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

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Mon, 04/07/2014 - 18:15 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

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." 

Passivity in mayor’s office isn’t helpful

Posted in December 2013 Edition | Permalink

Doing the right thing

Response to Oct. 17 news post “SRC rejects plan to sell off art.”

The SRC is to be commended for voting not to sell the artwork which was, for all intents and purposes, stolen from District schools. [Former Superintendent] Paul Vallas and [former SRC Chair] James Nevels had no right to take it, and the way they did it was just plain ugly. They never told anyone – not even the principals – what they were about to do. 

Constitution High students protest loss of more staff

Submitted by thenotebook on Wed, 10/02/2013 - 16:50 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

by Isaac Riddle

Protesting further losses in staff and resources to their school, around 200 students from Constitution High School staged a “sit-in” in front of their school’s entrance early Wednesday morning. 

The school's staff was informed Monday during an emergency meeting that $90,000 would be trimmed from the school’s budget, according to Kathleen Melville, an English and Spanish teacher at Constitution, a citywide admission school in Center City. The reduction is a result of leveling, the District's process of reassigning teachers about six weeks into the school year, based on actual enrollments at that time. 

Students at Constitution, however, feel their school already lacks an adequate number of teachers and staff.

A smooth opening or slow-brewing disaster?

Submitted by thenotebook on Tue, 09/17/2013 - 18:08 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

by Bill Hangley Jr.

While Michelle Rhee was praising Philadelphia’s efforts to restructure public education, union and community advocates gathered across town to warn of a slow-brewing disaster behind the scenes.

“We can’t sit and say this has been a great opening,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “We all know that the resources in our classrooms in June were not adequate. And to have them reduced even more is not acceptable.”

Advocates acknowledged that the first days of classes were marred by only a few clearly problematic public incidents, such as the reported sexual assault of a 12-year-old student walking to school in Mantua. 

But inside school buildings, they said, classes are overcrowded, staff is overstretched, and students will eventually pay the price. 

Previous cuts were bad enough, staffers say

by Paul Jablow Posted in October 2013 Edition | Permalink

Any 4th graders going back to David Hensel’s class in Taggart Elementary School to retrieve something they forgot might have seen an odd sight last year: “Mr. Hensel” on his knees poking at a wall outlet with tweezers.

“I was trying to pull out the phone jacks,” Hensel said. “I was told there was only one person in the District who could do it. The Internet was down in my classroom all last year. It was really frustrating.”

While today’s news headlines talk of massive budget cuts making schools almost unrecognizable when they open, teachers and administrators at several schools say that the last two or three years are already an object lesson in what happens when schools try to operate with a skeleton staff.

Surrounded by uncertainty

by Dale Mezzacappa Posted in October 2013 Edition | Permalink

As the Philadelphia School District prepared to open for the 2013-14 school year, teachers scoured for usable desks that they could stuff into classrooms with, in some cases, 40 or more students. 

Some even contemplated bringing in spare chairs from home.

Short on teachers, aides and copy paper, Philly schools prepare to open anyway

Submitted by thenotebook on Fri, 09/06/2013 - 23:37 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

With classes set to begin Monday morning, here's the on-the-ground view of what life in a traditional Philadelphia public school looks like:

Fewer staff. More students. Basic supplies at a premium. Money for discretionary spending non-existent.

For a school district that's closed 24 schools and shed 3,000 staffers over the past few months, it's the most contentious school opening in recent memory.

One day this week, Kristin Luebbert leaned over the copy machine at the Bache-Martin School in the city's Fairmount section, making duplicates of her first-day-of-school icebreaker.

Countdown, Day 10: Citywide, number of school secretaries is down by 30%

Submitted by Paul Socolar on Fri, 08/30/2013 - 15:23 Posted in Countdown to calamity? | Permalink

As the School District secured the first installments of desperately needed new revenue this summer, one of the first steps taken was to rehire one secretary for each of the 213 schools -- a recognition of the vital role they play in school operations. The cost was $17.6 million.

As schools prepare to open for staff members on Tuesday and for students on Sept. 9, those secretaries are back on the job. The District has estimated that three-fourths of schools saw the return of one of the secretaries from last year.

"It’s based on seniority," said Robert McGrogan, who heads the principals' union, CASA. "The most senior got to stay at their home school." 

Countdown, Day 24: District cancels High School Expo, citing costs

Submitted by thenotebook on Fri, 08/16/2013 - 12:57 Posted in Countdown to calamity? | Permalink

by Mark McHugh

The District’s annual High School Expo, an event designed to help students and parents navigate the high school selection process, has been canceled this year.

According to the District’s Office of Communications, the District has decided not to hold the event as a cost-saving measure.

The elimination of the event, which cost the District $137,000 last year, is part of a 30 percent reduction in the central administration budget that cut that portion of the overall District budget to 2 percent.  

The expo, which was held at District headquarters last year, provides families with information about District and charter high school options, including details regarding specific programs at each school and the admission requirements. But with no expo this year, students and parents will have to find alternative ways to help guide them through the high school selection process.

SRC listens to pleas from students, but approves stripped-down budget

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 18:00 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

After listening to hours of impassioned testimony and not a few lectures from students and others that they were shirking their responsibility, the School Reform Commission adopted a stripped-down budget by a vote of 4-1 Thursday night that its own members called unconstitutional and inadequate.

The $2.39 billion operating budget eliminates nearly everything from schools except a principal and a minimal number of classroom teachers. Counselors, librarians, sports, secretaries, support staff, music and art? All gone.

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