UPDATED: Philly SD losing 3,820 jobs, full-day K

Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman speaks during a meeting of the School Reform Commission on Wednesday. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)

UPDATED, 6 p.m.

In a pre-School Reform Commission budget briefing, Philadelphia School District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch said that to close a $629 million budget gap, the district must lose about 16 percent of its workforce - 3,820 jobs.  That includes a reduction of 1,260 teaching jobs, or about 12 percent of the teaching force. The district says there will be a loss of 650 noontime aides, nearly 400 custodians, more than 180 counselors and 51 nurses would also face job loss.  Still, it's not yet clear how many layoffs that will mean, because an early retirement offer has been made to employees, and we don't know how many folks will take advantage of that.

The district will also lose full-day kindergarten.  It's going to a half-day program, as was in place years ago.  Kindergarten is actually not mandated by the state - though everyone offers it, Pennsylvania doesn't require children to attend school until age 7 in Philadelphia, and even older in the rest of the state.  That doesn't mean that cutting K is a good idea, but it's possible because it's not required.

The teachers' union has already come out condemning cuts to kindergarten and early childhood education.  (PFT says that 1,000 fewer children will get early childhood services next year.) Jerry Jordan, PFT president, said: “We are outraged by the short-sighted and indiscriminate cuts the school district is making to balance its budget. Targeting pre-school programs that are proven to prepare youngsters to be successful in school is unconscionable." Jordan, in a news release, said the district's Comprehensive Early Learning Centers will close entirely.

The district will also be cut - but not eliminate - transportation, special ed, summer school, art and music budgets.  Class sizes, for the most part, will go up to contractual limits - 30 students in K-3, 33 in grades 4-12. The central office budget will be cut by a whopping 50 percent - it will lose 430 jobs. Instrumental music and the district's athletics program both stay, with trims. (Though both are vulnerable, Masch pointed out - if anything gets worse, both instrumental music and athletics would have to go.)

Masch said the district is counting on $75 million in savings from re-opening the district's union contracts.  PFT president Jerry Jordan has previously said that the teachers' union is not open to coming back to the table; the teachers have already taken a pay freeze, he said.  Masch did not sound convinced that Jordan's no means no.  "It remains to be seen who's going to come to the table and when they're going to come to the table," he said the briefing.  Remember, too, that under the state takeover law that created the SRC, that body was given the power to impose terms on any union, rather than negotiate.  Asked if the SRC would go that route, Masch said that the district would prefer to negotiate, as it has in the past. 


If full-day kindergarten is cut, what will happen with your children?

I just spoke to Jordan, who said that his position on re-opening the contract has not changed.  "No," he said.  "We already negotiated a contract." His members will have gone 16 months without a pay increase, and can go no longer.  He said the district got itself into this fiscal mess and will not balance the budget on his members' backs.

Masch noted that things could change - for the better - if more funds were to become available from the state, city or feds, but I wouldn't bank on that.  No one's got extra dollars available, and the anti-Philadelphia sentiment is particularly high in Harrisburg.

Today's SRC agenda is packed - certainly fuller than any agenda I've seen in my three years of covering the district: the SRC is set to vote on several charter school modifications (expansions in enrollment and grades), and the all-important Renaissance charters.  (More on that later.)  Also, it's the first meeting since first Mosaica Turnaround Partners, then Foundations Inc., pulled out of running Martin Luther King High as a charter beginning in the fall and revelations about a closed-door meeting that happened after the March SRC voting meeting.  That meeting was called by SRC Chair Robert L. Archie Jr., an attorney who recused himself from voting on the King match because of his firm's relationship with Foundations, and included Archie, Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery, John Q. Porter of Mosaica and state Rep. Dwight Evans, who's closely aligned with Foundations.  No one's sure what happened at the meeting, but after it concluded, Mosaica abruptly pulled out of the deal to run King.  (Foundations pulled out weeks later after The Notebook/News Works reported the meeting, and questions began to fly about the propriety of the situation.  Foundations cited a climate of "unrelenting hostility.")

And now Mayor Nutter has ordered a probe of the King controversy.  Archie told the Inquirer he's glad there's a probe.  I'll be curious to see if he acknowledges it at the meeting.  (My guess: no.) Oh, and you should read my colleague Karen Heller's take on the Archie/King/Evans controversy at http://tinyurl.com/3bzn2wh

So.  There's that.  And don't forget the controversy surrounding Audenried High, designated as a Renaissance "Promise Neighborhood" school to be given to Universal Companies Inc. without community input on that match.  Many members of the community have raised loud protests over this deal, saying that Audenried has improved since re-opening three school years ago and that the match has to do with politics, not education.  (Same complaint some folks have over the Foundations/King deal.)  Both the King and Audenried communities have been very vocal and have often sent folks to speak at SRC meetings, so I expect we'll have a long speakers list.

What happened: Audenried and Vare are given to Universal, but at the urging of Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky, it will be written into their charter that Universal must provide the promised services even if a U.S. Department of Education grant it hopes to receive as a "Promise Neighborhood." And King High was given a new choice for next year - its advisory council must now decide whether it will remain a traditional district school with Empowerment supports (which it has now) or become a Promise Academy - that is, a district-run Renaissance school that gets more money per student but must get rid of most staff and its administration.  The advisory council must decide quickly.  Commisioner Joseph Dworetzky said the SRC and district have no preference but will provide support as the SAC needs it.  So, big changes still afoot for King. 

We'll also get not one, not two, but three weighty presentations.  One is about the Promise Neighborhood Partnership (see, Audenried and Vare Middle School, which is also slated to be given over to Universal); one's about Project Safe Schools, the district's answer to school violence; and one's a climate report about South Philadelphia High by an NYU professor paid to monitor things there after racial violence rocked the school in December 2009.

A special, separate budget hearing is scheduled to start after the SRC meeting.  I'd be surprised if that kicks off before 5 p.m., and perhaps even later than that.

Stay tuned.  I'll update the blog with news, and I also live tweet these things: I'm "newskag" on Twitter.