$25 Million for City Schools, Suddenly in Doubt?

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last spring, which feels like eons ago, City Council grudgingly agreed to increase funding to the School District of Philadelphia by $70 million. That was $30 million short of what the district was asking for, but $70 million really is a big round number, and it took a bevy of tax hikes — including a 4.5 percent hike in the property tax rate — to raise the funds.

City Council was grouchy in the extreme about coming up with that $70 million. So grouchy that it opted to hold onto $25 million of the $70 million — to be released to the district only when and if Council decided to do so.

Well, the school year hasn’t even begun, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke already has some real problems with what the district is doing; specifically Superintendent Bill Hite’s spending of $1 million on big new promotions and hires for central office administrators.

Kristen Graham reports for the Inquirer that Clarke recently sent Hite a letter questioning those decisions. Writes Graham:

… Recently, and in private, Council President Darrell L. Clarke launched another salvo at Hite, ordering more information on a recent series of administrative hires the superintendent has made, and reminding him that $25 million of the district’s money has strings attached – with final approval still to come from Council

… the council president was firm in the Aug. 6 letter: before anyone signs off on the final $25 million “it will be essential that Council have a clear understanding of the school district’s educational focus and financial spending plan at that time.”

In his response, Hite told Clarke that he was filling “critical vacancies.” Clarke, according to the report, was not impressed by that answer.

Will Council withhold the funds? It’s hard to imagine a scenario where that might actually happen. The blowback would be … huge.

But Clarke’s letter does send a message that Council isn’t going to leave the District alone until budget season. And that’s something new.

The Brief: Hite Damns the Politicos, Moves Full Speed Ahead

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Tired of waiting, for reasonable funding that may never come, Schools Superintendent Bill Hite is pressing forward on his plan to reshape the district.

The gist: In a must-read story for the Notebook, Dale Mezzacappa breaks down a big administrative change underway at the School District of Philadelphia. In short, Hite is further decentralizing the district, shifting power out of the main office and into schools and a growing number of “learning networks,” which group schools both either geography or particularly educational needs and approaches. Writes Mezzacappa:

After three years of an administration defined by austerity, personnel cuts and school closings, Superintendent William Hite is ready to move forward with his vision of improving education in the District.

Hite is moving ahead even though he doesn’t know yet whether he will get the financial support from the city and state that he needs to make it happen. He said his main goals will be stability, equity, and opportunity for all students, outcomes he hopes to achieve by making schools — not the central office — “the primary unit of change.”

Read more »

The Brief: Millennials Didn’t Vote This Year, Like At All

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

1. Voter turnout among millennials was abysmal in the mayoral election.

The gist: Only 12 percent of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34 cast a ballot in Philadelphia’s mayoral election, according to newly released data from the City Commissioners office. Millennials make up the largest bloc of registered voters in the city, though you wouldn’t know it on Election Day. As BillyPenn reported, “There are 71,000 more registered millennials than people age 35-to-49, 82,000 more than people age 50-to-64 and 140,000 more than people age 65 and up. And yet those respective age groups beat the millennials in voter turnout by about 20,000, 53,000 and 42,000.” Read more »

The Brief: Unapologetic Bill Hite Presses His Case for More Cash for Schools

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

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in Harrisburg last year. He’s got a whole new funding fight in 2015. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

1. With City Council prepped to short the School District, Superintendent Bill Hite urges politicians not to let the district’s ongoing crisis become the new normal.

The gist: As Citified’s Holly Otterbein first reported, City Council is now considering an array of funding options for the schools that will fall short of the $105 million requested by Hite. Probably well short. Council members have telegraphed this for a while, particularly during last week’s district budget hearings, which were a spectacle. This week, City Council President Darrell Clarke said Hite’s request — which totals $300 million overall, including $200 million from the state — represents a “Cadillac version of what [Hite would] like to see moving forward.”

Hite is pushing back. He told the Inquirer’s editorial board: “I respect Council’s position as the authorizing authority for additional revenue. But I’m the superintendent, which means I have to tell you what it costs to educate children.” Read more »

City Council to School District: Go Away Already

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo  courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

There are few City Hall scenes more dispiriting than the display of mutual contempt that unfolds each year when the School District of Philadelphia comes to City Council begging for money.

This year’s spite of spring featured: Read more »

Hite: Schools Can Make No More Cuts

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

Supt. William Hite spoke to reporters last month, unveiling “Action Plan 3.0.”

There’s nothing left to cut.

So says William Hite, superintendent of the Philadelphia School District. He made the assertion Monday during comments at the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg. “What are we going to do now? Put 50 kids in a class?” he asked. “There’s nothing else to cut.” Read more »

How Trauma Overwhelms Philly Schoolkids

Photo illustration | Alyse Moyer. Photos | Shutterstock.com

Photo illustration | Alyse Moyer. Photos | Shutterstock.com

During the 18 years he was a counselor at Barratt Middle School in South Philadelphia, Steven Hymans became accustomed to seeing students arrive for classes traumatized beyond their years.

“There were so many homicides in the neighborhood,” Hymans said recently. “In my 18 years at the middle school, I saw a lot of trauma, a lot of neglect. I did so much grief counseling while I was there.” Read more »

3 Ways William Hite’s Action Plan 3.0 Could Revitalize Philadelphia Schools

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

Superintendent  William Hite spoke to reporters while unveiling “Action Plan 3.0.”

After two years spent slashing programs, closing schools, and laying off thousands of workers, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite on Wednesday declared a victory of sorts.

The work of stabilizing the district is largely complete, he told reporters during a morning press conference — Philadelphia schools will end the fiscal year with a balanced budget. Now it’s time to turn to the work of actually improving schools and rebuilding public education in the city. 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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ThinkFest: William Hite on the State of Philly Schools and America’s “Dirty Little Secret”

thinkfest-2014-schools-william-hite-940x540

People who ask if money spent on Philly education is being wasted don’t ask the same question about richer suburban school districts, Philly School Superintendent William Hite said Friday during an appearance on the ThinkFest Main Stage.

Hite referenced the Lower Merion school district, which spends $10,000 more per pupil than Philadelphia, before mentioning a discussion he recently had with M. Night Shyamalan, the director and author of a book about education reform.

“I’m quoting him: ‘You know, I’m going to share a dirty little secret: America is racist,'” Hite said.

“There’s no one else that’s reduced its workforce by the amount that we’ve reduced, there’s no one else that’s closed the schools that we’ve closed — not even on a percentage basis,” Hite added. “If we’re going to talk about waste in Philadelphia, let’s talk about waste everywhere else.”

Three other takeaways:
Read more »

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