The Mayoral Candidates Are Short on Ideas, so Citified Is Here to Help

Plans, people. We need to see some plans. With numbers and stuff. | Shutterstock.com

Plans, people. We need to see some plans. With numbers and stuff. | Shutterstock.com

There are just 82 days left before Philadelphia picks its mayoral nominees, and the race remains shockingly deficient in both original thinking and concrete plans.

Licenses and Inspections is a wreck. Where are the five-point plans to fix it? The pension fund is eating City Hall alive. Who has clearly articulated an agenda to address that?

Or take schools. That’s all the mayoral candidates will talk about, a dynamic that’s starting to annoy some people. But the problem isn’t the subject. It’s the candidates’ wishy-washy blather. Consider the conversation around school funding. What you hear, from almost all the candidates, is variations on: “I’ll build relationships in the state capital and use the bully pulpit to convince Harrisburg to do its part.” Which is, in a word, lame. I mean, does anyone really think Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke have not been trying to do exactly that, with very limited results?

If education matters so much, the candidates should be offering up firm plans to fund the schools using local dollars. Or they should be honest enough to say, sorry, the city can’t afford it, and the schools are state-run, so I’m going to focus elsewhere.

Well, Citified is here to help. We’ve got five wildly different plans for funding city schools. Each has flaws—big ones—but all far more specific than anything the mayoral campaigns have suggested to date. Candidates, feel free to crib these notes. You’re welcome.

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Conservative Group Sues PFT Over “Ghost Employees” on Philly Schools’ Payroll

School District of Philadelphia

A new conservative nonprofit sued the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and school district in Common Pleas Court Wednesday over the district’s policy of keeping full-time union employees on the payroll. (Read the full suit below.)

The Fairness Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment, issued a scathing statement about the practice:

What’s a ghost teacher? What else would you call a certified School District of Philadelphia teacher earning a publicly-funded salary, enjoying cost-free health benefits, accruing a state pension, and building up years of seniority without having taught a class in over a decade? It’s true: More than 20 of these ghost teachers are working full-time as union bosses for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers right now—even as city schools face staffing shortages and budget strain.

Appalling stuff, right? Turns out it might be more than a little misleading. Read more »

Trending: Mayoral Candidates Should Ignore Schools

It’s becoming trendy to declare that, since the mayor doesn’t directly control the School District of Philadelphia, education shouldn’t be the dominant theme of the 2015  campaign. Brett Mandel, echoing arguments I’m increasingly hearing online and in private conversations, contends that “if education is what mayoral candidates are going to talk about, they might as well offer their Philadelphia weather platform.” Tom Ferrick doesn’t go that far, but he suggests a mayor’s real role when it comes to schools is to provide the cash, and that’s pretty much it. Read more »

Hite: District to Share “Opt Out” Info on Testing

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

The Philadelphia School District is preparing to share information with parents on how to opt their children out of standardized tests, Superintendent William Hite said Thursday night at a meeting of the School Reform Commission.

The announcement came several weeks after teachers at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences were threatened with discipline for helping students and their families there opt out of the tests. A reported 17 percent of the school’s students had opted out of testing.

Kelly Collings, a teacher at Feltonville, said in an email Thursday night that an “investigatory conference” scheduled at the school for late January had been canceled because of an administrator’s illness — and never rescheduled. “There has been no communication whatsoever from the district to the teachers since the original memo was issued on January 21,” she said.
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SRC Approves 5 of 39 New Charter School Applications

School District of Philadelphia

[Updated at 6:30 a.m. Thursday]

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission decided Wednesday night at a high-stakes, five-hour meeting to conditionally approve five of 39 applications to create new charter schools.

SRC chairman Bill Green said the vote came after a “thorough, high-quality process” of evaluating the proposals and airing them in public. Officials say they held 100 hours of public hearings and received 1,400 letters and emails on the applications.

But in the end, the SRC’s decision pleased neither public school advocates nor education reformers.
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Why Do Teachers Get Snow Days?

Rodin_Museum-SNOW-940X540

UPDATE: Philadelphia school teacher Steve Clark has written a response to this column

Hey school teachers, I have an idea.

Instead of fighting the School Reform Commission and campaigning for a friendly governor and organizing your efforts for a sympathetic mayor and protesting at City Council meetings and complaining about contributing more to your health insurance and your pensions let me suggest another tactic: How about you actually go to work?

Even when it snows. Read more »

A Plea to the SRC: Evaluate Each School on Its Individual Merits

School District of Philadelphia

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

At Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in South Philly, students are offered majors in music and visual arts and every kid participates in ballet weekly. About half of its student body is middle class and white. At the other end of Broad Street, in North Philly, at the Multi-Cultural Academy charter school, there is no ballet. By design, there are very few extracurriculars available at all. The school’s model is “no-nonsense, academics-focused.” The student body is nearly all black and about 80 percent of the students are low-income.

Read more »

Inside Take: New Charters Should Be Unacceptable to All

Philadelphia School District Building

(This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Conditions in the School District of Philadelphia have hit a new low after four record breaking years of state disinvestment in education and years of meager improvements in school performance. That situation is poised to change for the better if the new governor and legislature heed the voter sentiment expressed in the historic ousting of a sitting governor largely because of his sweeping education funding cuts. Unfortunately, while the new players in Harrisburg are still unpacking their boxes, the School Reform Commission must decide whether to approve new charter schools and what cuts to impose on traditional schools to pay for charter expansion. Read more »

Too Good To Refuse?

Yesterday, the Philadelphia School Partnership made what seemed, at first blush anyway, like an offer too good for the School District to refuse: $35 million, in exchange for the authorization of enough new charter schools to educate at least 11,000 kids.

“We are trying to make it cost-neutral for the district, so they consider the applications on their own merits,” PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason told the Inquirer’s indefatigable Kristen Graham. The donation was supposed to “take the cost issue off the table.” Read more »

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