The Brief: Every Philly School May Soon Have a Counselor

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. An arbitrator has decided that Philadelphia must have at least one full-time counselor per school.

The gist: That’s because the school district’s contract with the teachers union stipulates that all schools must have one. NewsWorks reports that arbitrator Ralph Colflesh also ruled in the union’s favor on other matter:

An independent arbitrator has ruled against the Philadelphia School District for not taking seniority into account when rehiring laid-off school counselors in 2013.

Facing a large budget shortfall in the summer of 2013, the school district furloughed all guidance counselors.

As school began, and additional funding came through, many were hired back, but without regard for seniority.

Following a union complaint, arbitrator Ralph Colflesh has now ruled against that action — saying that the district must provide back pay for those more senior counselors bypassed by the district.

The district, however, says it is going to appeal the decision.

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Company That Tried to Purchase PGW Is Itself Sold

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

UIL Holdings, the Connecticut company that last year attempted to buy PGW from the city, has itself been sold to a Spanish firm.

UIL officials said the $3 billion deal with Iberdrola materialized only after the PGW sale fell through. But the timing of the deal raised questions at City Council, and Council President Darrell Clarke suggested the move vindicated Council’s concerns about selling to PGW. Council let the proposed sale of PGW to UIL collapse last year without ever holding a hearing — or vote — before a deadline for the deal’s completion.
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State Wants Leaky Philly Gas Pipes Fixed Faster

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

In the wake of the collapse of the sale of Philadelphia Gas Works to a private bidder, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is pressuring the city to replace leaky gas pipes more quickly than planned.

It’s a long-range plan: Replacing century-old cast-iron pipes under the city’s streets is currently estimated to take another 88 years at the current pace. UIL Holdings, the private bidder, had promised to speed the pace. Now PUC is weighing in.

State Impact Pennsylvania reports PUC is putting on the pressure by starting a safety review of the city’s pipes:

The PUC’s review will focus on analyzing PGW’s current plan and removing barriers to accelerate replacement of cast iron and bare steel pipes with tougher plastic ones.

(PUC Chair Rob) Powelson said the commission, which has had regulatory oversight over the utility since 2000, will also consider whether to force the city of Philadelphia to give up its $18 million annual fee from PGW and put that money back into the main replacement program.

“Having a system that is going to be replaced in 88 years, I think if you ask the average citizen, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when something’s going to happen,” Powelson said.

The review will be complete by April 15.

Report: Leaky Philly Gas Pipes Pose Climate Hazard

A report from StateImpact Pennsylvania says that leaking gas pipes in Philadelphia are a massive problem. Those old pipes leak enough methane to cause changes to the climate.

It’s not just Philadelphia, of course, but Philly is an obvious example of a place where the problem is worst: An old, large city. Philadelphia has some of the leakiest pipes in the nation. It’s a long, interesting piece.

In Philadelphia, the city gates feed natural gas into 6,000 miles of pipe that run beneath city streets. The “mains” are the pipelines that run along streets, while the “service lines” connect to houses and businesses. About 1,500 miles of main – a quarter of the total – are made of cast iron, some of it dating back to the 1890’s. Cast iron is problematic. It’s strong but inflexible. Joints leak. Countless freeze-thaw cycles cause the cast iron to crack. Heavy trucks rumbling on top can make a pipe give way.

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Nutter, Clarke Spar Over Death of PGW Privatization Deal

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Despite some glimmers of last-minute hope a few weeks ago and Doug Oliver’s endorsement of a sale earlier this week, Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed deal to sell Philadelphia Gas Works to a Connecticut company for $1.86 billion — already comatose after City Council President Darrell Clarke announced in late October that Council would not touch the matter — has ended not with a bang, but a withdrawal.

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PGW Exec and Mayoral Aspirant Doug Oliver Endorses a Sale

Doug Oliver, Mayor's Press Secretary. Copyright City of Philadelphia. Photograph by Mitchell Leff.

Doug Oliver, Mayor’s Press Secretary. Copyright City of Philadelphia. Photograph by Mitchell Leff.

Mayoral aspirant Doug Oliver got knocked around a bit a few weeks ago after launching his exploratory committee on account of lacking any discernible agenda or priorities. Well, today Oliver is staking out a clear, detailed position on one of the most controversial political debates of the moment: the fate of PGW.

Oliver’s view is unequivocal: Sell it.
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PGW Sale: Not Dead Yet

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

No, the City Council doesn’t show much sign of budging. And yes, UIL Holdings — the Connecticut company that has spent most of 2014 trying to buy Philadelphia Gas Works from the city, said last week it’ll walk away from the deal when its contract expires at the end of December.

But the PGW sale isn’t dead yet. Close, but not quite.

Philadelphia Business Journal reports that UIL officials are continuing to meet with and lobby city officials, hoping that the sale can be put on the City Council agenda for one of the year’s two remaining scheduled meetings — or that an additional meeting can be scheduled for just that purpose. The Journal talked to UIL spokesman Michael West:
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PGW Sale Hopes Dim

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The proposed sale of Philadelphia Gas Works to a private Connecticut company — a sale long considered on life support, at best — is one step closer to outright death.

UIL Holdings said Thursday that it is ending its pursuit of the Philadelphia utility; it will not renew its option to buy when that agreement ends at the end of December. The announcement came after Thursday’s City Council meeting, considered the last chance to jump-start the process to result in a sale by year’s end.

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UIL Says It’s Not Done Pursuing PGW

At this point, UIL Holdings — the Connecticut company that wants so badly to buy and privatize Philadelphia Gas Works — resembles the old guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, he’s in bad health. Yes, the future is dim. But he’s hanging on. “I’M NOT DEAD YET!” he screams.

Despite City Council’s unequivocal rejection of the sale, the company said late Monday afternoon it’s not ready to terminate its purchase agreement. According to a press release:
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Mayor: Council Is Fibbing! Council: Nuh-Uh!

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

So City Council has just released a rebuttal to a rebuttal to a letter summarily rejecting the sale of PGW. At least, I think that’s where things stand. It seems like everyone has a lot to say. Maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — a hearing on the proposed sale would have been a good place to air some of these issues out?

There will be no hearing on the sale, of course, which is at the root of this dysfunctional display. After two years, $21.3 million spent by the leading bidder, and two expensive reports from different analysts, Mayor Nutter figured he would at least get a Council hearing on the potential sale. Council President Darrell L. Clarke and the rest of council leadership — in what increasingly looks like a big political misstep — figured if council didn’t want the deal, why waste time with hearings?

You’ll find Council’s latest salvo below, as well as the Nutter administration’s effective, if dense, six pages of spin on the sale, which was first published last week by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

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