recession is not austerity, it is to redistribute wealth and spend it on the middle class who provide services for the public good.

Our economy is not going to recover until the middle class has more money to spend.

The proper funding of our schools is a moral obligation of our government.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 13, 2012 9:30 am

Please have a look at the Philadelphia School Districts Vacancy List. There are several openings due to teachers being released through the leveling process. In particular, there is an LS/English position at the Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds that needs to be filled immediately. Great school!

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