Philadelphia School District restores sports, rehires music teachers, secretaries

Posted: July 27, 2013

The Philadelphia School District will use $33 million in savings and new funding to recall laid-off music teachers and school secretaries and restore fall sports programs that were axed.

"Now we plan to use the revenue that we believe is available to get schools ready" for opening Sept. 9, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said during a special School Reform Commission meeting Friday.

In a sometimes contentious session where commissioners debated the long-term costs, they voted to expand two successful schools, open a new high school and turn over a trio of chronic low-performing schools to charter operators.

Faced with a $304 million shortfall in June, the district laid off 3,859 employees.

Several parents and teachers said they were outraged by the expansions and new charters, especially given the district's other glaring needs. And they urged the SRC to hold a forum to address the uncertainty and fear about how schools will function without noontime aides, counselors and other staffers in the fall.

"We're in a crisis, and we're not getting information," said Terrilyn McCormick, a mother of two district students.

Hite and Matthew E. Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said the $33 million they identified came from district savings initiatives, an increase in the state's basic education funding and increased city tax collections.

"That's money we believe we have right now," Hite said after the meeting.

He said the district has not counted a $45 million grant the state has pledged if the district achieves labor concessions or a $50 million loan based on the extension of the city's extra 1 percent sales tax.

Hite said principals told him that their most pressing need was to have at least one secretary per school "to make sure that students are registered, enrolled and rostered."

The superintendent said students he has met with since budget protests in the spring had urged him to bring back their music teachers and sports.

"Students themselves indicated that this was important to them because it is part of what makes school school," he said.

Hite said the goal is to return at least 220 secretaries to the schools where they were employed in June and to bring back all 76 itinerant music teachers, at least through December.

He said the district has not begun notifying any employees who were laid off June 30 that they were being recalled.

The commission voted to turn three low-performing elementary schools over to successful charter operators as part of the district's Renaissance School Initiative.

Pastorius in East Germantown will be operated by Mastery Charter Schools; Kenderton in Tioga will be led by Scholar Academies; and Alcorn in Grays Ferry will be run by Universal Cos.

Because of the fiscal uncertainty, the SRC put those plans on hold last month.

The commission also added a ninth grade to Hill-Freedman, a K-8 school in Mount Airy, and voted to open a second campus of Center City's Science Leadership Academy high school at Beeber Middle School in Overbrook.

The SRC gave a green light to the launch of the Workshop School, with 60 ninth graders in West Philadelphia. The new district high school is an expansion of what had been a tiny alternative program for seniors at the Naval Yard known as the Sustainability Workshop.

Hite said grants would cover the additional costs for all six schools in 2013-14. The district is expecting to receive a $3 million grant from the state through a federal school turnaround program for the charter conversions. Funds mostly from the Philadelphia School Partnership will cover the expansions and the Workshop School.

But commission member Joseph A. Dworetzky, who voted against the expansions and charter conversions, called the moves "unsound and inopportune."

Even though grants will cover most expenses the first year, he said the expansions will cost the district $28.8 million over five years. The five-year tab for the charter conversions will be $26 million.

"We think the opportunity to offer hundreds more students access to high-quality, innovative educational experiences . . . justifies this cost," Hite said.

Stanski also said that $7.3 million of the $33 million would be used to restore extra funds that had been cut from Promise Academies - the troubled schools that the district is overhauling.


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com

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