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.”
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.
Though Governor Corbett has announced that he will release the $45 million that the state had appropriated to the District but had been withholding until reforms were made, education advocates continue to debate the issue of fair funding for Philadelphia schools.
This morning on Radio Times, Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and Charles Zogby, secretary of the Budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, debated the issue of funding for public education in Pennsylvania.
Due to the District's fiscal crisis, most schools in Philadelphia are suffering a counselor drought. But Promise Academies are not among them.
In fact, the 12 Promise Academies -- the District's in-house turnaround schools -- have 19 counselors, which amounts to 15 percent of the 126 counselors available to all 220 or so District-run schools.
More than half the District's schools -- 115 of them, with a population of more than 48,000 students -- are sharing 16 "itinerant" counselors who travel from school to school and have caseloads averaging about 3,000 students each.
In the Promise Academies, which have a combined enrollment of about 8,000, the average caseload works out to one counselor per about 420 students, much closer to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association.
by Isaac Riddle
The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools organized a press conference Thursday at City Hall to announce a new campaign that would call on City Council and other elected officials to fully fund District schools.
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.
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 Elizabeth Fiedler for NewsWorks
Sell off closed schools to help keep other Philadelphia schools open.
In essence, that's the idea being pushed by City Council President Darrell Clarke.
Philadelphia public schools are expected to open on time, despite continuing squabbles over funding. But City Hall politicians are still battling over how to pull together the $50 million in city aid they promised Superintendent William Hite would be there in time for schools to open on Sept. 9.
In one corner is Clarke, who points out that the Philadelphia School District has a lot of empty real estate on its hands, thanks to the closing of 29 schools.
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.
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.