Category Archives: Dr. William Hite

School District Mishandles New Act 153 Background Check Law

keystone

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s amended background check requirements do not align with new state law.

The Philadelphia School District sent out an email late Friday afternoon explaining that all District employees hired on or before December 31, 2014 must obtain updated clearances under Act 153 by November 30, 2015.

“The school district is requiring you to obtain updated clearances even if your current clearances were obtained less than 36 months ago to ensure compliance with the Act going forward,” the email stated.

The only problem is, that’s not what the new Act 153 law requires.

According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association:

  • If one or more of your background checks was issued between Dec. 31, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014, each document renewal is due by its five-year anniversary date of issue.
  •  If all three background checks were issued Dec. 30, 2009 or earlier, these document renewals are due by Dec. 31, 2015.
  •  If you have no background checks because you have been continuously employed prior to Jan. 1, 1986 (the first date a background check was required), you must obtain all three documents by Dec. 31, 2015.

(A very helpful flowchart of the new Act 153 law can be found here.)

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan delivered a letter to Superintendent William Hite questioning the District’s background check requirements:

The District’s approach presents multiple concerns. Although not required by law, the District is requiring anyone who was hired on or before December 31, 2014 to obtain new clearances within the next seven weeks. This means that an employee hired, for example, in August of 2014 and who obtained all the requisite clearances at that time is now required to obtain those clearances again despite having just gotten them months ago. Under the law, such an employee would have until August 2019 to obtain those clearances.

Indeed, it appears as if the District is mishandling the new Act 153 background check law. It’s not just that the District informed its employees of the requirements in a Friday-news-dump style email, but because they waited until October 9 to send out this message—seven weeks before the November 30 deadline.

“Failure to comply with this State of Pennsylvania mandated requirement could result in disciplinary action or your inability to remain in an active employee status,” the District states on its website.

But again, the District’s deadline is not in accordance with PA state law.

Why would the District unnecessarily require ALL employees hired on or before December 31, 2014 to obtain new clearances, even if many of these employees have valid background checks that don’t expire for up to four years?

The District claims it’s so they can track their employees’ renewed clearances:

Currently, the District has no way to track individual clearance expiration dates.  The only way we can comply with the law is to create accurate tracking as employees provide renewed clearances.

The new cycle system will allow the District to track and notify employees of their clearance status with the District, and, by extension, ensure compliance with Act 153 now and in the future.

But this isn’t necessarily true, either. The District could solve this “tracking” problem by allowing any District employee who possesses clearances issued between December 31, 2011, and December 31, 2014 (which remain valid 60 months from their issuance), to resubmit them to the District, which would provide the District with an expiration date; there is no need for these employees to pay for new clearances. Any employee who doesn’t have copies of their valid background checks—or any employee whose clearances have expired by PA state law—would have to obtain new clearances.

Perhaps Dr. Hite and the Office of Talent might consider such a plan? This would cut down on the paperwork backlog in Harrisburg, and collectively save thousands of dollars in application fees—money that could be better spent in the classroom where it’s needed.

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Advice to Future Teachers: Stay Away from Philly

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s recent contract proposal offers a dismal future for new teachers. 

In light of the recent contract proposal the Philadelphia School District made to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I have some advice for college graduates considering teaching in the city next fall: don’t bother.

Documents recently circulated by the PFT about the proposal paint a dismal picture for future Philadelphia teachers.

First, pay.  Under the current contract, first year teachers make $45,360.  Under the proposed new rules, however, first year teachers will be required to take a 10 percent cut in pay, and contribute 10 percent to their health benefits, bringing their salary down to about $39,000.  Because there is a pay freeze in place under the new contract, this will be their salary for the next four years until 2017.

“Benefits” under the new proposal, for the record, no longer include dental, eye, or prescription, as the PFT’s Health & Welfare Fund would be eliminated.

After 2017, teachers will be eligible for a raise based on a performance evaluation from their principal.  But because of the budget, they’ll most likely be responsible for buying things like paper, paying for their own copies, and using outdated textbooks and technology.

They’ll also be responsible for safety, as school security has been cut.  According to the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning,” from 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

The ways in which this could impact a teacher’s performance evaluation are many.

Statistics show over half the teachers who start in 2013 won’t even be in Philadelphia by 2017.  But those skilled and strong enough to remain in service, the new contract will ensure that they will have no protection to keep the programs they’ve worked years to build in place at their schools; the elimination of seniority will leave them vulnerable to be separated from their students and transferred anywhere in the entire city.

Conversely, those teachers struggling at a particular school and who are not a good fit with their students will be stuck there; the new contract no longer allows teachers to voluntarily put in for a transfer.

The proposal lifts the limit on the number of classes taught outside a teacher’s area of certification and on the number of subjects taught.  In other words, an English teacher could be required to prepare and teach algebra, social science, Spanish, chemistry, and British literature, all in the same day.

The new proposal lifts class size limits and opens the door to mass lectures, like in college. Imagine 50 plus teenagers in one big room listening to a teacher lecture about the Pythagorean Theorem, or the periodic table of elements, or iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean sonnet.  A winning formula for sure.

Teachers, under the new proposal, will work unlimited evening meetings without pay, and cannot leave the building without principal approval.

Because the district wants flexibility, the new proposal includes no specific grantees for teachers’ lounges, water fountains, parking lots, accommodation rooms for disruptive students, clothing lockers, or desks, among other things. Just because these things aren’t specifically mentioned in the contract, as Superintendent Hite recently noted, doesn’t mean the School District won’t provide them.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the School District will provide them, either.  That’s the catch.  When an organization is strapped for cash, like the School District currently is, there’s no telling what they’ll do.

“We believe teachers are professionals, just like architects, lawyers, doctors,” Superintendent Hite said. “We want a contract that reflects that.”

The only problem is, architects, lawyers, and doctors don’t make $39,000 a year with no chance for a raise until 2017, and aren’t subject to assaults, sub-par working conditions, and outdated materials and technology.

Hence my advice to future teachers: stay away from Philadelphia and seek a district that respects its educators.

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A Look at the Philadelphia School District’s Top Earners

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s top 655 earners (less than one-third of 1 percent of employees) make a combined $88 million in annual salaries.    

According to a Phillymag.com article by Larry Mendte published last June, there were 655 individuals working for the Philadelphia School District in 2011-12 making over $100,000.  Surprisingly, there were 98 teachers on the list.  Principals, who on average make $106,046, flooded the list and accounted for five of the District’s top 10 earners.

Not included on the list are this year’s newly minted one percenters, such as Superintendent Dr. William Hite ($300,000 annual salary), Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn ($210,000 salary), and newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates ($129,162 salary); Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen who was receiving $25,000 a month in 2012 (for a grand total of nearly $300,000), did make the list although is not listed in the top 25 below because he’d only racked-up a nifty $122,988.48 when Mendte published the article last June. 

When totaling up all the 655 salaries over $100,000, it comes to $88 million.  This means one-third of 1 percent of the workers (the School District has 20,309 employees) gobble-up over 10 percent of the money (the District’s 2013 adopted operating budget allocates $879 million for salaries and wages).

Here were the top 25 earners working for the School District in 2011-12 according to the article by Mendte:

  1. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of Schools: $804,668.67
  2. Leroy Nunery, Special Advisor: $206,283.52
  3. Michael Davis, General Counsel: $171,247.48
  4. Penny Nixon, Chief Academic Officer: $170,096.13
  5. Michael Masch, Special Advisor: $168,840.82
  6. Debora Borges, Principal Empowerment School: $157,102.79
  7. Renee B. Musgrove, Principal Empowerment School: $151,776.93
  8. Donald j Anticoli, Principal Renaissance School: $151,161.70
  9. Edward Penn, Principal Renaissance School: $150,531.86
  10. Ethelyn Payne Young, Principal Renaissance School: $150,319.66
  11. John W. Frangipani, Principal Empowerment School: $149,645.96
  12. Otis Hackney, Principal Renaissance School: $149,147.04
  13. Charles Staniskis, Principal Empowerment Schools: $147,765.82
  14. Thomas Koger, Principal Non High Needs School: $147,687.99
  15. Mary Dean, Principal Renaissance School: $147,529.67
  16. Michelle Byruch, Principal Non-High Needs: $147,049.39
  17. Christophe Johnson, Principal Renaissance School: $146,809.37
  18. Amish Shah, Teacher: $145,743.55
  19. Woolworth Davis, Principal Renaissance School: $145,652.42
  20. Karen Kolsky, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  21. Lissa S. Johnson, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  22. Benjamin Wright, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  23. Francisco D. Duran, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  24. Linda Cliatt Wayman, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  25. Emmanuel Caulk, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the 2,700 workers represented by SEIU 32BJ Local 1201, who provide cleaning, maintenance, and transportation services to the School District.  Nearly all of these workers make less than $40,000 annually—some as little as $25,000 a year.  The School District recently shook-down these hardworking blue-collar folks for an estimated $100 million in labor concessions over the next four years.

According to the new contract between the Philadelphia School District and SEIU 32BJ, which extends to August 31st, 2016, SEIU 32BJ members will contribute between $5 and $45 (depending on salary) to the School District each week, and agree to forgo planned wage increases in the future and freeze wages for the life of the contract.

This, of course, didn’t stop the School District from recently giving 25 non-union workers $311,351 in increases, which average $12,454 per year.  31-year old Christina Ward was given a 17 percent raise and promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer, and will earn $138,420 a year. Joseph D’Alessandro, now the Chief of Grants Development and Compliance, was given an $18,000 raise (16 percent) and currently makes $130,270.  And newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates, who earns $129,162, was given a whopping 49 percent salary increase.

How will the School District cover the pay raises?  No one knows.  Not even the $100 million in labor concession squeezed from the District’s janitors and bus drivers will cover the tab.  According to projections in Dr. William Hite’s Action Plan v1.0, “The District has recurring expenses that exceed its revenues by over $250 million per year, amounting to a $1.35 billion dollar deficit over the next five years.”

And I thought only big corporations and greedy Republicans maintained wage gaps and pimped the working class.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite, School Budget

Dr. Hite forgoes $120,000 severance; will show up one month late for work

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. William Hite, Philadelphia’s new superintendent of schools, is reportedly giving up his severance package with Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland to start work in Philadelphia by October 1st, one month after the school year begins.     

It appears that Dr. William Hite will take the high road—unlike his predecessor Dr. Arlene Ackerman.  According to a story in Wednesday’s Inquirer:

His contract with Prince George’s stipulated that to receive severance pay — six months salary, or $125,000 — Hite would have to give 120 days notice, which would have him working into November, Hite explained.

Instead, Hite made a deal to forgo his severance and give 60 days notice, he said.

His official last day with Prince George’s will be Sept. 30, the district announced Monday.

Dr. Hite’s gesture puts him ahead of Dr. Ackerman, the queen of the urban superintendent severance package.  Last year, Ackerman negotiated a $1 million severance package from the SRC, and then filed for unemployment after receiving it.  In 2006, she was awarded $375,000 in severance pay from the San Francisco public schools, then tried to sue the district claiming she was owed an additional $172,000 in unused benefits; amazingly, all this was allowed to take place after Ackerman’s tumultuous stint as Washington D.C.’s schools’ chief.

Kudos to Dr. Hite for being a bit more scrupulous and forgoing his $120,000 severance package from the Prince George County district in Maryland (at this point it is not clear whether he will lose all or some of this money).

This gesture, however, does not excuse the fact that he will be starting as Philadelphia’s schools’ chief one month after the school year begins.  The fact that he was hired by the SRC on June 29th—after a nearly six month long superintendent search process—does raise some questions.  Was his October 1st start date made known during the search process?  If so, why would the SRC agree to this?  Or did the fact that he will be showing up to work one month late come to light after he was hired, forcing the SRC into a corner? 

The math doesn’t seem to add up here, either.  Dr. Hite was hired by the SRC on June 29th.  If he put in his notice to Prince George County on July 1st, wouldn’t 60 days take us to September 1st, the start of the school year?  How does giving 60 days notice bring us to October 1st?  This would be 90 days notice (92 days, actually).   

Either way, the SRC’s planning and scheduling leaves much to be desired.  With all due respect to Dr. Hite, he should have had his previous business in order before applying for the job in Philadelphia. 

One of the reasons large urban schools districts fail—and continue to lag behind the suburbs—is because too many of their working parts (parents, students, central management, etc.) fail to meet deadlines, causing a major ripple effect that negatively impacts everyone.  If the SRC and the superintendent of schools can’t get things rolling on time, what example does this set for our students?  If Dr. Hite can show up late for school, why can’t they? 

As I wrote in my June 27th post, being “on time” is not a matter of perspective.  Unfortunately, this kind of time management and value system appears to have slipped the minds of Philadelphia School District leaders.

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