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.
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.
With its latest advert, the PFT should be ashamed x two. The pinocchio of public school teacher unions.
— Mark S. McDonald (@PhillyPressSec) September 4, 2013
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.
— Helen Gym (@ParentsUnitedPA) May 17, 2013
This man does not like fun! First, the ill-fated soda tax. Last month, it was the liquor-by-the-drink tax. Now, Mayor Nutter and Council President Clarke are talking about hiking the tobacco tax. All of it, of course, to help raise $60 million in city funds to close a $300 million education budget shortfall that could leave schools without assistant principals, counselors, and extracurricular activities next year. When you pit cigarettes against schools, it might not be so tough to gain popular support for a tax after all. [Daily News]
Protesting looming cuts to school programs and staff that many have described as disastrous, hundreds of Philadelphia students marched to City Hall, and then up Broad, to School District headquarters today.
Mayor Nutter, meanwhile, was at a high school in South Philly this morning, rallying for $300 million in education funding the School Reform Commission needs from Council, from the state, and from union concessions to close the district’s budget shortfall. Some council members seem irked that he chose to do it while they were in session, suggesting the mayor was trying to send a message. Council President Darrell Clarke, meanwhile, suggested Council wouldn’t act unless the state stepped in. Seems everybody in the city wants the same thing for the schools–more money–but no one quite knows where it’s going to come from, or who to blame if it doesn’t come through.
— Philly Student Union (@215studentunion) May 9, 2013
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) May 9, 2013
— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) May 9, 2013
Hostess and Bakers Union Ordered to Take a 24-Hour Twinkie Break. A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge yesterday scolded the foodstuff feuders for skipping a major step in the negotiation process. If they can’t come to an agreement during private mediation sessions throughout today, the company’s liquidation hearing will resume tomorrow morning. [6ABC]
And If Mediation Doesn’t Work, Romney-Supporting 76ers Owner Is Ready to Pig Out. Marc Leder, the co-owner of the Sixers who hosted Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” debacle, told Fortune yesterday that his firm, Sun Capital Partners, is willing to put a “labor-friendly deal” on the table if Hostess goes south. [Inquirer]
If You’re Near Doylestown, You Might Want to Hold Your Breath. A three-alarm fire has been burning since 5:30 this morning at Arbonite, a chemical manufacturer next to the Doylestown airport. [CBS Philly]
New Jersey Towns Want the Law That Saved Bon Jovi’s Daughter. Municipalities around the Garden State are urging the legislature to override Gov. Chris Christie’s October veto of a Good Samaritan 911 bill promising immunity to drug users who report an overdose — similar to the New York law that almost certainly saved Stephanie Bongiovi from death last week. [NewsWorks]
Charters Chafe at SRC Enrollment Limits. A group representing Pennsylvania charter schools is mighty mad at the School Reform Commission’s vote last week to suspend part of the state’s school code that allows charter schools to add seats without commission approval. [Inquirer]
Darth Mufasa Receives Marian Anderson Award. If you happened to be outside the Kimmel last night, what you thought was the rumble of the Broad Street Line was actually actor James Earl Jones thanking the city for his latest plaudit. [6ABC]
Saying it needs flexibility and predictability in a time of dire financial distress, the SRC last night voted unanimously to override state laws governing the ability of charter schools to expand without commission approval and the amount of time allowed for comment before a public school is closed. SRC chair Pedro Ramos promised that the commission won’t “abuse” its state-granted powers. [Inquirer]
The fun times continue at the year-old Philadelphia School Reform Commission. With just weeks to go before the release of a report calling for the closure of up to 20 percent of the district’s schools, SRC chairman Pedro Ramos yesterday announced the sale of $300 million in bonds to keep the district running through the end of the school year. On the upside, investors lapped up the offering — which will add $22 million a year in debt service to the district’s budget beginning in 2014 — after the state agreed to guarantee the debt if the district can’t pay in the future. [The Inquirer]