The School Reform Commission approving the sale of 11 Philadelphia schools is big news this morning, punctuated with some pretty big numbers. The Daily News’s Solomon Leach has details on how the sales will break down.
The two biggest parcels are each going for $6.8 million. Germantown High, Carroll High, Fulton Elementary, Walter Smith Elementary and Abigail Vare Elementary are all going to the Concordia Group. Two of the elementary schools – Vare and Smith – are slated to become residential buildings.
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As expected, Bill Green’s first meeting was a grand display of all the pugnacious activism that Philly can muster, with protesters chanting “Save Our Schools!” and hollering as Supt. William Hite tried to lay out his agenda for the coming year. “I want to save our schools that’s why I’m here. I agree completely. We may not agree on the means but we certainly agree on the end,” Green said. Green and Hite have said they may impose new work rules on the teachers union to begin repairs to the district. (CBS Philly)
Councilman Bill Green has long been known for his heterodox ways: While other pols rely on glad-handing to make their way, Green spent his time writing white papers describing how he’d fix government in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Green to chair Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. (See Philly Mag’s new cover story on eight ways to fix Philadelphia schools.)
Thursday, Green talked to Philly Mag about Mayor Nutter’s reaction to that news, his views on charter schools, and whether he still has a shot at being mayor.
So it’s been a couple weeks now since Gov. Corbett announced your appointment to the SRC, what’s your take on the reaction you’ve received since then?
Well there’s been numerous and varied reactions, I think. [Laughs] Nobody is in the middle on my appointment.
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At The Notebook, blogger Ron Whitehorne examines the possibility of abolishing the School Reform Commission that oversees Philly schools:
With the SRC’s legitimacy at a 10-year low, there is a growing call for abolishing it and returning schools to local control. At a gubernatorial candidates’ forum in November, hosted by the Working Families Party, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), and a number of unions and community organizations, the candidates were asked whether they would support returning Philadelphia schools to local control. John Hanger and Allyson Schwartz both explicitly called for the repeal of Act 46, while the other Democratic candidates expressed general support for this demand.
The education advocacy community is not of one mind, however, on the question of what should take the SRC’s place. Some favor returning to the pre-state-takeover form of governance, a board appointed by the mayor. Still others prefer the SRC to the uncharted waters that an elected board would create.
TAGPhilly, a group of activist Philly teachers, says its report card shows all the Democratic candidates would favor abolishing the SRC.
Councilman Bill Green had made it plain for weeks that he wants to be the next leader of the School Reform Commission. Today, Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to formally announce Green’s appointment as SRC chair; Farah Jimenez, executive director of the People’s Emergency Center, to fill a second seat on the commission being vacated by Joseph Dworetzky.
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Yesterday, state rep. Mark Cohen sent a letter to the mayor and the governor asking that Ed Rendell be considered to replace Pedro Ramos as the head of the School Reform Commission. Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham thinks the chances of that are “nonexistent,” but Rendell himself seems surprisingly open to the idea.
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The Wall Street Journal (paywalled) has an editorial out that criticizes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for refusing to acquiesce to the reforms Gov. Corbett has dangled before them in exchange for a cash infusion of $45 million.
and a recurring $120 million boost from a sales tax increase.* Wherever one places the blame for Philly’s current funding crisis–on the union’s intransigence or Corbett’s previous cuts to public education (or any number of other culprits)–one cannot accuse the Journal of mischaracterizing the political situation at hand.
Teachers have little reason to budge since their previous contract remains in effect and they continue to earn raises based on longevity. Thus the union will likely drag out the negotiations until after next fall’s election when they hope to elect a Democratic Governor and renegotiate a bailout without Mr. Corbett’s preconditions.
While union allies will bristle at the term “bailout,” the above scenario–thus far–indeed appears to be taking place. Same with what‘s described next.
Meantime, union leaders will whipsaw the GOP Governor for increasing corporate tax credits for private school scholarships [i.e. vouchers] that benefit low-income students in failing schools and then for not caring about Philadelphia’s poor, black kids.
The only bizarre turn comes at the very end, when the piece asks where Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan are “when they really could help?” Um, like how? Without offering up an answer to that question, it seems more like a partisan cheap shot than anything else.
*The Journal suggested the $120 million was also dependent on the teachers union’s reforms. It’s not. Right now it rests in the hands of the City Council, who want the sales tax increase to help fund the city’s strapped pension fund in addition to the schools. Because all that’s missing is for Council to approve the increase, Tom Corbett’s budget chief recently floated the possibility of imbuing the state-controlled School Reform Commission with taxing power.
First came the new ad from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, claiming Michael Nutter and Tom Corbett were in kahoots, conspiring together to cut school funding.
The Nutter administration quickly called them out for it.
Nutter then followed up with five YouTube videos in an attempt to debunk the PFT’s claims. “Lets talk about leadership. The PFT is running false ads distorting my record on education funding,” he said in the first one. Rather than cut funding, as the ad claimed, he says he’s increased funding by $155 million annually, while the Governor has slashed spending by $145 million. The figures come from Rob Dubow, the city’s finance director. He also called on the City Council, the legislature, and the PFT to acquiesce to various taxes and cost-saving measures he’s proposed that would help fund the school district.
Eventually, PFT seemed to concede the ad was misleading, telling Newsworks that it planned on pulling it from the air. “We think we got [Nutter's] attention,” said a PFT spokesman. “In the interest of fostering a productive dialogue, for right now, we’re going to suspend the ads.”
The Philadelphia School District may soon file a lawsuit against a host of Wall Street Banks for their ongoing budget crisis, claiming that several of the banks’ Libor rate rigging resulting in losses for the district. The district took out swaps with Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), resulting in a loss of $161 million thanks to alleged bankster fraud. The lawsuit, however, could also include other accused banks like Citi, Bank of America, JPMorgan, and Barclays, among others. Should the suit be successful, it could afford the school district tens of millions of dollars in much-needed funding. A date to file the lawsuit has not yet been set. [City Paper]
This ought to boost his popularity with the teachers unions! Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent William Hite has proposed ending teacher tenure and seniority provisions, in the hopes of receiving $120 million in state funding. (The schools are facing a $300 million deficit, hence the fact that 23 schools are being shut down next month.) House Republicans, who for the most part are not fans of tenure, and teachers unions in general, seemed quite pleased with Hite’s plan.
“It’s stunning and refreshing to hear from a Philadelphia superintendent,” [House Republican spokeman Steve] Miskin said. “I think we would definitely be willing to sit down and talk to him, and hear his ideas.”
Philadelphia teachers’ union president Jerry Jordan disputed the idea that tenure reform would be a “silver bullet” for funding. Other activists were none too pleased either.