After layoffs, Philly schools still hiring

ASSOCIATED PRESS Protesters rally outside school district headquarters on May 30, while officials voted on the budget.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Protesters rally outside school district headquarters on May 30, while officials voted on the budget.
Posted: August 14, 2013

IN JUNE, WITH NO funding in sight, Philadelphia School District officials laid off 3,859 district employees, saying the district couldn't afford to pay their salaries anymore.

Nonetheless, district officials are still hiring, prompting questions about staff priorities.

The district's human-resources office has been advertising on the district website for positions at the central office and a few of its 218 schools.

And in a move that touches a nerve with labor representatives, some of the nonunion jobs posted and filled were once union positions, they say.

The move, union leaders and education advocates claim, is an attempt by the district to weaken the union, drive down wages, decrease revenue from union dues and bring more jobs under district control.

Of the staffers laid off in June, all but 18 were union employees.

The unions also have to contend with what they see as the state breathing down their necks.

The $45 million in state funding approved by Harrisburg is contingent on Secretary of Education William E. Harner determining that the school district has begun "implementation of reforms that provide for fiscal stability, educational improvement and operational control."

In other words, he needs to see a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) contract filled with reforms, district officials say.

"So much of what all of this is about, from school closings to attacking seniority actions by school leaders and political leaders, is to undermine the voice of the people working in this system," said Anne Gemmel, a member of the activist group Fight for Philly and a public-school parent.

Public-school advocate Helen Gym said moving to a low-wage workforce is "ridiculous."

"When districts turn themselves around, this is not what they do. They do not cut corners and deprofessionalize the workforce," said Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education.

Change is needed in the beleaguered school district, some education analysts say.

"It's high time we reform the system to make sure kids are getting the education they need," said Priya Abraham, a senior policy analyst with the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, an independent, nonprofit institute in Harrisburg.

"It's impossible to be efficient with these [PFT] contracts overall [and] a more flexible system is needed to deal with teacher compensation," Abraham said, citing seniority as a union benefit that should be eliminated.

Readers familiar with the district's fiscal woes may know the stats: A $304 million budget hole resulting in a district request for state and city funding totaling $180 million as well as $133 million in concessions from labor unions. In early July, the Legislature approved funding for the schools, but that money has been held up by labor negotiations and political disputes.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced July 26 that the district would restore at least 285 jobs, all unionized secretaries and music teachers.

Labor officials allege that the district rewrites union job descriptions, adds a qualification or two and renames the positions.

But district spokesman Fernando Gallard describes a vastly different process for when a job is created.

"When the district creates a new position, the decision about whether to classify it as a represented or nonrepresented position is based on an analysis of the job description and legal and collective-bargaining-agreement requirements," Gallard said.

In June 2011, for example, five PFT "finance specialist" positions were eliminated from the payroll.

Sixteen months later, district officials had created five new nonunion positions, known as "accounting compliance and control monitors" that were filled between February and June, according to information obtained by the Daily News and a district source.

The responsibilities listed for the two positions appear to overlap. A description of the finance-specialist's "essential functions" says that the applicant "reviews financial transactions processed for accuracy and compliance."

By comparison, the job description for the nonunion "accounting compliance and control monitor" position says: "Reviews payments to ensure accuracy and proper documentation."

The monitor, however, requires at least a four-year degree; a PFT finance specialist required an associate degree.

"The school district management is creating these other jobs by tweaking these job descriptions so they can try to defend their nonsense for not allowing PFT work to be done by PFT members," said Mayer Krain, a union representative who works in the central offices. "This has nothing to do with bettering the education of students.

Gallard said the district reviewed that position and two other advertised job openings at the request of the Daily News and "concluded that the positions should be classified as nonrepresented."

"If a union disagrees with the district's decision, there is a delineated process that it may follow to contest the designation," he added.

And that's an option that Bob McGrogan, president of Teamsters Local 502 Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA), says he may take when it comes to a district job posting for "School Design Leader."

The district seeks two applicants to research, develop and design two schools with the possibility of opening them in September 2014, according to the listing. The design leader would later become principal, hiring staff for the schools and taking charge of the launch and operations in the second year.

McGrogan said he might appeal the job's second phase to the labor board. "Once you step in and start running that school, now we have the potential for it being a violation," he said.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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