Category Archives: School Resources

Healthcare Reform Causing School Districts to Cut Jobs

Officials in school districts are voting to cut employee hours to avoid the healthcare mandate. 

Below is a must read article concerning school districts and healthcare reform by Elizabeth MacDonald:

Health reform is now causing job turmoil across the country in three key groups that the White House has depended on for support—local government, school workers and unions.

School districts in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, and Indiana are dropping to part-time status school workers such as teacher aides, administrators, secretaries, bus drivers, gym teachers, coaches and cafeteria workers. Cities or counties in states like California, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Michigan and Iowa are dropping to part-time status government workers such as librarians, secretaries, administrators, parks and recreation officials and public works officials.

This growing trend comes as three major unions have written to Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid warning that, because health reform is helping to push the work week to below 30 hours, it will “destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The federal law forces employers with at least 50 full-time workers to cover at least 60% of health-care costs for employees who work 30 hours or more per week. The law covers schools and state and local governments.

If they don’t offer affordable health insurance, schools and local governments could be fined $2,000 to as much as $3,000 per employee annually. The White House delayed the employer mandate for one year so employers can adjust, which the National School Boards Association (NSBA) applauded, as the mandate will hit schools hard.

Nearly three-quarters of government employers provide generous benefits to workers, funded by taxpayers, higher than any other industry, says the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But the quarter that do not are making rapid changes to the work week. To stop the wheels from coming off the school bus, school districts are doing the math, and are figuring out that cutting worker hours down to part-time status, or paying the mandate tax, or dropping part-time coverage is less expensive than offering health insurance benefits. “School districts across the U.S. are grappling to determine how they will respond to the requirement,” says National Insurance Services, a specialist in public sector employee benefits since 1969.

“Even some school districts on Long Island now contemplate putting school workers in the state health exchange to save money, while administrators and superintendents get paid huge six-figure salaries,” says a school administrator in Nassau County who asked to remain anonymous.

On top of that, cities across the nation are discovering that the extra expense from health reform will trigger layoffs and cutbacks in city services like public works, city jails, government workers in nursing homes, parks and libraries if they don’t push government workers down to part-time status. Some plan to hire even more part-time employees to make up for the lost hours, city officials have said.

A record high 28.1 million workers are now part-time, though the recession officially ended four years ago. Since the 2008-09 recession, part-time employment rose by 2.8 million (almost all of the gain was involuntary). Full-time work fell by 9.4 million from 2007 through 2010, the Census Bureau says. During that time, the ratio of part-timers rose to 20%, vs. 13% in 1968, and 17% in 1980. The economy has created just 130,000 full-time positions so far in 2013, versus 557,000 part-time jobs.

The irony is, health reform could fix the soaring pension and retiree health benefits owed by government agencies across the country, as numerous municipalities consider moving to a part-time workforce, analysis shows.

With the help of FOX analyst Mark Rigby, here’s what we found happening across the nation.

SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Schools throughout Indiana are cutting back the hours of teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and coaches to avoid having to offer them health insurance under the new federal employer mandate.

“We cannot go out and raise the price of our product to assist us covering this. We would have to go to the taxpayers and ask for some type of increase, and I just don’t see that happening,” said Les Huddle, superintendent of the Lafayette School Corp. This school district has cut the hours for about 600 full-time, non-certified employees in more than 150 schools to part-time status.

Indiana’s Shelbyville Central School System also is cutting back full-time hours of about 100 teacher aides, bus drivers, coaches and substitute teachers.

The Wake County Public School System in North Carolina is considering restricting its 3,300-plus substitutes to working less than 30 hours a week, effective July 1. The school district figured that, if just a third of these subs got employer health insurance, it would cost it about $5.2 million.

The Southern Lehigh School District in Pennsylvania voted to cut the hours of 51 part-time secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers to avoid the health care mandate.

“We are always looking to meet our obligations to students, the community, taxpayers, our employees and our staff, and this vote will have a direct impact on some of our employees,” South Lehigh School Board President Jeffrey Dimmig told the Lehigh Valley Morning Call, saying he was “troubled” by having to make the move.

In Nebraska, public school districts have been contemplating cutting worker hours to avoid the extra expense of health reform. Attorney Karen Haase who represents roughly 150 school districts in the state, estimates thousands of non-teaching jobs, such as bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, teacher aides, janitors, and administrative workers, may see their hours cut, layoffs and hiring freezes.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 of teacher aides, substitute teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and security officers and other workers in the Granite School District outside Salt Lake City, Utah, will see their part-time hours reduced due to the costs of health reform.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently said he would limit state part-time employees to a 29-hour maximum work schedule to save the state $61 million to $110 million per year. That includes schools.

Virginia’s Chesterfield County Public Schools and the Chesterfield County government have set 28 hours as the maximum work week for school and other government workers who are not full-time. A school district memo says “this legislation has the potential for serious financial implications for the school division.”

The memo is blunt on how the new law redefines work hours. “The Affordable Care Act redefines full-time employees from people working 40 hours a week to people working 30 hours a week,” it says. “Failure to comply with health-care reform requirements would result in severe penalties — potentially millions of dollars.” The memo says the move will avoid extra costs of about $14 million.

Complaints from school workers about the new law are rolling in. “This healthcare reform is going to make me pay higher preminums (sic). It will make the schools pay more & cut jobs, & programs,” said one complainant on the American Federation of Teachers’ website.

Already, colleges and universities have been cutting back hours of adjunct professors. Youngstown State University in eastern Ohio will limit the hours of non-union part-time employees like these professors to 29 hours a week or less to make sure that the university is not required to provide them with health insurance coverage under the new law.

Part-time professors at Piedmont Virginia Community College and other community colleges in the state could see their hours cut because of Virginia’s response to the new federal health reform law, officials said.

Some 200 adjunct faculty members at Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania will see their hours cut so the school can avoid paying for their health insurance coverage. “While it is of course the college’s preference to provide coverage to these positions, there simply are not funds available to do so,” David Hoovler, executive assistant to the president of CCAC, has said. Another 200 additional part-time employees, such as administrators, computer, seasonal and other positions, will be limited to working 25 hours per week.

And the Haysville school district outside Wichita, Kansas, now says part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours will no longer receive health benefits they used to get.

MUNICIPAL WORKERS

Officials in Floyd County, Ind., recently announced plans to drop the hours of part-time government workers to below 30 hours a week from 34 because of health-reform mandates.

Butler County outside Wichita, Kansas, now classifies part-time municipal workers as those who work fewer than 30 hours a week.

Long Beach, Calif., is restricting most of its 1,600 part-time employees to on average fewer than 27 hours a week. City executives warn that without the move, their budget would soar $2 million due to higher health benefit costs. The city calculated that the federal penalty for dropping coverage completely for its 4,100 full-time employees would have been about $8 million, so instead, it’s opting to cut the hours.

“I understand there are costs to healthcare reform, but it is surely not the intent of the law for employees to lose hours,” part-timer Tara Sievers, an outreach coordinator at a nature center in Long Beach, is quoted as saying.

The city of Plano, Texas, says it will cut the hours of up to 70 employees who work 30 hours, but currently don’t get health insurance. Offering coverage would have cost about $1 million.

Dearborn, Michigan, is cutting the number of hours for its part-time and seasonal employees to no more than an average of 28 hours per week. Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Jr. said the policy was drafted due to changes in the federal government’s definition of a “part-time” employee.

City officials in Cedar Falls, Iowa, also say they’re being proactive by cutting hours of part-time workers starting Dec. 1. That means 59 part-time employees who now work 32 hours a week in public works public libraries and the parks department, will be scheduled for 29 hours per week starting Dec. 1.

UNION OPPOSITION

The trend in school and government workers getting hours cut comes as the number of unions opposed to health reform grows. The list includes: The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; International Union of Operating Engineers; United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; UNITE HERE; and Laborers International Union of North America.

Union leaders James Hoffa of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Joseph Hansen of The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and D. Taylor of UNITE-HERE recently sent a letter to Reid and Pelosi warning: “The law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly,” adding, “the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions.”

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Obamacare Forcing Colleges to Cut Teachers’ Hours

by Christopher Paslay

To avoid penalties under the Affordable Care Act, adjunct professors at some universities will not be assigned more than an average of 29 hours per week.

Philadelphia School District officials are not the only ones facing tough economic times.  Across the country, America’s colleges and universities are struggling financially, especially now that the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect.  To avoid new requirements that they provide healthcare to anyone working over 30 hours per week, many colleges are cutting the number of hours worked by adjunct professors.

As stated in American Interest Magazine: “This is terrible news for a lot of people; 70 percent of professors work as adjuncts and many will now have to cope with a major pay cut just as requirements that they buy their own health insurance go into effect.”

According to The Wall Street Journal:

In Ohio, instructor Robert Balla faces a new cap on the number of hours he can teach at Stark State College. In a Dec. 6 letter, the North Canton school told him that “in order to avoid penalties under the Affordable Care Act…employees with part-time or adjunct status will not be assigned more than an average of 29 hours per week.”

Mr. Balla, a 41-year-old father of two, had taught seven English composition classes last semester, split between Stark State and two other area schools. This semester, his course load at Stark State is down to one instead of two as a result of the school’s new limit on hours, cutting his salary by about a total of $2,000.

Stark State’s move came as a blow to Mr. Balla, who said he earns about $40,000 a year and cannot afford health insurance.

“I think it goes against the spirit of the [health-care] law,” Mr. Balla said. “In education, we’re working for the public good, we are public employees at a public institution; we should be the first ones to uphold the law, to set the example.”

Maybe some of these adjuncts can brush-up on their accounting skills and apply to the IRS to supplement their hours.  Word has it the IRS is hiring 16,500 new agents to enforce Obamacare’s tax code.

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Come 2013, teachers will be hit with a wave of new taxes

by Christopher Paslay

Last Sunday marked the start of the 100-day countdown to “Taxmageddon”—the date the largest tax hikes in the history of America will take effect.

On January 1, 2013, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, prompting many of my fellow teachers to say, Great!  Let the richest Americans finally start paying their fair share!  The only problem is, Bush’s tax cuts weren’t simply for the rich (as many Americans have been led to believe), but for all Americans at every tax bracket. 

According to Americans for Tax Reform:

Personal income tax rates will rise on January 1, 2013.  The top income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (this is also the rate at which the majority of small business profits are taxed).  The lowest rate will rise from 10 to 15 percent.  All the rates in between will also rise.  Itemized deductions and personal exemptions will again phase out, which has the same mathematical effect as higher marginal tax rates.  The full list of marginal rate hikes is below:

-The 10% bracket rises to a new and expanded 15%

-The 25% bracket rises to 28%

-The 28% bracket rises to 31%

-The 33% bracket rises to 36%

-The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%

As a Philadelphia school teacher at the top of the pay scale, this income tax increase means I will be taking home approximate $2,500 less in 2012 than I did in 2013 (to calculate your own income tax increase, multiple your current yearly salary by .03).  As if this weren’t bad enough, tax benefits for education and teaching will be reduced:

The deduction for tuition and fees will not be available.  Tax credits for education will be limited.  Teachers will no longer be able to deduct classroom expenses.  Coverdell Education Savings Accounts will be cut.  Employer-provided educational assistance is curtailed.  The student loan interest deduction will be disallowed for hundreds of thousands of families.

This really stings, being that I spent over $12,000 on graduate school tuition this year (which I will no longer be able to deduct from my income taxes in 2013).  To make matters worse, all the money I spent on classroom materials in 2012—such as paper, posters, ink cartridges, CDs, DVDs, pens, markers, magazines, flash-drives, file folders, pencil sharpeners, in/out baskets, computer speakers, etc.—will no longer be able to be deducted from my tax returns. 

But there’s more.  Higher taxes on marriage and family are coming on January 1, 2013: 

The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) will return from the first dollar of taxable income.  The child tax credit will be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child.  The standard deduction will no longer be doubled for married couples relative to the single level.

The Obamacare “Special Needs Kids Tax” also comes online on January 1, 2013:

Imposes a cap on FSAs of $2500 (now unlimited).  Indexed to inflation after 2013. There is one group of FSA owners for whom this new cap will be particularly cruel and onerous: parents of special needs children.  There are thousands of families with special needs children in the United States, and many of them use FSAs to pay for special needs education.  Tuition rates at one leading school that teaches special needs children in Washington, D.C. (National Child Research Center) can easily exceed $14,000 per year. Under tax rules, FSA dollars can be used to pay for this type of special needs education.  This Obamacare cap harms these families.

Curiously, a woman I teach with this semester is married, has a special needs son, and is in graduate school working on a Master’s in Education.  Between the rise in her income tax rate, the Special Needs Kids Tax, and the fact that she will no longer be able to write-off the tens of thousands of dollars she spends on tuition and classroom materials, her finances will be taking a real beating.

The rich may be paying more this January, but the middle class will be getting hammered as well.  Here are some other new tax hikes that will occur on January 1, 2013:

Middle Class Death Tax returns on January 1, 2013.  The death tax is currently 35% with an exemption of $5 million ($10 million for married couples).  For those dying on or after January 1 2013, there is a 55 percent top death tax rate on estates over $1 million.  A person leaving behind two homes and a retirement account could easily pass along a death tax bill to their loved ones.

Higher tax rates on savers and investors on January 1, 2013.  The capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 23.8 percent in 2013.  The top dividends tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 43.4 percent in 2013.  This is because of scheduled rate hikes plus Obamacare’s investment surtax.

There are twenty new or higher taxes in Obamacare.  Some have already gone into effect (the tanning tax, the medicine cabinet tax, the HSA withdrawal tax, W-2 health insurance reporting, and the “economic substance doctrine”).  Several more will go into effect on January 1, 2013.  They include:

The Obamacare Medical Device Tax begins to be assessed on January 1, 2013.  Medical device manufacturers employ 409,000 people in 12,000 plants across the country. This law imposes a new 2.3% excise tax on gross sales – even if the company does not earn a profit in a given year. Exempts items retailing for <$100.

The Obamacare Medicare Payroll Tax Hike takes effect on January 1, 2013.  The Medicare payroll tax is currently 2.9 percent on all wages and self-employment profits.  Starting in 2013, wages and profits exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of married couples) will face a 3.8 percent rate.

The Obamacare “Haircut” for Medical Itemized Deductions goes into force on January 1, 2013.  Currently, those facing high medical expenses are allowed a deduction for medical expenses to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).  The new provision imposes a threshold of 10 percent of AGI. Waived for 65+ taxpayers in 2013-2016 only.

When Americans prepare to file their tax returns in January of 2013, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise—the AMT won’t be held harmless, and many tax relief provisions will have expired.  These tax increases will be in force for BOTH 2012 and 2013.  The major items include:

The AMT will ensnare over 31 million families, up from 4 million last year.  According to the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, Congress’ failure to index the AMT will lead to an explosion of AMT taxpaying families—rising from 4 million last year to 31 million.  These families will have to calculate their tax burdens twice, and pay taxes at the higher level.  The AMT was created in 1969 to ensnare a handful of taxpayers.

Full business expensing will disappear.  In 2011, businesses can expense half of their purchases of equipment.  Starting on 2013 tax returns, all of it will have to be “depreciated” (slowly deducted over many years).

Taxes will be raised on all types of businesses.  There are literally scores of tax hikes on business that will take place.  The biggest is the loss of the “research and experimentation tax credit,” but there are many, many others.  Combining high marginal tax rates with the loss of this tax relief will cost jobs.

Charitable Contributions from IRAs no longer allowed.  Under current law, a retired person with an IRA can contribute up to $100,000 per year directly to a charity from their IRA.  This contribution also counts toward an annual “required minimum distribution.”  This ability will no longer be there.

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Phil Goldsmith for Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools

 

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District can call off its elaborate search for the next superintendent.  The best person for the job is sitting right under our nose, and his name is Phil Goldsmith.      

The Philadelphia School District has officially started its search for a new superintendent, and the token ritual of “making public voices heard” has begun.  For the next three weeks, at various locations around the city, citizens have the opportunity to tell the School Reform Commission the leadership characteristics they feel the next superintendent of city schools should possess.  These public forums are being sponsored by the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement.  The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has also invited its members to take a superintendent search survey on the PFT website.     

This gesture—giving teachers and taxpayers a voice in the selection process—is kind, but for all intents and purposes, worthless.  The general population has as much say in hiring a superintendent as school children do in designing curriculum; allowing citizens a so-called “voice” is a public relations tactic to make a very undemocratic process appear democratic.   

But I’m not writing this to advocate democracy or transparency.  I’m writing to tell everyone—the District, the city, the PFT—to save it.  Save the elaborate search process for a time when it is warranted.  The next superintendent of the Philadelphia School District is sitting right under our noses, and his name is Phil Goldsmith.

For the record, I don’t know if Goldsmith has even considered applying for the job, but he should.  He’s by far the best fit for the position, and I have yet to hear of another person who can come close to matching Goldsmith’s vision, knowledge, and expertise when it comes to the city of Philadelphia and it public schools.  Here’s why:             

He’s a local with experience

Goldsmith was the interim CEO of the Philadelphia School District in 2001, and is a former managing director of the city.  In essence, Goldsmith already knows the inner workings of the District and city, so there would be no need to waste time or money on getting him “oriented” or established, of setting up costly “transition teams,” of getting acquainted with the teachers union or other local politicians.  Likewise, taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay to have him relocated as would be the case if the District hired an outsider. 

He’s a leader with values

As Goldsmith wrote in a commentary for the Notebook about school district leadership, “What really matters is the quality, expertise, character, and courage of the people who serve. They need expertise in overseeing a vast governmental organization, the willingness and smarts to ask tough questions, the courage to speak truth to power, and a deep commitment to the mission of public education.”  Goldsmith also stated that there are four primary functions of a body governing a school district: Fiscal stewardship, leadership, integrity, and fairness. 

Goldsmith also advocates local control—that the state should relinquish power of the District—and believes that citizens and taxpayers should have a stronger say in the workings of their schools. 

He has common sense with dollars and cents

Goldsmith wrote about the Philadelphia School District’s impending financial crisis months before it became reality.  In a July 2010 Daily News article, Goldsmith criticized superintendent Arlene Ackerman for bringing in high-priced administrators in light of the “fiscal tsunami” looming ahead for the District:

“The federal stimulus money the district has been relying on for operations will soon disappear, tax revenues remain weak, the state’s educational budget is smaller than anticipated, and Gov. Rendell, who has been generous to the school district and education in general, will be leaving office in five months.  And yet, administrative salaries at the district, which have gone up since the state takeover in 2002, continue to rise under Ackerman. . . .”  

In a Daily News column in June of 2011, when the extent and magnitude of the Philadelphia School District’s deficit became public, Goldsmith detailed how the oversight of District finances should become a priority:

“. . . whatever taxes are raised should not go directly to the district. The money should go into a dedicated education fund that the city can allocate to the district once it meets certain criteria and answers specific questions and a legitimate oversight process is ensured.  Should the district be expanding programs like Renaissance Schools before there is credible evidence that those schools are producing the desired results?  How is money being spent, department-by-department? What are the staffing levels compared with comparable school districts? And salary levels, for that matter?”

He understands the complexities of school safety

When it comes to school violence, Goldsmith can think outside the box:

“Schools don’t manufacture guns or produce and sell drugs,” Goldsmith wrote in an article for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “they don’t make violent movies or television shows, write misogynist or violent lyrics to rap music or create single-parent homes with high unemployment. And yet, we expect our teachers, principals and administrators to right the wrongs of society. It simply isn’t going to happen.  There are many things a school district can and must do to fight violence: It needs to maintain accurate records, report incidents to the appropriate people and provide a safe learning and teaching environment. But by focusing solely on the school district, we absolve others of responsibility: Parents who aren’t providing—or aren’t capable of providing—proper parenting; faith-based leaders who may have to do more to step into the parental and spiritual breach; corporate leaders who, with advertising dollars, support some of the violent programs on television; politicians who reach for quick sound bites rather than explore substantive solutions.”

Does the district want a solution?      

Unlike Arlene Ackerman, Phil Goldsmith is not a mindless yes-man who can be manipulated by money and politics.  He’s a free thinker whose ideas sometimes run counter to education trends and what has come to be known as the “national reform model”.   This could very well pose a problem for those in charge.  The recent overhaul of the District’s leadership, along with the signing of the Gate’s Compact, suggests Philadelphia’ power structure is more interested in dismantling the Philadelphia public school system rather than trying to fix it from within.  It has become clear that the goal of the District is expedited privatization, and the dividing-up of all the resources that go along with it.

But while there’s still a public school system left to run, Goldsmith is the man to do it.  Here’s to hoping he’ll officially apply for the job, and that if he does, the District will have enough wisdom to take him on.

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What Happened to the Philadelphia School District’s 2008 Five-Year Financial Plan?

by Christopher Paslay

Tom Knudsen, the District’s new Chief Recovery Officer, is searching for consultants to help the District develop a five-year financial plan to balance the budget.  Tragically, this would not be necessary if the District simply followed its 2008 five-year plan.

I’m going to let Tom Knudsen and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in on a little secret: five-year financial plans only work if you follow them.  This nugget of wisdom is similar to the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry goes to pick up his rental car and finds there are none available.  The rental agent acknowledges that Jerry indeed has a reservation, but that he can’t get a car because the agency didn’t hold one for him. 

“Anyone can take a reservation,” Jerry says, “but it’s the holding of the reservation that counts.”

The same philosophy applies to the District: anyone can write a five-year financial plan; it’s following the plan that counts.   

A case in point is the District’s other five-year financial plan, the one Dr. Ackerman and the SRC released on June 30, 2008.  Titled, “Five-Year Financial Plan: Fiscal Year 2008-2009 through Fiscal Year 2012-13,” it was put in place to help close the $73 million “surprise” budget deficit left by Paul Vallas, former C.E.O. of Philadelphia public schools (click here to read the document).  The plan went on to make several ambitious promises in its executive summary:

“In future years, District finances are projected to continue steady improvement based on strong continued state funding levels, combined with tight fiscal restraint for District spending. Accordingly, the first year of this Plan is critical for establishing sustainable fiscal health.

A Gap Closing Plan is in development to achieve full and sustainable balance for the fiscal year ahead. The SRC Chair has requested that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Secretary of the Budget and City of Philadelphia Director of Finance work with the District to construct this approach, and the process has begun. Assuming that at least half of the initiatives in this Gap Closing Plan recur, the District is projected to produce operating surpluses in FY2010-11 and FY2011-12 and to begin to rebuild a positive Fund Balance reserve.”    

Here are the yearly budget projections quoted in the Five Year Financial Plan (p. 14 of the document):

FY2008-09:  $2,280,602,991

FY2009-10:  $2,483,103,289

FY2010-11:  $2,646,495,847 

FY2011-12:  $2,806,419,243

FY2012-13:  $3,025,631,379

To the credit of the newly appointed Dr. Ackerman and the SRC, the District did manage to successfully balance the books in 2008-09.  Shortly thereafter, however, the District’s philosophy of efficient spending went out the window.  This was undoubtedly due to the fact that a gigantic pot of Federal Stimulus money landed at their doorstep.  Here are the District’s actual budgets from 2009 to 2012:

FY2008-09:  $2,794,000,000

FY2009-10:  $3,057,000,000

FY2010-11:  $3,216,000,000

FY2011-12:  $2,770,000,000

The District’s spending not only went up nearly a half a billion dollars in three years ($422 million), but their 2010-11 costs were 570 million dollars over their original budget projections in their financial plan issued in June of 2008.    

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, the irony of the situation is two-fold.  One—the District somehow forgot to exercise “tight fiscal restraint.”  And two—there is no operating surplus for the year 2011-12.  In fact, there is now a deficit of over $700 million dollars. 

Most ironic, however, is the fact that if the SRC would have simply followed their own Five Year Financial Plan, which estimated a budget of only $2,806,419,243 for the 2011-12 school year, there would be a more manageable deficit of $36 million dollars, based on the District’s 2011-12 school year budget of $2,770,000,000.

So a word to the wise: if the District is going to spend a bunch of money hiring a consultant to write a five-year financial plan, it must make sure it follows it.  Writing a financial plan and not following it is like giving out a reservation for an automobile but not holding the car.

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Payroll Woes: Is the Philadelphia School District the Next Chester Upland?

by Christopher Paslay

The Chester Upland School District recently ran out of money and can no longer pay its teachers.  At the latest SRC meeting, Feather Houstoun admits that this summer, the Philadelphia School District may not ‘be able to pay people in July for work they did in June.’    

In three years, the Philadelphia School District blew through a sick amount of money.  A sick amount.  From September of 2008 to June of 2011—the Ackerman-Archie years—the District spent in excess of $9 billion dollars.  The craziest part is, the more money they spent, the less they seemed to have to show for it. 

In the 2008-09 school year, with 169,000 students enrolled in District schools, the District had an operating budget of approximately $2.79 billion.  Things weren’t perfect but they were stable.  Athletic programs were fully funded, as were extracurricular clubs and after school activities.  Schools had fulltime nurses, photocopiers were supplied with paper, and most importantly, people who showed up for work were able to get paid. 

In the 2009-10 school year, with the help of federal stimulus money, the District’s budget increased to over $3 billion.  Student enrollment dropped to 165,000.  The following school year, in 2010-2011, the budget jumped again—to $3.25 billion.  Student enrollment sank to just under 160,000. 

In 2011-12—the current school year—things came full circle: the operating budget has dropped back to what it was in 2008-09, which is a cool $2.77 billion.  Of course, there are now only 146,000 students enrolled in District schools.  And now, somehow, after all that extra money came into the District during those zany stimulus years—a half a billion dollars of it!—the District is flat broke.  Busted.  Down and out. 

Many athletic programs have been shut down.  After school clubs have been axed.  School nurses have been cut.  Teachers, NTAs, and counselors have been laid off.  In many schools (like mine), teachers have to buy their own paper.  And now, according to the recent comments made by Feather Houstoun at the latest School Reform Commission meeting, the District may have a hard time paying people; they need to cut another $61 million by June.                        

“We’re basically going to limp through May and June,” Houstoun said at the meeting. “We’ll cover payroll. We’ll cover debt service because we absolutely have to. But we’re going to have to have such a pile up of cash deficit that we’re basically not going to be able to pay people in July for work they did in June. If we haven’t fixed this and have a credible plan for next year and the next year, we may not even be able to go to credit markets.” (Click here to read Inquirer Reporter Kristen Graham’s blog of the meeting).    

Not be able to pay people in July for work they did in June?  Which people are we talking about here?  Teachers?  Principals?  Who? 

Although it’s not the current administration’s mess, it really makes you wonder what in the world was going on down at 440 N. Broad for the past three years.  Where in the world did all that money go, for heaven’s sake?  But more importantly, when and how is the District finally going to have the wherewithal to get their finances back in order and put a stop to all the bleeding?

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‘American Teacher’ Shows the Other Side of ‘Superman’

by Christopher Paslay

“American Teacher,” the new education documentary narrated by Matt Damon, dares to portray schoolteachers as competent professionals.    

In an age of school reform, in an age where the phrase failing schools has become boilerplate, the film “American Teacher” arrives at a surprising conclusion: schoolteachers aren’t the bums they’re made out to be.  In fact, many of them are extremely dedicated, and work really long hours.  They write lessons, and grade stacks of essays, and bond with their students.  They counsel, and mentor, and spend up to $3,000 of their own money to buy supplies.  Many do this while holding a second job.  And raising children.  And managing a home.  And maintaining a relationship with a spouse. 

As Neil Genzlinger wrote in his review of the film for the New York Times, “It quickly knocks down the idiocy often voiced by right-wing television commentators that teachers are goof-offs who work six-hour days and take three months off every year. The director, Vanessa Roth, follows several teachers through their long days at school and into their personal lives, where low pay is a constant worry that affects marriages and contributes to an alarming turnover rate.”

“American Teacher” is for the most part refreshingly free from underlying politics and agendas.  It does suggest the teaching profession should be made more attractive by increasing pay, but it never advocates performance pay.  It stays away from the subject of unions, school choice, and the achievement gap; unlike “Waiting for Superman,” this lack of controversy may very well keep it from receiving the attention it deserves. 

Its wholesomeness and respect for America’s schoolteachers goes against the grain of the message being promoted by education reformers such as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee, whose organizations have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal to paint educators in an unflattering light; Bill Gates donated $2 million to promote “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary that noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called “propagandistic” for cherry-picking statistics and test data in order to help further expand charter schools and privatize education.   

“American Teacher” shows the other side of “Superman,” which is probably enough to sink it like a stone.  This isn’t to say those interested in the real lives and careers of our nation’s schoolteachers should pass on it.  On the contrary, it’s a film the American public needs to see.

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A Letter to PA Governor Tom Corbett

Dear Governor Corbett,

 

I am writing this letter on behalf of all the hard working Philadelphia public school teachers who will be losing their jobs next school year because of your proposed cuts to education (yes, I know the general public thinks schoolteachers are greedy bums protected by villainous unions, but the reality is, most schoolteachers work extremely hard and have to provide for their families).  I am also writing this letter on behalf of all the city’s schoolchildren, the 165,000 students who will be losing badly needed supports and programs because your proposed budget cuts will stop education funding mid-stream.          

 

Before you balk and give me a lecture on fiscal responsibility, just stop for a moment.  Breathe.  Count backwards from ten. 

 

I know how the game works, Mr. Governor.  I know all about politics.  Although I’m registered as an Independent, I feel your pain.  Obama and the Democrats were smart.  They got everybody hooked on that Federal Stimulus money like crack.  They made state politicians adopt liberal agendas and vote for progressive bills before getting rewarded with a boatload of federal green (green that the government didn’t even have in the first place).  It was a good plan.  Genius.  And everybody and their mother bought-in. 

 

The Philadelphia School District jumped right on board.  After all, former District C.E.O. Paul Vallas broke camp for New Orleans and left the Ackerman administration a “surprise” $73 million deficit.  Why wouldn’t the SRC grab hold of that Stimulus cash?  At the time, the District even had a long term budget plan for developing a surplus by the year 2011.  The plan was titled, “Five-Year Financial Plan: Fiscal Year 2008-2009 through Fiscal Year 2012-13” (click here if you want to read it).

 

In 2009, to Dr. Ackerman’s credit, the District balanced its books.  Of course, around this time, that Stimulus cash started to look mighty tasty.  In three short years, from 2009 to 2011, the District’s budget went up almost a half a billion dollars (this was in spite of their own fiscal plan which called for a budget in 2011 of $2,646,495,847 instead of the $3,216,000,000 they actually spent).      

 

Again, much of this overzealous spending was politics.  All part of the Democrats’ plan.  Get people hooked on free stuff so when it runs out, bang!  You find yourself in serious withdraw—to the tune of $629 million.  You also find yourself cursing the bastards who took half your free stuff away.  Example: those damn Republicans!

 

I feel your pain, Mr. Governor.  I really do.  I understand that “free stuff” really isn’t free, that money doesn’t grow on trees.  I understand that the well eventually runs dry, and that if we want to replenish it, we have to make cuts.  I also understand your politics, the games played by the Republicans.  We can’t waste too much money on public programs, because that will ultimately offset private wealth.  Taxes will have to be raised to make-up the difference, and we can’t have that.                  

 

So how about if we compromise, Mr. Governor?  You have to cut irresponsible spending, but don’t cut us off cold turkey.  Seriously.  Cutting $293 million from Philadelphia public schools is just too drastic, even if the SRC did overextend itself over the past three years.  We admit our mistakes, and the fact that we could have planned better, but dropping this kind of hammer on us is too harsh.  How about cutting our funding by $150 million instead?  Do half now and see where the budget stands next year. 

 

I know I’ve just talked a lot about politics, but for the record, your cuts are affecting children.  Do you truly understand how your decisions will be impacting our city’s youth?  Schools will be losing counselors, nurses, reading specialists, ESL teachers, special education teachers, police officers, art and music teachers, librarians, summer programs, and athletic programs.  Did you know this?  Do you even care?         

 

I know you need to appease your constituency by coming into office and reeling in “reckless” spending with a swift hand, but even you can exercise some moderation.  Don’t think of it as failing to corral the Democrats, but as investing in the future of Pennsylvania’s children.             

 

Sincerely,

 

Christopher Paslay      

 

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, School Resources

When the community steals from its students

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

Over the past decade, education advocates and community groups have been focusing their attention on school equity—the idea that all students, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, should receive an equal education.

 

As a teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I agree wholeheartedly.  All children deserve a quality education.  The reality, of course, is that not all schools are equal, and often times the neediest children end up in schools that are struggling to achieve.

 

Many advocacy groups blame educational inequities on the quality of teachers.  Others suggest it’s about race—that the District needs more African Americans on staff to reach minority students in order to close the achievement gap. 

 

Still others talk about the absence of resources, and insist schools in impoverished neighborhoods lack books, computer equipment, and other supplies (members of the Philadelphia Student Union recently met with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. to talk about the lack of resources at Overbrook High School).

 

The irony (or tragedy) is that when you take a closer look at schools like Overbrook, you’ll often find that these schools did have adequate resources and materials at one time, but they somehow disappeared from circulation.

 

Unlike the situation earlier this year with textbooks, it’s not the District or school administrators who are responsible—it’s the community.             

 

The very men and women who are supposed to be making a contribution to education in their neighborhoods are actually taking away from it—by stealing valuable educational equipment.    

 

According to a report by CBS 3, nearly $5 million in computer equipment has been stolen from the Philadelphia School District since 2005, most of which has been taken from impoverished neighborhood schools.        

 

In the 2008-09 school year,12 laptops were stolen from Overbrook High School, 33 from Strawberry Mansion, another 30 from Bok, and a total of 104 from Furness (after three robberies). 

 

How have community groups and education advocates reacted to the reprehensible behavior of their fellow citizens? 

 

Besides a short-lived plea by Philadelphia Police to return the stolen property, mum’s been the word.  Not much of a peep by anyone.  The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a self proclaimed champion of educational equity, hasn’t said much.  Neither have activists working under the Education First Compact or the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign for School Reform. 

 

Neither has the Philadelphia Student Union, for that matter. 

 

It speaks volumes that those who claim to care about public education in Philadelphia have failed to hold their own community responsible for stealing from our city’s children.  It’s also telling that not a single “education activist” has started a campaign to raise awareness about the crime being perpetrated against our students. 

 

It takes a village to teach a child.  If our own community is stealing resources from our children (and not being held accountable), what hope is there for pubic education?    

 

This is yet another example of how the educational system is the result of the community, not the other way around.

  

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Holistic Education, Philadelphia Student Union, School Resources

Philadelphia School District focuses on vocabulary to help improve student literacy

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

True or false: If a student is unfamiliar with only five percent of the words in a particular text, he will not be able to comprehend the overall meaning of the passage.

 

Answer: True.

 

Research on student literacy shows that a child can know 19 out of every 20 words on a reading assignment and still fail to grasp the overall meaning.  The unfamiliar words not only throw a monkey wrench into the student’s overall comprehension of the material, but can cause him or her to become frustrated and discouraged with reading altogether.

 

Of course, there are many students in Philadelphia who know far less than 19 out of every 20 words on school reading assignments.  This is why the District has recently invested in VoyagerU, a series of professional development programs for principals and teachers that focus on improving student literacy through vocabulary.    

 

As the teacher-liaison for my high school, I’ve attended the first two VoyagerU professional developments (the final two are 5/22 and 6/12).  Although the instruction at times was padded and long-winded, the presentations were a good reminder of the importance of vocabulary when it comes to reading comprehension. 

 

As a result of the VoyagerU training, our school has decided to generate multi-tiered vocabulary lists across our school’s curriculum.  The lists have been divided into three categories: literacy words (basic reading comprehension words encountered in grades 9-12); content words (subject specific words in math, science, social studies, etc.); and career technology words (words related to our CTE courses, such as automotive, digital media arts, culinary arts, electrical, plumbing, etc.). 

 

The goal of the lists is to provide a broad, interdisciplinary base of vocabulary at all grade levels for all students.  These words can be reinforced in many different classes over many months.  This will help students comprehend their very technical career-technology texts (many of which are written on a college level), and hopefully increase their overall reading ability.  By the time students graduate, they should be reading on or close to grade level.    

 

Research indicates that in order for a student to learn and retain a new word, he or she must be exposed to it in a variety of ways; students must read the new word in the context of a meaningful reading passage, they must incorporate it in their writing, and they must be encouraged to use it during conversation.   

 

The strategies for teaching these vocabulary words will differ from subject to subject.  An English teacher may use semantic mapping or the Frayer Model to introduce a new word, while career-technology teachers might use root-word association to broaden vocabulary.

 

In addition to VoyagerU, there is an interesting middle-school vocabulary building program being piloted by the Strategic Education Research Partnership called Word Generation.  This program came about when SERP met with Boston secondary school teachers several years ago, and the teachers told them kids were having trouble comprehending their textbooks because they were stumbling over academic words.

 

Developed under the direction of Harvard University Professor Catherine Snow, Word Generation has four core program components:

 

• Focus on the Academic Word List – a set of word families that appear frequently in academic texts across disciplines

 

• Word study curriculum materials, including high-interest paragraphs and associated activities, designed for flexible use by middle school teachers across the curriculum

 

• Expectation that schools will dedicate at least 15 instructional minutes a day to school-wide (or grade-wide) study of weekly words

 

Opportunity for each school team to design a practical implementation plan that suits its own particular school context

 

Broadening vocabulary is a key factor when it comes to increasing the literacy of Philadelphia public school students, and the District should keep focused on teaching students new words.  Programs like VoyagerU and Word Generation are a good first step in achieving that goal. 

 

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Filed under Core Curriculum, School Resources, Vocabulary