Inside Take: 3 Bogus Problems With the Teacher’s Contract

School District of Philadelphia

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

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction: Within the next 6 months, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will have a new contract.

This prognostication stems from two people: Governor Tom Wolf, who put forth an audacious plan to fund Philadelphia’s schools, and Marge Neff, Chair of the School Reform Commission. The dismal economic situation of the district may not have changed. But with Wolf and Neff in place, the plan now seems to be “find a contract that brings stability to schools” instead of the Tom Corbett — Bill Green playbook of “drown the PFT in its own blood and dance on the corpse.”

It’s likely the two sides will find middle ground. In the meantime, Philadelphia will be inundated with hot-takes on things like “winners and losers”. In the end, the vast majority of people with opinions about the contract, and yes, this includes teachers, won’t have read the document.

What they’ll miss, what most people miss, is that the so-called “big issues” of the contract are neither big nor issues. Here is a Cliff Notes look at three of the most common/lazy complaints about the contract, not one of which is near as important as critics imagine. Read more »

Wolf to Green: You’re Out as Liquor Board Chair. (Huh?)


[Updated at 3:50 p.m: Gov. Wolf’s press secretary, Jeffrey Sheridan, emails to note that the letter sent to Green “was corrected immediately and the correct letter was issued.” Adds Sheridan: “Regardless, he is still not the chairman of the SRC.”]

In a letter to Bill Green today, Governor Wolf thanked Green for the service he rendered as “chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.”

Wait, what? Read more »

Neff, New SRC Chair, Issues Public Statement

neffFollowing Sunday night’s surprise news that Gov. Tom Wolf has dumped Bill Green as chair of the School Reform Commission, new Chair Marjorie Neff this morning has just issued her first official statement through the school district.

“The governor has asked me to serve as chair of the SRC to help realize his vision for public education,” she said in a statement. “I am hopeful that my background and experience as an educator and a parent will be useful to the task at hand.” Read more »

District Renews Effort to Impose Terms on Teachers

School District of Philadelphia

The School Reform Commission is appealing a court ruling that overturned its decision last fall to slash teacher benefits, saying state law clearly gives the SRC authority to take such action during times of fiscal distress.

“The Commonwealth Court decision misinterpreted and misapplied the law,” the District said in a statement announcing its appeal. “The issues presented in this case are of substantial public importance and go to the heart of the ability – and responsibility – of the SRC to place the interests of children first during funding emergencies.”
Read more »

The Brief: Doug Oliver Doubles Down on Being Vague

Last night, I interviewed long-shot mayoral candidate Doug Oliver at Venturef0rth as part of Citified’s new Candidate Conversations series.

Going into the Q&A, my big question was: Does Oliver deserve to be in the major leagues?

He’s never held elected office before. His exploratory committee had only $1,085 in the bank at the end of 2014. And yet, former Gov. Ed Rendell has called him “enthusiastic,” “refreshing” and “charming.”

During the interview, I found Oliver to be energetic and honest and passionate about the city. But he was also stunningly vague at times, and perhaps more surprisingly, unapologetic about his lack of specific proposals to fix the city’s problems. Toward the end of the Q&A, I told Oliver I thought the mayor’s race in general has suffered from a dearth of ideas. (You can watch the full exchange above.)

As a candidate who has pitched himself as someone with “fresh eyes,” I asked him what his big idea is for the city. He doubled down on being vague.

Read more »

The Brief: No Peace for the SRC

Green Williams Clarke

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved five out of 39 applications for new charter schools yesterday night at the tail end of a meeting that featured four arrests and lasted five hours. The decision appeared to please no one. One prominent national ed reformer called on SRC Chairman Bill Green to resign, for not approving enough charter applicants. Pretty much simultaneously, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten condemned the decision to approve any new charter schools. Gov. Wolf issued a statement saying his administration “continues to believe that the district’s financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools.” We haven’t heard yet from Republicans in the General Assembly, but you can bet they would like to have seen more new charters than the five the SRC authorized. 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 »

The Brief: Decision Impossible—the SRC’s Lose-Lose Situation

School District of Philadelphia

I understand that sympathy for the School Reform Commission is in short supply. But man, the SRC is on the spot in an excruciating way right now, pressured on one side by Gov. Wolf, on another by GOP Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and well-funded ed reform advocates, and on a third by crushing and unrelenting financial considerations. It’s a Bermuda Triangle, and I’m not sure how they escape it.

At issue, of course, is the fate of 39 charter school applications. The district hasn’t approved a new standalone charter school in seven years. There is, to put it mildly, extreme pent-up demand for new charters. Read more »

Complaint: SRC Violated Pennsylvania Sunshine Act

As anticipated, public school activists have filed a complaint against the School Reform Commission, charging the SRC violated the state’s Sunshine Act when it unilaterally canceled the teachers’ contract last month.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools and member Lisa Haver filed the complaint. Though the SRC meeting that canceled the teachers’ contracts was done on a Monday morning with little notice, the SRC published an ad in the Inquirer and on that Sunday. The state’s Sunshine Act requires public meetings to be advertised at least 24 hours in advance.

But the lawsuit says those advertisements did not fulfill the Sunshine Act’s requirements.

Read more »

WATCH: New Video Shows SRC Member Telling Kids They Are “Probably in Failing Schools”

A new video of a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission clearly shows her telling protesting students that they are “probably in failing schools.” Sylvia Simms has previously denied the accusation from the students.

Last month, students protested a screening of the pro-charter school drama Won’t Back Down Simms hosted. After students interrupted the screening with clapping and chanting, they said Simms told them they “belong in jail” and that they’re “probably in failing schools.”

Read more »

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