Council: Why Did $1.3 Million for School Nurses Go Unspent?

Photo | It's Our City via Flickr / Creative Commons

Photo | It’s Our City via Flickr / Creative Commons

The Philadelphia School District has a modest fund balance this year, meaning for the first time in recent memory it spent less money than it budgeted.

But that’s the result of “bad savings,” Councilwoman Helen Gym said during City Council’s hearings on the District’s budget Tuesday. It’s not that the district just managed its money well; instead, it failed to spend budgeted money on basic services, Gym said. That includes a gap of $1.3 million budgeted but not spent on school nurses, $4 million on maintenance and repair, and $2 million on special education bus attendants. In all, the district saved $65 million through staff vacancies and deferred maintenance, Gym pointed out. Read more »

School District Cutting Ties with Sorely Underperforming Sub Contractor

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite | Photo by Bradley C. Bower/AP

The Philadelphia School District is parting ways with Source4Teachers, a private group hired in 2015 to supply substitute teachers for classrooms, the Inquirer reported on Friday.

The decision to outsource substitutes was criticized from the start by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, whose members used to fill in for absent district teachers. But the district was confident that privatizing that service would pay off. It agreed to pay the Cherry Hill-based firm $34 million for two years. In turn, Source4Teachers agreed to fill 75 percent of vacant classrooms on the first day of school last fall and 90 percent by the beginning of this year.

It failed in spectacular fashion. The Inquirer reported in September that the firm only filled 11 percent of classrooms on the first day of school. In February, Newsworks reported that the fill rate had barely climbed above one-third by the end of last year. A substantial number of schools had single-digit fill rates, and some schools have practically gone without substitutes, according to the Newsworks report.

“I am committed to resolving the substitute teacher staffing challenges long facing our schools,” Superintendent William Hite told the Inquirer. “Our effort to improve substitute coverage this year fell woefully short.”
Read more »

Hite: Every School Will Get a Nurse, Counselor If Wolf’s Budget Passes

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Superintendent William Hite made a surprise announcement Thursday that every school in Philadelphia will have a full-time nurse and counselor next year — if, that is, the state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly passes Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget.

That’s a very big if. Pennsylvania still lacks a complete budget for this year.

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said it will need to hire 61 nurses and 42.5 school counselors (.5 because some are part-time) in order to make up for the current holes. He said this will cost a total of $12.9 million — $5 million for counselors and $7.9 million for nurses. Read more »

Insider: The SRC May Be Sizing Up Your Neighborhood School Right Now

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

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

Dear Parents: Pay attention.

The School Reform Commission wants to turn three neighborhood schools into charters. The community is outraged. The teachers are marching. The meetings are crazy. And that’s not going to make a difference.

On Jan. 21, the SRC’s monthly meeting devolved into bedlam when Commissioner Sylvia Simms motioned, with no public notice or invitation for comment, to begin the process of turning Wister Elementary over to Mastery Charter as part of the school district’s “Renaissance” initiative. (At the same meeting, the SRC also voted to start the procedure of handing Huey and Cooke Elementaries to charters.) Veteran education reporter Kristen Graham said it “may be the curviest curve” she had seen, and these are meetings that have led to union presidents being arrested and City Council members dancing to “Hotline Bling.” Simms’ motion passed anyway.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, guess what? The same thing could happen to your school. Read more »

Insider: All Eyes on You, Mayor Kenney

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

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

At 10 a.m. today, Jim Kenney will be sworn in as Philadelphia’s 99th mayor. Unlike the 2008 inauguration of Michael Nutter, which included citizens waiting in line for hours and a festive party at the Navy Yard, today’s events will be subdued and businesslike. It’s not that there isn’t much to celebrate — there’s just a lot of work to be done.

The 2015 mayoral campaign wasn’t about running against Nutter so much as it was about who could continue to do good for the city. There are key differences between Kenney and Nutter, though: For one thing, Kenney has acknowledged that he prefers a more traditional, strong-mayor form of government, as is laid out in the city charter.

Most, if not all, of Kenney’s key cabinet positions have been named: managing director, chief of staff, solicitor, treasurer, city representative, streets chief, and Licenses & Inspections head. There’s continuity at two extremely important positions — the police department and school district. Police Commissioner Richard Ross was a longtime deputy of our previous (and, by most accounts, successful) police chief. Superintendent William Hite will be on board through at least 2022, and provided he’s given the resources to get the job done, I fully expect to see continued progress there.

It doesn’t appear that there’s going to be a massive rollback of policies like occurred during the Street-to-Nutter transition. That’s good news, because undoing policies takes time, and time right now is at a premium. Kenney’s priorities — universal pre-K, decreasing poverty and creating better processes for reengaging returning citizens — are in dire need of immediate solutions. The appointments to newly-created positions, including the chief diversity and inclusion officer, a director of universal pre-K, and a deputy mayor for labor, signal the new administration’s cabinet-level-down approach to addressing some of the city’s more systemic challenges.

The million-dollar question, of course, is what does this all mean? How does this affect the life of the average Philadelphian, who’s faced with less-than-desirable school choices, disproportionately high taxes, and wages that are often inadequate to sustain a family? Read more »

SRC to Give Hite Five More Years at District Helm

Supt. William Hite spoke to reporters, unveiling "Action Plan 3.0."

Supt. William Hite.

For at least two consecutive years, the School Reform Commission has given Superintendent William R. Hite good marks for his leadership, with special praise for his management of the district’s still-precarious finances.

At its Dec. 17 meeting, the commission intends to express its continued confidence in Hite by extending his contract for a second five-year term. The SRC announced its intent this morning in a press release.

“It is crucial that we ensure leadership continuity in the The School District of Philadelphia,” SRC Chair Marjorie Neff  said in the written statement. “Dr. Hite has demonstrated strong leadership through an extraordinarily difficult time, provided sound fiscal oversight and implemented a vision that builds on our school system’s strengths with a focus on equity and high expectations.”

Read more »

The No-Bullshit Guide to Community Schools

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

A dentist peered into his two-year-old patient’s mouth and grimaced. Almost all of her teeth were rotten, and he hated to think what would have happened to her health had she not had access to this small dental clinic — a place that, despite its humble proportions and location (three chairs, tucked into a pre-K-12 public school called Oyler Learning Center), serves about 4,000 children a year.

When Philly Mayor-elect Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke saw that clinic during a visit last month to Oyler, which is in Cincinnati, they were moved.

A week later, standing in the brightly lit gymnasium at Tanner G. Duckrey School in North Philly, flanked by prominent city leaders, including Superintendent William Hite, School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff, and teachers union president Jerry Jordan, they were ready to rally the room.

“We can’t just wait for Superman. We have to fix this,” Kenney said. In front of a crowd of students and reporters, he formalized his campaign promise to bring 25 community learning centers like Oyler to Philadelphia by the end of his first term.

But what the heck is a community learning center? Is it just a buzzword?

Community learning centers like Cincinnati’s Oyler, also known as “community schools,” function simultaneously as schools and hubs that deliver resources to students, their families, and their neighbors.

At its best, the model is cost-efficient (it relies heavily on businesses, nonprofits and universities to carry service costs), customizable (each school has its own advisory board, which selects resources and chooses partners), and empowering (in Cincinnati, each advisory board annually reviews partner-school outcomes to decide if changes are necessary).

It’s an exchange: Locals get improved access to services that keep them healthy, and community partners get free facilities and a competition-free market.

In Philly, the closest thing we have to a community school is Sayre High School in West Philly, or South Philadelphia High. The first has a strong relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, and the second is led by principal (and Kenney’s soon-to-be Chief Education Officer) Otis Hackney, who has helped it partner with dozens of organizations over the last few years. Read more »

Nutter on My Brother’s Keeper: Progress, but More Work to Do

nutter-my-brothers-keeper-philadelphia-940x540

From left: Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor Christine Piven, Mayor Michael Nutter, assistant to President Obama Broderick Johnson and Superintendent Dr. William Hite. Photo | Fabiola Cineas

Philadelphia is standing up for young men and boys of color.

Statistics have long identified the plight of black men across the country — on average, one in three black men will have some level of contact with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. In Philadelphia, 75 percent of homicide victims and about 80 percent of the known perpetrators arrested for violent crime are young black men.

These figures were at the crux of Mayor Nutter’s announcements yesterday about the city’s ongoing efforts to improve the lives of young men and boys of color. At City Hall he was joined by Broderick Johnson, Assistant to President Obama and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force; Christine Piven, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor and My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia’s Project Director; Superintendent Dr. William Hite; Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; and Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

“One shooting, or one homicide is one too many,” said Mayor Nutter, “we have work to do.”

Nutter’s words came on the day after his successor, Jim Kenney, was officially selected. Yet Nutter made it clear that his support for initiatives around helping young men and boys of color wouldn’t dwindle even after his term. Read more »

Darrell Clarke Thinks Philly Schools Need the Firm Hand of City Council

Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by Philadelphia City Council and Associated Press.

Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by Philadelphia City Council and Associated Press.

Early this month, we told you about City Council President Darrell Clarke’s clear-cut power play to get Council more leverage over the School District of Philadelphia.

Now it’s looking like we underestimated his ambitions.

Clarke — who yesterday welcomed Council back from its long summer recess — wrote what amounts to a sweeping critique of the School District of Philadelphia and Superintendent Bill Hite in an op-ed published in Thursday’s Daily News.

He was responding to a tough recent editorial from the DN, which took Clarke to task for hounding Hite about problems — financial problems school district governance — that the Superintendent simply lacks the power to fix. Said the DN: “The superintendent is laboring under the illusion that the facts matter. They do not. The source of Clarke’s anger isn’t really over any particulars of district spending, it is over the fact that Council lacks control over how the money is spent.” Which, by the by, is exactly what Citified was telling you three days before the editorial ran.

In any event, Clarke was not cowed. His latest statement on the schools goes well beyond his past remarks, which had focused on the district’s financial management. Writes Clarke: Read more »

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