Superintendent William Hite’s Action Plan 2.0 is full of interesting facts and statistics. A few that caught our eye:
1. As a result of school closings and relocations in 2013, school utilization went from 67 percent to 74 percent -- still far from the District's target of having 85 percent of seats occupied, as was specified in its Facilities Master Plan process.
There’s a governor’s race in Pennsylvania in 2014, and education is a hot issue as Gov. Tom Corbett seeks re-election. Party primaries take place May 20 and the general election is Nov. 4.
At press time, Corbett, a Republican, and eight Democratic candidates had announced their plans to run.
An October poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College indicates that 21 percent of respondents feel that the state of schools and school funding is the most important issue in Pennsylvania. The Corbett administration has been blamed for cuts to education funding as well as the 2011 abandonment of a statewide funding formula passed in 2008. But Corbett is not surrendering the issue to Democrats.
In a press conference announcing his bid for re-election, Corbett said, “We have a responsibility to provide a good education to all children in Pennsylvania, but it starts with an honest discussion about education funding.”
The Notebook invited each candidate to submit a biography and asked them to give their positions on state education funding by responding to the following questions in 250 words or less:
When his counterparts describe handing out iPads to students, Joseph Otto just tunes out the conversation.
Otto is chief operations officer of the William Penn School District in Delaware County, just across Cobbs Creek from Southwest Philadelphia. His district limps along from year to year by paring back services and staff and putting off investments in books, technology, and other classroom needs. The local school board is loath to raise taxes any higher because the district’s residents already shoulder some of the highest tax burdens in the region.
“iPads are not even an option for us,” said Otto.
“We do nothing extra. We’re just trying to survive.”
by Isaac Riddle
Five of the eight Democrats vying to challenge Gov. Corbett next year gathered in front of education and community groups at a candidate forum held at Temple University last Saturday.
The forum opened to chants of “whose children, our children” and “whose jobs, our jobs” by members of the audience.
Nearly three months into the school year, the School District of Philadelphia is still navigating treacherous fiscal waters, having made little progress in convincing state and city lawmakers to provide financial relief and stability.
Faced with a $304 million budget gap for this fiscal year, the District had sought $180 million in new revenues from the state and city and $133 million in labor concessions. As of mid-November, it had received $112 million in increases from the state and city, but just $17 million of that is in recurring funds. And it had reached no agreement with its unions.
As a result, it is still operating schools with shrunken staffs, sparse instructional materials, inadequate counseling services for students, and classes at their contractual maximum.
How did the School District get into such a financial mess?
The $304 million budget gap announced last winter didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the District has faced budget crises almost annually for decades.
The fundamental issue is that Philadelphia is a vast district, responsible for nearly 200,000 public school students in District and charter schools – many of them with special needs – and the city depends on outside funds from the state to cover most of its budget. School funding in Pennsylvania is heavily reliant on local property taxes, and communities with weak tax bases struggle. Unlike every other school board in the state, the School Reform Commission lacks the authority to levy taxes itself. Other problems: a lack of predictability in the level of state funding for schools, which plummeted in 2011, and the city’s inability to collect all the taxes it is owed.
by Paul Jablow
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the Bornstein family, of Mill Valley, Calif., will receive a letter asking them to pay almost $2,500 to their public school district through a local foundation.
The notice will come from Kiddo!, whose well-crafted website describes it as “made up of people like you who give generously to provide arts, technology, classroom and library aides, P.E. and innovative teaching programs for children in Mill Valley’s K-8 public schools.”
Michael Bornstein is executive director of Evolve, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates for greater government support of public education, as well as affordable health care and job creation. And although he can afford it, he has mixed feelings about writing the check for his two elementary-school children.
“Philosophically,” he says, “I think this should be paid for with public funds. But on a personal level, it’s needed. Without it, there wouldn’t be art and music. Practically every parent is going to do what’s best for their kid.”
The District will open schools for the 2013-14 school year in a little over two weeks. Though Superintendent William Hite has been promised an infusion of $50 million to help open the doors on time, many schools will still be without critical components and staff such as guidance counselors, assistant principals, and other positions that would allow them to operate at an adequate level.
Over the past several months, many advocacy organizations have taken to the streets to rally for the fair funding of Philadelphia public schools. Those protests continue at 3:30 p.m. today, when demonstrators will gather outside the Comcast building, march to City Hall, then to District headquarters to protest the state of the city’s schools. The School Reform Commission meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. today at District headquarters.
The Notebook asked 11 local education organizations to share what steps each is taking before the opening of schools on Sept. 9. Four of those organizations responded. Here is what they had to say.
by Patrick Kerkstra
We’ve done our part. And then some. Now it’s somebody else’s turn.
That seems to be the prevailing view of Philadelphia’s City Council members on the school funding crisis.
The School Reform Commission approved the Renaissance charter agreements for three schools on Friday, officially turning Pastorius over to Mastery Charter Schools, Kenderton to Scholar Academies, and Alcorn to Universal Companies.
At a tense, four-hour meeting, the SRC also accepted $1.1 million in grant money from the Philadelphia School Partnership to expand three high-performing District schools: converting the experimental Sustainability Workshop into the Workshop School; creating a second campus of Science Leadership Academy; and expanding the middle school Hill-Freedman to include high school grades.
But it did so over the persistent objections of Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky, who did a financial analysis showing that the District will be absorbing considerable extra cost for these schools after this year -- a move he called financially irresponsible given the District's shaky budget picture. Earlier in the meeting, the District had announced that it only had enough funding to rehire a few hundred of the 3,800 staff laid off this summer.