Category Archives: PFT

Dwight Evans’ Laughable Plea for School Funding

by Christopher Paslay

After dismantling public education and lining his own pockets, Dwight Evans suddenly gets a conscience.   

Dwight Evans, who represents the 203rd legislative district in Philadelphia, published a commentary in today’s Philadelphia Daily News headlined, “Deathly ill public ed needs state meds.”  My first reaction after reading it was Is Dwight Evans off his meds?

Evans’ article begins:

I’M CALLING IT the Harrisburg Syndrome: the chronic and costly practice of refusing to invest responsibly in education.

Pause the tape right there.  Since Evans is talking about the need to “invest responsibly in education,” let’s examine some of the ways Evans himself has invested in public schools.

First, there is the education legislation Dwight Evans has fought to pass—the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for the privatization of Philadelphia’s public schools, and Acts 46 and 83, which according to the University of Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Law, “allows the Secretary of Education to declare the system in ‘distress,’ and upon making that declaration, to displace the Board of Directors of the school system and impose a five-member ‘School Reform Commission’ to take over the duties of the Board.  Additionally, the Act eliminates teachers’ right to strike, and prohibits them from negotiating a number of issues for collective bargaining purposes.”

In laymen’s terms, Evans has supported laws that have taken tens of millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and put them into privately owned charters (like Evans’ own West Oak Lane Charter); laws that enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District; and laws that have taken away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike and to collective bargain.

Then, there are Dwight Evans’ business investments.  In 1983, Evans founded Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), which as of 2007 had an operating budget of $12 million.  According to its website, OARC takes “a holistic approach toward community revitalization, by focusing on our Five Pillars: Housing and Economic Development, Business Development, Education and Community Relations, Cleaning and Greening, and Arts and Culture.”

Within Education and Community Relations, OARC offers charter school management, with a fundamental philosophy that “Charter schools must be run as a business . . . a business that produces a product . . . that product is a highly educated student.”  OARC has also opened several charter schools of its own.  In 1998 they opened the West Oak Lane Charter School, as I mentioned above, and owns the property at 2116 E. Haines Street that houses the HOPE Charter School, the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology, and Ombudsman.

Since Evans founded the corporation in 1983, OARC has grown by leaps and bounds, and has made many people lots of money (including Evans himself).  Interestingly, though, OARC is technically a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status, which means they don’t pay federal income tax or property tax on their buildings.

Another one of Evans’ “investments” in education is his connection with Foundations, Inc., an education management organization that gets paid to both consult and run schools.  According to an article on philly.com:

State Rep. Dwight Evans and Foundations have a long history together, dating back more than 20 years.

Foundations collaborated with the lawmaker in several after-school programs in the area and helped design West Oak Lane Charter School. Between 2006 and 2008, employees from the company donated more than $25,000 to his campaigns. Among them, chief executive Rhonda Lauer donated $3,900, chief of staff Emelio Matticoli donated $3,100 and consultant Martha Young donated $5,920.

Foundations has made millions off of the Philadelphia School District.  As stated by Helen Gym on Young Philly Politics:

State Rep. Dwight Evans was a leading architect behind the state takeover of the Philadelphia Public Schools, and a company with which he has close ties, Foundations Inc., became one of the District’s first EMOs (education management organizations) as well as a major recipient of millions of dollars in school service contracts. Foundations has run Martin Luther King High School for the last eight years, taking in management fees as it ran the school. The school has not done well, to say the least, and its poor academic performance placed it on a list for “turnaround,” a national model of restructuring.

When parents of Martin Luther King’s students voted 8 – 1 to allow Mosaica Schools, Inc. to replace Foundations—Evans bragged about how he had bullied the School Reform Commission, Superintendent Ackerman, and Mosaica Schools into allowing Foundations to keep the contract to manage the school.

“I was like a bulldog on a bone,” said Evans, although Foundations was eventually forced to give up running King High School.

Amazingly, like OARC, Foundations is a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status.

Now, back to the ludicrous commentary Evans had in today’s Daily News.  Evans writes:

A physician would look at the condition of public education in Pennsylvania and call for broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money. Not just your garden-variety antibiotic, but consistent, broad-based funding – similar to what’s advancing in California – to provide for the “thorough and efficient” education system called for in our state constitution.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money. 

I had to go back and reread that line several times to make sure it was really there.  It was.  Evans, of all people, is asking the state for more money for the Philadelphia School District.  He suggests doing so by raising—get this—income taxes:

California has ordered the antibiotic. Last November, voters approved Proposition 30, which calls for income-tax increases that will boost California’s K-12 budget by roughly $1 billion.

Evans then throws in a cherry-picked statistic about corporate net-income taxes just for good measure (and to appeal to all those class warfare lovers out there):

The Harrisburg Syndrome shows no signs of abating. The House recently signed off on cutting the corporate net-income tax to 6.99 percent from 9.99 percent. That’s right – taxpayers across the state are being hammered by local school taxes while big business gets a tax cut.

And while corporations affiliated with Dwight Evans, like OARC and Foundations, pay ZERO taxes!

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Evans’ commentary was that he used the state of California as an example of a public education system that works (according to Education Week, California’s K-12 schools get a “C” average and rank 31 out of 50), and that Evans refers to his new educational virus as “Harrisburg Syndrome” (it was Evans who fought to pass legislation that enabled Harrisburg to take over Philadelphia public schools to begin with).

Are Philadelphia public schools and their students in desperate need of more funding?  Absolutely.  But the School District’s budget woes are primarily a result of fraud, waste, and abuse of the Dwight Evans variety, which hardly makes the lawmaker a credible voice for calling for more school funding on the backs of the state’s hardworking taxpayers.

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District Cuts 676 Teachers, Despite 1,500 Teacher Vacancies

by Ray Guzman and Christopher Paslay

According to the Philadelphia School District’s Teacher Vacancy List, the district is seeking 1,540 teachers for the 2013-14 school year. 

The Philadelphia School District, according to its website, has 1,540 teacher vacancies for the 2013-14 school year.  Of the 376 schools that currently need teachers, 47 are high schools (485 vacancies); 6 are alternative schools (28 vacancies); 15 are middle schools (89 vacancies); and 308 are elementary schools (938 vacancies).

The revelation that the School District is seeking over 1,500 teachers for next fall is shocking but nonetheless true, at least according their website.  Benjamin Franklin High School, for example, is seeking no less than 33 teachers for next school year: 6 social studies, 4 English, 4 ESOL, 4 math, 3 biology, 2 chemistry, 2 art, 1 Spanish, 1 music, 1 learning support math, 1 bilingual math, 1 learning support English, 1 life skills support, 1 culinary arts, and 1 business information computer technology.

South Philadelphia High School needs 34 teachers.  Edison High School needs 78.  Strawberry Mansion needs 36.  Northeast and Washington high schools need 22 and 14 teachers, respectively.

And on and on it goes.

Although the School District has not released any official numbers, these vacancies are most likely the result of teachers either retiring or quitting over budget concerns and the bleak outlook for the 2013-14 school year (well done, Boston Consulting Group).  How has the School District responded to what appears to be a massive teacher shortage for the 2013-14 school year?

By laying-off 676 teachers.

It’s true.  Last week, 676 teachers received pinks slips terminating them as employees of the Philadelphia School District as of July 1st.  This means they will no longer receive health insurance and must file for unemployment.

The Philadelphia School District’s plans for the coming school year—from school closings to the recent layoffs of 3,700 staff—are fishy, to say the least.  Much of it fails to pass the smell test.  The savings achieved on the shuttering of 23 schools and the merge or relocation of five others has been hotly debated.  So has the preposterous idea that schools will be able to run without counselors, nurses, vice principals, secretaries, hall monitors, or learning support staff.

It’s become quite clear that the Philadelphia School District and School Reform Commission are posturing—playing “doomsday” games in front of city and state politicians to squeeze more money from taxpayers and most importantly, to box the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers into a corner in an attempt to get over $100 million in labor concessions from them; the School District hopes to manipulate the PFT the way they did SEIU 32BJ Local 1201.

These “doomsday” games are flat out dangerous.  Although the School District does have legitimate financial problems and money is genuinely scarce (due in large part to the fraud, waste, and abuse of the Ackerman administration), the laying off of nearly 20 percent of its staff, especially 676 teachers, may come back to bite them.

It’s apparent by the employment opportunities on their own website that come September 1st, the School District will need to fill 1,500 teacher vacancies simply to make the schools run.  And when you do the math—when you bring back the 676 teachers who were laid off and subtract them from the 1,500 plus teachers needed—this comes to a massive shortage of over 800 teachers.  This, of course, doesn’t factor in the vacancies created by teachers who quit or retire at the end of the summer.

Why did the School District cut 676 teachers to begin with?  Political posturing, as I’ve mentioned above.  The SRC wants to put the squeeze on the PFT, Mayor Nutter, and Governor Corbett.  They are also doing it to save money—two month’s worth of health insurance premiums, to be exact.

Seniority is also an issue.  Creating all these vacancies gives principals more power to hire their own staff.

A closer look at the teacher vacancy list reveals something else: the School District is full of bologna when it claims it will end all of its art and music programs.  If they were truly cutting all art and music (and not just putting on a grand show for all the city and state to see), why in the world would there exist vacancies on the School District website calling for various art and music teachers?

Currently, there are 78 music teacher positions, and over 100 art-related positions, posted on the website.

Come September, after the Philadelphia School District is done trying to consume itself to save a little money, and after they have finished successfully tap-dancing for tens of millions of dollars in cash from city and state legislators (and, surprise, surprise, find extra money in their coffers), much of its programs will be restored; the School District can only violate state laws for so long.

The kicker, of course, will be finding a way to deal with the massive teacher shortage they have created.

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Taxing Nonprofits Could Help Save Philly Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Philadelphia’s multi-billion dollar nonprofit sector must start paying its fair share. 

According to the Philadelphia Foundation’s Nonprofit Study 2010, there are over 3,500 nonprofits in Philadelphia.  In 2007 alone, they made more than $25 billion in revenue, which was 7.7 percent more than they made in 2000.  These nonprofits—which provide services that focus on the arts, the environment, animal rights, education, health, civil rights, housing, food, recreation, and the like—had nearly $47 billion in total assets in 2007.

Interestingly, these nonprofits pay no real estate tax, despite billions of dollars in assets.  For example, the Kimmel Center as of 2010 had $16,449,000 in liquid assets (cash, grants, contributions, etc.) and 267,645,000 in total assets (endowment funds, land, building and equipment, etc.), yet are exempt from paying $5 million in annual property taxes.

According to a 2007 article in the New York Times:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy surveyed 23 cities to try to determine which nonprofits that seek public support — excluding foundations, government and religious groups — receive property-tax exemptions. Such exemptions accounted for more than $1.5 billion a year, with more than half that amount forgiven in New York City and Boston. . . . In terms of value, the biggest exemptions after New York and Boston were in Los Angeles, Washington, Houston and Philadelphia. . . .

The Chronicle’s survey highlighted several well-known properties beyond hospitals that receive big property-tax breaks. These include the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, exempted from $18.4 million in property tax; the Chrysler Building in New York, owned by the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art college, an exemption worth $17.5 million; and in Philadelphia, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, exempted from $5 million in annual property tax.

The Philadelphia School District is facing a $300 million budget deficit next school year.  District officials are asking everyone to make sacrifices to help close this hole, and have demanded that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers make tens of millions of dollars in concessions via wage cuts.  Officials are also asking for an additional $120 million from the state, and $60 million from the city, some of which may come from new property taxes.

Mayor Nutter’s new real estate tax assessment—AVI (Actual Value Initiative)—has ruffled the feathers of some City Council members, however.  According to a February 28th article in the Philadelphia City Paper:

This morning, City Councilwoman Maria Quninones-Sanchez quietly and without speechifying, offered what may be a solution to one of the central problems created by the Actual Value Initiative, the city’s property-tax reform effort. The problem: An estimated $200 million of the tax burden is being shifted from large commercial properties to residential ones, while small businesses are also in many cases expecting to see their taxes skyrocket. Sanchez’s solution: Put some of that burden back onto the large commercial properties by way of the Use & Occupancy (U&O) tax, which is applied to commercial tenants, and let the city keep some of that money to use for tax relief for the rest of us.

What’s curious is that Sanchez didn’t mention the problem with Philadelphia’s 3,500 nonprofits—the fact that they bring in $25 billion in annual revenue and have nearly $47 billion in assets—but pay zilch in property tax, money that could help bail out Philadelphia’s struggling public schools.  Why should our city’s students go without counselors, nurses, sports, art, and music while mega nonprofits like the Kimmel Center are sitting on a quarter of a billion dollars in total assets and get a $5 million break in annual property taxes?

Fight for Philly, “a grassroots coalition of residents, community groups, neighborhood associations, faith organizations and labor groups,” feels mega nonprofits like the Kimmel Center should start pitching in and shouldering some of the load.  Earlier this month, they delivered tax petitions to City Council and Mayor Nutter asking for better school funding, demanding that “mega non-profits pay taxes on their profitable commercial property and contribute fair ‘good neighbor’ payments for city services from which they benefit.”

I agree with Fight for Philly—City nonprofits should no longer sit back and get a free ride.  City Councilwoman Maria Quninones-Sanchez’s new tax reform bill should also include Philadelphia’s 3,500 not-for-profits, which earn $25 billion in annual revenue.  Even a small real estate tax on these organizations could generate millions of badly needed dollars for Philadelphia’s struggling public schools.

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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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Filed under Dr. William Hite, PFT

District’s Contract Proposal to PFT Not Insulting Enough

by Christopher Paslay

 To demoralize Philadelphia’s hardworking teachers even further, the District should consider ten addendums to its recent contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Last week, the Philadelphia School District made a preliminary contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called the proposal “the most insulting, most demeaning contract ever offered in any school district” to her knowledge, and added that “the terms seem more appropriate to a prison than to a school, although it seems that both teachers and students are treated as wards of a cruel, harsh state.”

According to documents circulated by the PFT (I urge everyone reading this to click here to read them for yourselves), the District wants to: cut teacher pay by 13 percent; eliminate all raises including “step” increases and raises for educational attainment; eliminate counselors and librarians; raise class sizes and the length of the school day; and nix teachers lounges and water fountains, among other bizarre, draconian measures.

My response?  Is that all you got, guys?  You can sink lower than that!  Here are 10 addendums to the District’s already absurd and farcical proposal to make it that much more demoralizing to Philadelphia’ hard working educators:

  • Use of Air

School District-owned air, e.g. air circulated through District-owned furnaces and/or air conditioning units, shall be breathed by teachers free of charge during school hours and District sponsored conferences, such as Report Card Night; teachers, however, shall contribute $20 per hour for consuming District Provided Air (DPA) during non-school hours.

  • Dental Plan

Any veteran teacher with 35 or more years of service, and who has a gold and/or silver filling in his or her teeth, shall have it extracted by the District, without the use of Novocain, with a rusty pair of pliers.

  • Doctor Visits

Teachers shall be required to take the place of parents and take each of their students on three (3) annual doctor visits, including: a comprehensive yearly physical; a diabetes screening; and a tuberculosis test.  Each visit shall be paid for by the teacher.

  • Gas “Reimbursement”

Any teacher who uses his or her own gas to transport children to a school-sponsored event shall no longer get reimbursed for fuel.  Rather, the teacher shall be required to report to 440 N. Broad Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings and on national holidays, and instead pump (“reimburse”) the gas of District administrators.

  • Pay Raises

Teachers shall receive an annual cost of living raise, step raise, and educational attainment raise; as used herein, the term “raise’ shall mean being physically “raised” off the ground by the neck with a rope or piano wire.

  • Phones

Landline based phones, as well as cellular phones, shall no longer be provided to teachers by the District.  Campbell’s Soup cans, tied together with fishing line, shall replace traditional District phones, but will be purchased and assembled by teachers.

  • Toilets

Teachers who need to urinate and/or move their bowels during school hours will be limited to one (1) bathroom break per day, subject to RRAT (Rest Room Accrual Time); there will be one toilet per 50 staff members; the rule If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down will also be in effect and enforced via bathroom security cameras.

  • Unsatisfactory Records

Teachers with an unsatisfactory record shall be required to fasten his or her employee file around his or her neck with either 1—an iron staple; 2—garlic cloves; or 3—sheep intestine.  The file shall remain around the employee’s neck for a minimum of five (5) years.

  • Use of Reasonable Force

Teachers may use reasonable force in the event of a physical attack by a student or hostile staff member so long as they lead with their face and use either their head, chin, cheek, nose, eyes, and/or mouth to launch the counterattack.

  • Work

As used herein, the term “work” shall refer to all the physical, social, and emotional labor required to effectively run District schools; as such, teachers shall be required to do all of the “work,” and the District shall be required to do none of the “work.”

As Sinclair Lewis once said, “There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble.”

The District’s recent proposal to the PFT is both: laughable, and full of trouble.

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Pedro Ramos is not Scott Walker, and Pennsylvania is not Wisconsin

by Christopher Paslay

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos may be emboldened by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor, but the Keystone State is a far cry from the Badger State.       

It appears that Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos is suffering from Scott Walker Syndrome.  His recent attempt to push legislation that would extend the SRC’s power to nullify union contracts and unilaterally dictate salary and benefits to School District employees is curiously timed.  You’d almost think Ramos has become emboldened by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s Assembly Bill 11, also known as his “Budget Repair Bill,” which limits collective bargaining by public-sector unions, caps salary increases, and forces workers to pay more for their pensions and health benefits.

Members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation, however, do not seem to be as enamored by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor.  Walker may have survived Tuesday’s recall election, but this hasn’t inspired Pennsylvania state legislators to get on board with the SRC’s surprise legislative amendment that would further cripple School District unions and their bargaining power.

Although Pennsylvania’s Act 46 already strips the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers of their right to strike—giving the SRC the power to unilaterally impose contact terms and limit collective bargaining—Ramos feels he needs even more power.

According to Kristen Graham’s 6/8/12 Inquirer story:

State Rep. Michael H. O’Brien (D., Phila.), who was at the meeting, said Ramos admitted the SRC was attempting to sell a legislative amendment Ramos needed because current law “didn’t give the SRC enough juice,” in O’Brien’s words.

The SRC’s new ploy for more power was apparently an unpleasant surprise for many, including Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation.

Someone, perhaps Nutter himself, needs to tell Pedro Ramos that he’s not Scott Walker.  And while he’s at it, he needs to explain to the SRC that Pennsylvania (and for the purposes of this argument, Philadelphia) is not Wisconsin.  For starters, Pennsylvania has a balanced budget (although the Philadelphia School District is still facing a deficit, but this deficit was created by the SRC itself).  Second, Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System was just overhauled in 2010, cutting pension benefits and increasing member contributions.  Third, collective bargaining by the largest teachers’ union in the state—the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—has already been severely limited for over a decade by the passing of Act 46.

Here’s a comparison between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on three hot button issues: collective bargaining rights; retirement; and health insurance.

Collective Bargaining

Massive protests broke out in Wisconsin last year when Governor Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, which limited the collective bargaining power of public-sector unions.  According to the Greenbay Press Gazette:

The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum.

Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union.

Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.

But when you compare this to the restrictions imposed on the largest teachers union in Pennsylvania by the passing of Act 46 over a decade ago, it is relatively small potatoes.  According to an article in the University of Penn’s Journal of Labor and Employment Law:

The state takeover of Philadelphia city schools will obviously have an effect on Philadelphia teachers’ ability to bargain collectively for contract rights. . . . While the system is under the control of the SRC, teachers are prohibited from striking in order to secure contract rights. . . . For example, teachers could be faced with a significantly lengthened school year, less preparation time, and larger classes, all without the opportunity to bargain for any compensation for these impositions. . . . Also, the district would not be required to discuss “decisions related to reduction in force.” This allowance for the district, coupled with the fact that, under Act 86, the SRC may make decisions to suspend professional employees without regard to tenure protection has potentially dire consequences for the professional security of educators. In a situation involving layoffs, for instance, teachers who have years of experience could be suspended before new hires.

In effect, under Act 46, the SRC already has the power to unilaterally impose contract terms, overhaul traditional schools and turn them into charters, lengthen the school day and year without compensating workers, layoff teachers regardless of seniority or tenure, and takes away the union’s right to strike, among other things.

As for union dues: Philadelphia public school teachers can opt out of joining the union, but they are still required by the state to pay something called “Fair Share,” which basically means that they have to pay union dues anyway, which is about 1 percent of their salary.

Pensions and Retirement

Until Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, state, school district, and municipal employees in Wisconsin paid little to nothing for their pensions.  Now members of the Wisconsin Retirement System must contribute 50 percent of the annual pension payment, which means public school teachers have to start contributing about 5.8 percent of every check toward their pensions.

Since 2001, Philadelphia school teachers, who are members of Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System, were required to pay 7.5 percent of every check to their pensions.  Legislation passed in 2010 now requires new teachers to pay 10.3 percent of every check toward their pensions if they want to receive the same pension as those hired before December of 2010; those new teachers who agree to accept a modified pension multiplier (smaller pension) can continue to pay at the 7.5 percent rate.

Health Insurance

Before the Walker bill, Wisconsin state employees paid about 6 percent of their health insurance costs.  Now they will be forced to kick in double that—about 12 percent of the average cost of annual premiums.

Philadelphia public school teachers have excellent benefits, and at little cost.  According to the current contract between the PFT and PSD, teachers have to contribute at most 3 – 5 percent of annual premiums, and many teachers pay nothing.  Co-pays do continue to go up, but teachers are in a good position here; it’s inevitable that in the future, sacrifices will have to be made, and employees may have to kick in more money.  This, of course, can be agreed upon at the bargaining table, and there is absolutely no need for new legislation to be proposed by the SRC to get this done.

The SRC’s recent attempt to push legislation to further cripple School District unions is uncalled for.  The SRC has already sent layoff notices to 2,700 service workers who are SEIU 32BJ union members, and is planning to privatize neighborhood schools and cut unions by turning 40 percent of District schools into charters by 2017.

Some can argue what Walker did in Wisconsin was justified; unions in the Badger State needed to be reeled-in to keep Wisconsin from falling off an economic cliff, which is why 30 percent of union workers voted in Tuesday’s recall election to keep Walker in office.  But the situation is a bit different in the Keystone State.

Pedro Ramos is no Scott Walker.  Shame on him for trying to use Walker’s momentum to push his misguided and unnecessary legislation to further cripple organized labor in Philadelphia.

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District spent its way into massive shortfall

“The French novelist Honoré de Balzac once wrote: “Finance, like time, devours its own children.” The Philadelphia School District‘s administrators should take a moment to ponder that. Their financial ineptitude and gross mismanagement of public money has put the children of Philadelphia in an unfortunate position.

The district’s budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year, which stands at $629 million, has prompted talk of doing away with full-day kindergarten; cutting athletic, art, and music programs; and laying off thousands of employees, many of them teachers. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “District spent its way into massive shortfall.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Inquirer Articles, PFT

Philadelphia’s Full-Day Kindergarten Hostage Crisis

by Christopher Paslay

Anyone familiar with early childhood education will tell you that years three through six in a child’s life are extremely important.  It’s during this time that a child’s brain is the most impressionable, especially when it comes to language formation and critical thinking skills.  In their groundbreaking book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley showed that a child’s cognitive development is greatly influenced by the type of interaction he or she has with parents and teachers.  The amount and kind of language children hear as youngsters are strongly correlated with their IQs later in life.

Outside of the instructional value of early childhood education, of course, there is the very practical issue of child care; many mothers and fathers work fulltime jobs and desperately need caregivers for their children.         

In light of the importance of early childhood school programs, why would the Philadelphia School District consider cutting full-day kindergarten in order to balance the budget?  If one were to speculate on the matter they might come up with the following conclusion: the District held full-day kindergarten hostage as a means to get more money from the city and state.    

As we know now, the state didn’t bite; PA Governor Tom Corbett stuck to his guns and held tight to his budget.  The city, as evidenced by Mayor Nutter’s recent tax increase proposals, is going through the motions of trying to raise $110 million—not even one-quarter of the $629 million needed to balance the District’s books for the coming school year.

But as it turns out, the District doesn’t need money from the city or the state to save full-day kindergarten after all.  On Friday, June 3, Superintendent Ackerman announced at an afternoon news conference, “I’ve heard the voices of the community, the voices of our dedicated parents.”

Miraculously, like the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the District stumbled upon federal Title I money (how did this get here?) and saved full-day kindergarten like Jesus Himself. 

“We are trying our best to use the funds in a strategic way,” Dr. Ackerman told the public.  The District’s “strategy,” curiously, was news to Mayor Nutter.  Apparently, his office was kept in the dark about the kindergarten deal, and they were not happy.

“It’s a big problem,” Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said Friday night after the news was announced.          

Nutter needn’t feel slighted.  No one, not Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz or even the IRS have a concrete understanding of the workings of the District’s finances; currently, both offices are conducting audits on the district’s books because of questionable accounting practices and “material weaknesses” found in their financial statements.          

For the record, here are some known facts about the District’s finances:

  • In the 2008-09 school year, the District had an operating budget of $2.75 billion and a student enrollment of 169,000.  They had full-day kindergarten; art, music, and athletic programs; and all employees had jobs.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, the budget grew to approximately $3 billion.  Enrollment went down to 165,000.
  • In the 2010-11 school year, the budget grew to $3.2 billion.  Enrollment dropped to 162,000.
  • In the coming 2011-12 school year, the projected budget is approximately $2.8 billion.  There is now a $629 million deficit.  Drastic cuts will be made.  Thousands of employees will lose their jobs.  Art, music, and athletic programs are all in jeopardy.      

Incredibly, the words “gross mismanagement” have yet to roll from the tongue of any government official outside of State Rep. Michael McGeehan, who has bravely called for Ackerman’s resignation in order to bring some financial credibility back to the Philadelphia School District.   

Of course, a lack of credibility hasn’t stopped the District from reopening contracts with school unions to ask for more concessions.  Nor has it dissuaded school leaders from holding kindergarteners and their parents hostage for financial reasons.

The full-day kindergarten hostage crisis might be over in Philadelphia, but the fact that the District would use early childhood education as leverage to squeeze more money from tax payers speaks volumes about the District’s principles and its leadership.

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, PFT

My Experience on the Glenn Beck Show

by Christopher Paslay

When it comes to Glenn Beck, adjectives like “kook,” “nut-job,” and “right-wing radical” have a tendency to get thrown around.  At least these descriptors are used in more liberal circles—places like Philadelphia where 85 percent of the population is registered democrat.

My colleagues at Swenson Arts and Technology High School have used similar terms to describe Mr. Beck, so when I told them that I was going to be on the Glenn Beck show on Friday, May 6th, I received mixed reactions (I’ll get to my experience on the show in a moment). 

Personally, I am a fan of Glenn Beck.  Although I disagree with some of his views on education (Glenn, like most journalists and talking-heads, has a more superficial understanding of public schools), I do agree with much of what he preaches otherwise—that our country must rediscover its traditional values; that personal responsibility is the key to change; that too much reliance on government and social programs is killing America’s entrepreneurial spirit; that both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt; and that in order to restore honor in our country we must become more principle-centered.

Interestingly, there are many people (like my mother and father) who are fans of Glenn Beck as well.  His show has dominated its time slot for nearly two years, coming in at #1 on the Neilson Ratings for most of that time and never falling below #3; for the first three months of 2011, the Glenn Beck show had an audience of almost 2 million viewers. 

So he has a sizable following.  And the core of this following is made up of well-educated, well-informed people such as my parents and myself, people with diverse experiences and opinions; we’re hardly the right-wing radical Neanderthal “nut-jobs” we’re made out to be (to those name-callers who try to pigeon-hole Beck and his supporters I offer this challenge: watch his show every day for one week and then you can sling your mud.  I mean really watch the show, watch and listen and try to see all sides of the issue).

Now back to my experience on Beck’s show.  The theme of the show was “teachers who love their jobs but are frustrated with the education system.”  It was an audience-participation show that featured 40 teachers from the tri-state area, myself and my father (who taught 37 years in the Philadelphia School District) included. 

Before the show was taped we were each given a questionnaire to complete.  It asked us, among other things, to describe the things about education that frustrated us.  It also asked our opinions about teachers’ unions, and directed us to pose questions to Glenn Beck himself. 

Here were two of my responses. 

Concerning my frustration, I wrote: Education is one of the few professions in America in which policies are written and decisions are made by governing bodies outside the field. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all govern themselves. Their panels and boards of directors are made up of other doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Not teachers, though. Politicians make the decisions when it comes to education in K-12 schools. So do researchers, think tanks, and lobbyists. Does it matter that most of these people have little to no experience teaching in a K-12 classroom? No, because they have the data and the power.   

When it came to teachers’ unions, I wrote: Teachers unions, like everything, have pros and cons.  The pros are that they protect the rights of workers and ensure teachers don’t get exploited or taken advantage of by school administrators or politicians (which was the case many years ago).  Another positive is that they serve as a teacher’s voice—something that isn’t given much value in American society.  On the other hand, in an effort to protect rights and maintain solidarity, unions do in some cases allow bad teachers to keep their jobs.  Also, they are too heavily rooted in politics.  Teachers need unions that police themselves and are more balanced politically.

When the show began (you can watch the show below), Glenn listed our concerns and frustrations with education.  Some of them were:

  • eliminate teachers’ tenure
  • teachers unions equal political machines
  • frustration with the NEA
  • huge retirement packages
  • teachers pensions are a problem

I must admit my gut reaction to this was anger; I felt like I’d been duped.  Which teacher in the audience, I wondered, wanted tenure eliminated?  Which teacher didn’t want the pension they’d been paying into their whole career?  Which teacher wanted no union representation? 

At this point I felt that Glenn and his producers had spun a few things, to put it lightly.  Our supposed “frustrations” sounded too scripted, too much like Glenn’s preset agenda.  In fact, by the end of the show, after 40 minutes of a town-hall style discussion, I felt like the whole thing was a bait-and-switch; I left the studio more frustrated than ever. 

That was my initial perception.  The funny thing about perceptions, however, is that they are not always accurate. 

After watching the show air Friday at 5:00 pm, (after a good night’s sleep to clear my head) my overall opinion changed.  Although Glenn did steer the conversation towards promoting school vouchers and reeling-in out-of-control unions, he did keep an open mind.  In fact, he both welcomed and respected the push-back he received from many teachers in the audience, myself included. 

In retrospect, I thought the show ended up being pretty well balanced.  Even Glenn himself admitted that he supported unions (and that his mother-in-law marched with Jesse Jackson).  It was the abuse of power and corruption, he noted, that he stood against, a point I must admit is valid. 

In the end, my experience on Glenn Beck was a positive one.  I was happy to have a discussion with such an influencial man, and to represent the concerns and issues of teachers from Philadelphia as well as the rest of America.             

Please click on the video below to watch the entire episode, commercial free (my father’s comment comes at 11:58 of the tape, and my two comments come at 13:15 and 25:58).

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Filed under Holistic Education, Parental Involvement, PFT, Standardized Testing, Teacher Bashing

A broader approach to helping kids: A call for shared responsibility

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  This article appeared in the May edition of the PFT Reporter.

 

A child came to class late one morning with a sad, almost weary look on his face, and carrying a small suitcase. When his teacher asked what was wrong, the boy replied: “I didn’t do what my Mommy told me to do this morning, and she got angry and packed my suitcase and yelled at me to get out, to go live with my Dad. She said she didn’t want me there any more.”

 

The child was six years old.

 

A PFT member teaching special education in a Philadelphia school shared this story with a PFT staff member a few years ago. The teacher worried aloud, “He was so sad, alone and felt so unloved, and I didn’t know how to help him, and I certainly didn’t know how I could keep him focused on schoolwork with so much turmoil in his life.”

 

Most PFT members who work with students can tell similar stories, because most of us have known students whose parents have lost their jobs, homes, freedom or lives. We know students who live in homeless shelters and children who move from one foster home to another. . . .

 

Yet, as teachers, we are held accountable for reaching and teaching all children, regardless of the myriad of factors that influence their academic success or failure. We, and no one else, are held accountable for raising test scores in classes whose sizes we can’t control, in schools that are falling apart, without enough books or computers and too often without the support of families.

 

Raise test scores, we are told, even with students who miss 20, 40 or 50 school days a year, who don’t have the eyeglasses they need to see and who haven’t a quiet place in which to do homework.

 

And we dare not talk about the hardships our students face, because then we are accused of making “excuses” for not raising test scores the way a factory might raise production of ball bearings.

 

Calling for teacher accountability is politically correct. “Excuses” are not. Neither is talking about the “big picture” of our students’ lives, about the undeniable link between student outcomes and the social and economic conditions in which children live.

 

In the same way that we’ve narrowed the curriculum to focus on preparing for “The Test,” we’ve narrowed the discussion about what kids need to a single place and person: the school and the teacher. . . .

 

This article by Jerry Jordan is powerful because it examines the concept of holistic education—the idea that it takes an entire village to teach a child.  As Jordan so clearly states, teachers need support from schools, parents and communities, and asking for these resources is by no means “making excuses”. 

 

The idea of holistic education is nothing new.  The Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by Geoffrey Canada, is based on shared responsibility and is gaining momentum in NYC. 

 

So is a movement called A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA).  As Jordan spoke about in the May edition of the PFT Reporter, the BBA is an impressive group of educators, legislators, Nobel laureates and foundations from across the country, who are embracing a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that seeks to reduce the social and economic disadvantages that sabotages achievement.

 

A Broader, Bolder Approach, or BBA, believes that schools alone cannot “close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds in a substantial, consistent and sustainable manner.”

 

Philadelphia’s struggling children need the help of everyone—teachers and schools, businesses and the community, parents and politicians.  It is exciting to see Jerry Jordan, as well as BBA’s other noteworthy leaders and legislators, getting on board with a movement that emphasizes teamwork in education.        

 

Holistic education is the future.  To support the BBA’s focus on synergy and community cooperation, please sign the petition for shared responsibility.      

 

 

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Filed under Holistic Education, PFT