No decision reached on Philly school layoffs

Posted: July 10, 2012

With less than a week before hundreds of blue-collar workers could lose their jobs, Philadelphia School District officials said they have not made up their minds on whether the layoffs will go forward.

Each of the district's 2,700 mechanics, bus aides, cleaners and others - members of SEIU 32BJ Local 1201 - has received a pink slip amid a continuing budget crisis in the district. About 500 of the layoffs would take effect Sunday.

The district faces a deficit of as much as $282 million, and school officials have said they need big savings in both labor costs and transportation and maintenance.

Union officials have said they have put more than $20 million in concessions on the table. Negotiations are expected to resume Tuesday.

"We are continuing to negotiate with 32BJ Local 1201," district spokeswoman Evelyn Sample-Oates said in a statement Monday. "No decision has been made at this point."

No mention of the ongoing labor situation was made at a special School Reform Commission meeting Monday.

The SRC voted to outsource transportation management services at the meeting, awarding a three-year, $2.7 million contract to TransPar, a Missouri-based company with experience in other large districts.

The contract will pay for three full-time employees plus other support to help manage the district's schedulers, dispatchers, garage supervisors and others.

"It does not affect the job of anyone currently working in the transportation department," said Jennie Wu, deputy of strategic planning and implementation. She said the department had been hit hard by retirements and resignations and she had been managing it on an interim basis.

Though it requires an up-front expense, Wu said, the move should ultimately help the district's balance sheet. TransPar, she said, has saved Chicago Public Schools $100 million over 16 years and Orange County Public Schools $6 million in the 2010-11 school year.

In other districts, TransPar has saved money through measures like consolidating routes and reducing maintenance and fuel costs.

Philadelphia is perhaps the only major school system in the country that does not use an automated route system to schedule its buses. TransPar, she said, will help the district select one and implement it.

The SRC, at the meeting, also approved license agreements with four companies that will run new "Renaissance" turnaround charter schools in September. String Theory Charter Schools will pay $229,343 for H.R. Edmunds; Universal Cos. Inc. will pay $523,287 for Creighton; American Paradigm Schools will pay $296,856 for Jones; and Mastery Charter Schools will pay $12 for Cleveland.

Mastery's fee is so low because it will provide its own services for things like snow removal, trash pickup, and building supplies and employ its own building engineer and custodial assistant. The other companies plan to use the district's services.

Universal received a free pass for licensing fees for two of its Renaissance charters, Audenried and Vare, for the 2011-12 school year. Officials have said they had to cover $1.8 million in costs for those buildings because of a preexisting "understanding" made with the prior administration.

It will pay $500,000 for the two school buildings for the forthcoming year.

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at

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