District Announces School Closures, Charter Conversions

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

In a move that will affect more than 5,000 students in the district, Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite today announced dramatic changes involving 15 schools.

The moves are a familiar list of school consolidations, charter conversions and closures. Among the actions: Dimner Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia will be phased out over a two-year period. In Northwest Philly, Morris E. Leeds Middle School and Hill-Freedman World Academy would merge, with Leeds students starting to go to Hill-Freedman. Both Beeber and Leeds, though closed, would still house district schools in their buildings.

“This is an exciting step forward in achieving our mission of having great schools in every neighborhood,” Hite said in a statement. “These recommendations address parental demand for better academic programs in safe, familiar environments while presenting rigorous and engaging opportunities for students.” Read more »

How to Find the Best Philadelphia School for Your Child

Photography by Christopher Leaman

Photography by Christopher Leaman

The move to the ’burbs used to be almost automatic for Philadelphians with means — families of all races picked up and left the city when their kids were old enough for school, and they did it without much handwringing.

But something’s changed. Philadelphia parents aren’t so eager to quit on a city that’s bigger, better and more vibrant than it’s been in decades. And they’re not at all convinced that what’s best for the kids is a big backyard and often homogenous classrooms. For them, picking a school is about much more than standardized test scores; it’s about finding a place that fits their family’s expectations, values and lifestyle. Read more »

No Substitutes for Good Substitutes



In mid-June, the School Reform Commission voted unanimously to outsource school substitute management.

“The vendor was able to commit to us to provide high quality substitutes at a 90 percent fill rate by January of next year,” district human resources head Naomi Wyatt told The Inquirer at the time. “They have extensive experience in Pennsylvania and in the mid-Atlantic.” Many teachers had described the previous substitute experience in need of reform. Perhaps privatization would work out.

By late June, people began seeing the drawbacks. Previously, certified teachers who subbed made $75 a day for the first 22 days of teaching, then $160 a day after that. Non-certified teachers made $47.63 a day (and $126 a day after 22 days). Special ed and retired teachers made more. Most teachers were paid at the higher rate.

Obviously, this is how this privatization has worked: Subs are now making less, though there is a pay bump for both certified and non-certified teachers in the first 22 days of subbing. Certified teachers make between $90 and $110 a day. Non-certified teachers make between $75 and $90 a day. The most a teacher can make is $140 a day, for a certified long-term substitute serving more than 22 days.

And those improved substitute fill rates? Source4Teachers isn’t hitting them. Inky Pulitzer winner Kristen Graham reported yesterday the best Source4Teachers has done is fill 12 percent of vacancies in one day. The company promised to fill 75 percent of vacancies to start, and 90 percent by mid-year. Read more »

$25 Million for City Schools, Suddenly in Doubt?

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last spring, which feels like eons ago, City Council grudgingly agreed to increase funding to the School District of Philadelphia by $70 million. That was $30 million short of what the district was asking for, but $70 million really is a big round number, and it took a bevy of tax hikes — including a 4.5 percent hike in the property tax rate — to raise the funds.

City Council was grouchy in the extreme about coming up with that $70 million. So grouchy that it opted to hold onto $25 million of the $70 million — to be released to the district only when and if Council decided to do so.

Well, the school year hasn’t even begun, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke already has some real problems with what the district is doing; specifically Superintendent Bill Hite’s spending of $1 million on big new promotions and hires for central office administrators. Read more »

Philadelphia Public Schools Could Close Extra Day for Papal Visit


Left, by Jeff Fusco. Right, Pope Francis via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

Philadelphia’s public school students could with something like a Fall Break around Pope Francis’ visit.

Public schools are already closed Wednesday, September 23rd, for Yom Kippur and Friday, September 25th, for the papal visit. And Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite, Jr. is asking for the approval of the School Reform Commission to close public schools on Thursday, September 24th, CBS Philly reports.

Read more »

How Philly’s Plummeting Smoking Rate Could Harm Schools



1. Maybe you shouldn’t quit smoking … for the kids. (We kid, we kid.)

The gist: Today, Philadelphia’s new cigarette tax is bringing in the bucks for the city’s schools. The Inquirer reported that in its first nine months, the tax raised $50 million for the school district — which is almost exactly what officials had predicted. During the budget year that just began this July, the tax is expected to reap $60 million. “After that, however, the tax will bring decreasing amounts, according to state and school district officials,” wrote the Inky’s Claudia Vargas. “They expect cigarette sales to decrease by 7 percent in 2016-17 and even more after that.”

Read more »

Philly Students Audited Their Own School Lunches

A lunch at  Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design.

A lunch at Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design. | Photo courtesy of City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office

Scarfing down a fattening, stomach-churning lunch every day used to be seen as a normal part of going to public school in America, as much as riding the bus and going to prom are.

But in recent years, as childhood obesity has skyrocketed, parents, students and health experts have pressured school districts to make healthier, more appetizing meals.

In Philadelphia, concerned students at one charter school took it up a notch and recently decided to audit their own lunches to see if they met federal standards. Read more »

Alan Butkovitz: Philly Schools Owe Past Employees Millions of Dollars

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has a new plan to create manufacturing jobs. Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

City Controller Alan Butkovitz | Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz released an audit Wednesday that makes the school district look a little frazzled.

He says his team found that the district owed past employees more than $5 million in unclaimed compensation as of last June. Some of those workers left the city’s schools as long as 10 years ago. He also claims that school officials don’t know what happened to hundreds of TransPasses, which are provided to students to use to travel to school on public transit. “During a one-week sampling of TransPass activity at five different schools, school personnel could not account for 230 of the passes valued at $4,200,” a press release from his office reads.

Last year, just 13 TransPasses could not be accounted for in the Controller’s audit. Read more »

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.

Read more »

Insider: Beware the Creation of a “Roid-Rage SRC”

All looks well from up here. | Shutterstock.com

All looks well from up here. | Shutterstock.com

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

If State Sen. Scott Wagner didn’t exist, school advocates might have to invent him.

At a budget hearing, he argued Pennsylvania should lay-off 18,000 teachers because “we’d never miss them.” Where did he get his school funding expertise? At an altitude of a couple thousand feet. Back in May, Wagner chartered a private helicopter, flew it over a couple schools in some well-funded districts, and then declared that most schools are really more like the “Taj Mahal.

He also compared teachers unions to Hitler and Putin. When you are betting on crazy, might as well go all-in.

Here’s your budget update: Though Harrisburg Republicans have finally acknowledged that common denominators are a thing and signed onto a more equitable school funding formula, they have not consented to significant new money for education. This provoked a rare show of Philadelphia unity. Last week, Superintendent Hite, Jerry Jordan of the PFT, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and the charter lobby spoke together in support of new school funding.

These leaders would have us believe that the battle lines are clean. Counties like Wagners’ are arrayed against cities like Philadelphia. That’s mostly true. But the Montgomery-Burns-types like Wagner can only succeed because too many Philadelphia officials insist on playing the hapless Smithers. Read more »

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