Op-Ed: Join the Grassroots Movement to Support Philly’s Neighborhood Schools

Students from Kearny Elementary School wave Philadelphia civic flags and dance during a ceremony in Philadelphia. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Students from Kearny Elementary School wave Philadelphia civic flags and dance during a ceremony in Philadelphia. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writers Christine Carlson, Jeff Hornstein and Ivy Olesh.)

Mayor Michael Nutter said in a recent policy address that Philadelphia needs “more parental and community involvement in our schools” and the “formal establishment of School Advisory Councils at every neighborhood school.”

As leaders in a growing citywide network of friends groups emerging to support our neighborhood public schools, we wholeheartedly support the intention behind the mayor’s proposal: to establish robust, community-driven support structures for every school, composed of stakeholders that include parents, teachers, community members and businesspeople working to ensure a quality education for every child in our city.

But what Nutter has proposed is already happening from the ground up. A number of community-organized groups have evolved organically over the past five years or so, thus far largely following the trajectory of gentrifying areas of the city. Additionally, there are numerous long-standing communities where families have for many years supported their schools. Read more »

Philly Schools Have to Borrow Money to Stay Open

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Good morning, Philadelphia. Here’s what you need to know today:

The Philadelphia School District has to borrow money to keep the lights on.

The budget logjam in Harrisburg has left the school district nearly broke. Officials say they will soon need to borrow money to keep schools open, but it’s unclear exactly how much funding they will seek or what the debt service will cost. “You have to find someone who’s willing to lend you the money,” says district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “And you gotta figure out how much they’re willing to lend you, and what are the rates and all the requirements they have.” NewsWorks reports that the district borrowed $275 million at the beginning of the school year, at the cost of $1 million in debt service. Read more »

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 »

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