Green says at SRC meeting: Contract change is priority

Posted: February 20, 2014

New School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green cut right to the chase: The Philadelphia School District needs money, he said minutes after taking the oath of office Tuesday, but there's a more pressing issue.

Schools can't improve without major changes to the teachers' contract, Green said. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been without a contract since August, and negotiations are proceeding slowly.

Now that the SRC is back to full strength - Green and Farah Jimenez were sworn in Tuesday by Family Court Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty - it's time to get things going, Green said.

"I know [Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.] is out of patience," Green said of the PFT contract. "We'll be guided by his timetable."

Going into the 2014-15 budget season, there is a renewed sense of urgency around the contract, Hite said. The nearly broke district has budgeted more than $100 million in savings from its unions over five years.

The new members' work began almost immediately. Tuesday night, they attended an SRC policy meeting on ethics. It was the first time a report on district ethics was widely disseminated, though the report was finished in late 2012.

A task force chaired by Common Pleas Court Judge Ida Chen studied district ethics at the request of then-SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos. The task force concluded that "far too few district employees or members of the general public appear to have a high degree of confidence that district business is conducted in the most ethical manner."

Red flags the task force found include: sharp reductions in auditing and compliance staff, even as contracts have increased; no single staffer responsible for ethics oversight; inconsistent ethics training; insufficient emphasis on transparency; lack of a place for employees or members of the public to raise ethics issues; and no compliance system for ethics complaints.

District staff said they would take the task force recommendations to heart.

The district is in an extremely difficult financial place, general counsel Michael Davis said. But "if we can't get ethics right, we're not going to get anything right."

215-854-5146 @newskag


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