Parents Sue Over Philadelphia School Conditions

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Seven Philadelphia parents and the Parents United for Public Education group are suing over the conditions of Philadelphia’s public schools. The petitioners are represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

In the suit, to be filed against acting Pennsylvania education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, the parents say the state has failed in its constitutional mandate to “receive and investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies.” Parents United says it delivered 825 complaints about school conditions to Dumaresq that were not followed up on.

Per the lawsuit, the allegations included “overcrowded classrooms, the lack of classes such as art, music, foreign language and physical education, cancelled programs for the mentally gifted, the absence of facilities such as libraries or school materials such as textbooks that resulted in loss of instruction for students, shortages of staff … and unsafe or unsanitary conditions that interfered with students’ ability to respond to the curriculum.”

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City Picking Up the Pace on Tax Collection

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

For the first time since Mayor Nutter took office, the City of Philadelphia made significant, measurable progress over the past 18 months in its long-running fight against the property tax delinquency epidemic.

The total debt owed the city and School District of Philadelphia in unpaid property taxes fell over the past year, edging down $10 million between April 2013 and April 2014, according to a Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly analysis of city tax data. The total number of property tax deadbeats declined as well, dipping about 1,400 over the same period.

To be sure, the gains are modest given the massive scale of property tax delinquency in Philadelphia; nearly 96,000 delinquent parcels and $512 million owed, figures that dwarf those in all other big cities except Detroit.

But it’s notable nonetheless that the city managed to stop — for a time at least — the spread of tax delinquency (the epidemic has grown quickly in most years of the Nutter administration), and more notable still that the city is now reducing the total amount owed.

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Casey Backs Bill to Increase School Nurses

The same day that Philly schools opened with a shortage of nurses — and a week after the district was sued over a death blamed, in part, on a similar shortage last year — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has announced his support for a federal bill that will help increase the number of school nurses available in big city districts like Philadelphia.

Under the NURSE Act, “school districts across the state where the ratio of nurses to students is greater than 1 nurse per 750 students would be eligible to apply for grants,” his office announced. “High need districts, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, would receive preference in the process.”
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School District Sued in Asthma Death

Philadelphia School District Building

The estate of the sixth-grade girl who died after suffering an asthma attack last fall at a Philadelphia school has brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, the city, and the school, saying their policy decisions and in-the-moment negligence were responsible for her death.

Laporshia Massey died in September 2013, in the midst of a budget showdown between the state and the school district — no school nurse was on hand when her attack began during the day at Bryant Elementary School. Her family quickly suggested the death was due to a lack of a nurse at the school (an investigation said the father may have also played a role), and within weeks Gov. Tom Corbett signed over money due to the district. Corbett is not named in the suit. (See the full lawsuit below.)

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Mom Testifies About Abduction of Daughter From Philly School

The mother of a girl kidnapped from a Philadelphia school in 2013 testified today in the trial of the woman accused of committing the crime.

Christina Regusters, 21, is accused of dressing up in Muslim attire to disguise her appearance, signing the girl out of class before the end of the school day at Bryant Elementary School, then sexually assaulting the girl overnight. The girl was found next day, abandoned on a wintertime playground wearing nothing but a shirt.

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Butkovitz: Philly Schools Should Open Up Long-Hidden Works of Art

City Controller Alan Butkovitz just issued a press release calling on the Philadelphia School District to stop bogarting all its great art.

He said more than 200 pieces of art, with a total value of $4 million, have been concealed in a storage facility for the last decade. The schools should partner with the city’s art institutions to display those works to the public, Butkovitz said.

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District Makes Ominous Announcement About School Year

Screenshot via 6 ABC's live press conference feed

Screenshot via 6 ABC’s press conference feed

Protesters chanting “No education, no life!” ended a depressing press conference from Philadelphia School District superintentendent William Hite today. He didn’t announce layoffs, but said “we’re not out of the woods yet” on the school year. If Philly’s new cigarette tax is not approved by state lawmakers, Hite says the school district will have to make big cuts.

Hite said the district is no longer asking the teachers’ union to accept wage cuts, but is asking for changes to benefits. Without those reductions and/or additional money from the state in some way, the district will be forced to lay off employees in October. The school district still has an $81 million gap to reach the funding levels of last school year.

For now, 34 vacant school police officer positions will remain unfilled; 27 elementary schools will have to share police officers.

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Embattled Education Advisor to Governor Corbett Resigns

Ron Tomalis, Governor Tom Corbett’s special advisor on higher education, announced today that he will step down from his position on August 26th. It’s unclear if his $139,542-a-year job will be filled.

Tomalis has been under fire ever since a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation revealed little work coming from his office. Records obtained by the paper revealed weeks where Tomalis had little or no work activity. He averaged about a phone call a day.

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