Letters to the Editor

Posted: September 25, 2011

Rhee insults Philadelphia teachers

Michelle Rhee's assertion in Thursday's commentary ("We're firing our best teachers") is erroneous, irresponsible, and insulting.

With no facts about the Philadelphia School District's disruptive and unnecessary layoff of 1,522 teachers (all but 320 of whom have been rehired), or knowledge of the district's rigorous evaluation and professional development programs, Rhee asserts that effective teachers were let go and ineffective ones retained.

This isn't surprising from a former District of Columbia superintendent who believed she could fire her way to better teaching and learning. Her philosophy of staffing is disruptive to students and wastes more than $7 billion a year nationwide on a revolving-door hiring process that defies years of research showing that, with adequate support, teachers become more effective over time.

Our federation has worked with the district to promote continuous professional development, improve mentoring, reward teachers who advance their knowledge and skills, strengthen evaluations, and, when necessary, counsel out of teaching those whose work remains unsatisfactory. Programs like our joint Peer Assistance and Review Program and Professional Growth System, for example, provide intensive support to new and veteran teachers, so we retain the best teachers in our classrooms.

When layoffs are necessary, the first criterion is the teacher's area of certification, which allows schools to retain the teachers they need to serve students. Using seniority next injects objectivity into a difficult process and eliminates discrimination and favoritism. At one time, Philadelphia had ward schools, a patronage system for hiring, firing, and layoffs that was politically corrupt and educationally destructive.

The way to provide children with effective teachers is to have high standards for hiring and then provide teachers with the resources, training, and support they need to be successful.

Jerry T. Jordan, president, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Budget cuts hurt drilling oversight

"Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" was the phrase that came to mind as I read the Sept. 21 article "DEP reorganizes to oversee Marcellus drilling."

Although I appreciate Secretary Michael Krancer's attempt to improve the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the fact remains that this department's budget has been decimated in recent years.

The budget signed by Gov. Corbett in June dropped the DEP's state funding to $135 million - $10 million less than last year and $65 million less than 2006-07. Former DEP Secretary John Hanger recently stated that "DEP cannot do its mission reasonably" with a budget below $170 million. DEP staff has been cut about 10 percent over the past five years. In February, Corbett proposed eliminating 69 more positions.

I have spoken with DEP personnel charged with regulating Marcellus drilling and they tell me they need more help: more oil and gas inspectors, more water quality and solid waste specialists, and more staff for air permitting and sampling. In addition to rearranging the deck chairs of the DEP, Corbett needs to restore the DEP's funding to a reasonable level.

Rep. Greg Vitali, Haverford

Millionaires pay fair taxes

Thank you for the article Wednesday "Data dispute Obama's tax-inequity claim," which showed millionaires are taxed at higher rates than their secretaries. Government and private data indicated that wealthy households on average are taxed at higher rates and contributed a much larger share of federal taxes than the middle class. I hope subscribers who believe the wealthy do not pay their fair share take the time to review an analysis based on facts rather than rhetoric.

Ken Mitchell, Mount Laurel

Republican likes Obama tax plan

I want to applaud President Obama's vow to veto any debt-reduction efforts that do not also include increased tax revenues. I say this despite having (1) voted for every Republican president starting with Eisenhower's first term (except George W. Bush the second time); (2) having served as a Republican campaign manager and elected Republican city councilman; (3) having served as a relatively senior executive for one of the 30 Dow Jones Industrials; and (4) having paid taxes at top-bracket rates for multiple years during my career and first few years in retirement. Incidentally, the top tax rates I paid were for the most part significantly higher than they are today.

Going forward, I will never again vote for any politician who has made a "no tax increase" pledge to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, unless publicly repudiated. Our elected officials owe their loyalty and duty to the people they represent and to the Constitution, not some unelected zealot.

Thomas D. Kent, Lafayette Hill, tdk1951@comcast.net

Critic of Israel gets democracy wrong

Strange how Rami G. Khouri talks about how "ugly" democracy is at the same time he points out why it works ("City Hall takes on the Mideast," Wednesday). Democracy is an evolving concept; look at the end of "Don't ask; don't tell." I will take his criticism more seriously when women can vote or drive a car in Saudi Arabia, when Sunnis and Shiites stop blowing each other up, when Jews can live in "Palestine" or Jordan as Arabs live in Israel, or maybe sooner, when pigs fly.

I. Milton Karabell, Philadelphia

State universities are a bargain

Thank you for highlighting the plight of many college students who are struggling with the expense of higher education ("Debt soaring with tuition," Sept. 18). As the cost of higher education increases, a college degree is becoming more challenging for working- and middle-class students to achieve.

That's why I'm proud to be a professor at one of the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which includes West Chester and Cheyney Universities. State-system universities are the least expensive option for Pennsylvania residents seeking a four-year college experience, with annual in-state tuition and fees running about $6,500. That's more than $2,000 below the average for public universities in the mid-Atlantic region.

Prior to this year, the state system had held tuition increases below the rate of inflation in four of the last six years. This year's tuition increase of $436 was regrettable, but it was the direct result of an 18 percent state funding cut.

Today's state system is still a great value for Pennsylvania students and parents, but it is essential that the state continue to invest in it to maintain its quality and keep tuition affordable.

Steve Hicks, president, Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, Harrisburg

Phillies overdid the celebration

I agree wholeheartedly with Frank Fitzpatrick regarding the Phillies' celebration upon winning the East Division title ("This Bud's not for the Phils," Wednesday). Every year as my husband and I watch this ridiculous, childish behavior by men who are looked up to as role models, I get almost sick to my stomach. I know they probably had to let off some steam, but could they have done that by running over to the stands where the faithful fans were waiting to cheer them on?

And then what a letdown by losing the next six games. Perhaps all that drinking soused them out. I love my Phillies, but was very disappointed in the way they acted.

Jane M. Hinkle, Lafayette Hill, bjhinkle1@comcast.net

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