How Philly’s Plummeting Smoking Rate Could Harm Schools

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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.”

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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.

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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 »

GOP Budget Falls Short of Philly Schools Request

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-led legislature’s state budget Tuesday night, in part, he said, because it would set aside far less education funding than he believes is fair.

How much less?

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia School District asked state lawmakers for an extra $206 million. The Republican bill would have provided only an additional $21.8 million to the school district, according to data from Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. That’s about 11 percent of the surplus funding that district officials said they need. Read more »

Philly Activists Fast for Education Funding

Photo Credit: POWER Philadelphia

Photo Credit: POWER Philadelphia

POWER Philly is in Harrisburg for 10 days to pray, fast and meet with state legislators with the hope of getting fair funding for Pennsylvania’s public schools into the state budget, which is supposed to be completed and signed by June 30th.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here fasting and getting involved,” Sheila Armstrong, a POWER activist told Philly Mag this week. “I’m a woman of faith, a Christian, and I told my sons, ‘This is a missionary trip. We are doing God’s work.'” Read more »

5 Questions About the Future of Philly’s Schools

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo  courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

Earlier this year, students made a modest request of City Council. | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

Philadelphia City Council did something Thursday that it’s done a lot in recent years: voted to increase both taxes and education funding. Lawmakers expect to raise an extra $70 million for the city’s schools by hiking the property, parking and use-and-occupancy levies.

So, where does that leave the school district? Somewhat better off than it was before, no doubt. But it’s not out of the woods yet, either. Its future depends on the answers to these five big questions, which we should learn in the coming weeks: Read more »

The Brief: Philly’s Maternal Mortality Rate Is Worse Than Libya’s

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Photo | Shutterstock.com

1. A new report digs into Philadelphia’s extremely high maternal mortality rate.

The gist: The city’s maternal mortality rate is 27.4 per 100,000 births, according to a new study by the Department of Public Health. “The surprising findings for many people was that so many of these tragic deaths were related to social-economic status,” perinatologist Jason Baxter told NewsWorks. Other causes include domestic violence, drug addiction, mental health issues and chronic disease. Read more »

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