In August 2012, the Boston Consulting Group Inc. recommended closing 29 to 57 schools over the next five years. PSD Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen claimed that they take the recommendations under advisement but that consultants don't prescribe.
In November, the Daily News reported that Superintendent Hite signed off on pay raises for 25 nonunion positions. Hite said that it was to communicate the importance of those positions and to retain those eligible for retirement and other personnel.
On Dec. 13, Dr. Hite announced the Facilities Master Plan, with 37 school closures, and assured the public that there will be upgraded alternatives for students. The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, PSD Notebook, the Daily News and the Inquirer reported that numerous options were actually inferior academically and in physical condition, and were less safe both on-site and traveling for the prospective students. The plan was apparently rash and lacked circumspection.
On Feb. 19, Dr. Hite responded that he heard a lot of good ideas, and he subsequently changed the initial closure plan to 29 schools, but, shockingly, added nine schools for reconstitution to either Renaissance Charters or Promise Academies. Two of the Promise Academies would be high schools; yet, they had three of the only existing Promise Academy high schools headed for the closure scrap heap. Why dump more money into a failing entity?
Upon the invitation of a pleading parent, Dr. Hite went for a jaunt in a North Philadelphia neighborhood on Feb. 28, and, acknowledging the distance and perilous terrain for children, he said that the district will consider exceptions for providing bus tokens.
Then there was the headline news of the district's extreme contract proposals on Feb. 27, with the subsequent fallout: 5- to 13-percent pay cuts, with a freeze through 2017; elimination of the pay scale and senior career teacher; $160 cutoff for unused personal leave; extended one-hour school day; elimination of seniority; authority of principals to hire, fire, arbitrarily assign rosters and nonteaching duties; right to outsource any job; no cap on class size; reduction and elimination of librarians and counselors; no guarantees for books, teacher desks and water fountains.
In response, however, both Superintendent Hite and Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn asserted that teachers were highly valued and our most important resource for successful schools. Hite said, "We believe teachers are professionals just like architects, lawyers, doctors. We want a contract that reflects that." Thus, guarantees for teachers were inherently implied. And he acknowledged that principal leadership has to be improved with the proposed increase in their school-based authority.
Up to this point we have seen what has become a pattern: there is an insular, preordained agenda going forward, and whenever there is sound pushback, if not a firestorm of public disapproval and outrage, the PSD leadership delivers measured comments to mollify the malcontents no matter how incongruous the rationale. Kihn's notion "to improve the quality of teachers' experiences" is in stark contrast to the ominous proposals that will more likely discourage longevity. Hite appears willing to see teachers scrounge, beg and go out of pocket, or do without chairs, desks, books, paper, tape and sundry other necessities often taken for granted. Also, if he accepts the premise that there needs to be a stronger principal pipeline, then how do you give them such power to wield without safeguards, such as due process? And, too, wouldn't his justification for nonunion raises also apply to teachers, among others? It is that arbitrariness that all employees dread.
The PSD and SRC leadership and their cohorts are like a junta ruling by fiat, disconnected from the community denizens. They aren't fooling anyone with their placating, after-the-fact patchwork rationales that diametrically contradict their own actions. The only transparency that has come to light is that they think that teachers, parents and the public are that gullible, or just not as smart as a third-grader. In the process, they appear disingenuous and are only losing credibility and fomenting distrust.
To my distinguished veteran colleagues, don't let the door hit you on the way out.