Updated, 5:30 p.m.
After The Inquirer reported that the Philadelphia School District had classified Promise Academy teachers a "protected class" of employees, exempt from any layoffs, district spokeswoman Shana Kemp said she misspoke.
"No official decision has been made yet," Kemp said. "We are carefully weighing all decisions as we move forward with the budget planning process."
On Thursday, Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman announced at a citywide principals' meeting that Promise Academy teachers could not be laid off.
By now, surely you've heard about the $629 million gap that must be closed in the Philadelphia School District's 2011-12 budget. The district won't pass a budget until May 31, and much can change by then, but the situation looks grim - the proposal on the table would end full-day kindergarten, slash transportation services, and bring cuts to various programs, from extended day programs (completely gone) to counselors (going from 519 to 432 positions.) Layoffs are a given, too.
District officials have publicly stated that they expect to have 1,261 fewer teachers next school year: 1,029 fewer regular education teachers and 232 fewer special education teachers. The total layoff number will not be that large, but we don’t yet know what it will be. (About 700 teachers have already said they will retire or resign at the end of the year.)
But the district and the union are giving two different answers about whether teachers at Promise Academies — district-run Renaissance schools with longer school days and years — will be exempt from layoffs.
The district says yes.
“Teachers at the Promise Academies are exempt from the layoffs because they are in a protected class,” spokeswoman Shana Kemp told me.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, says no. He said neither he nor the PFT vice-president who works closely with the district’s Human Resources department has been told that Promise Academy teachers are exempt, and even if they had been, that's not the case, Jordan said.
“We won’t stand for it,” Jordan said. “The position was not advertised that way. It was not negotiated that way.”
In its last contract, the PFT allowed for Promise Academies, which are meant to speed reform at the lowest-performing schools in the city. Extra pay for Promise Academy teachers is part of the deal.
But, Jordan said, protection from layoffs was not part of the deal.
“Promise Academy teachers will treated like every other teacher in the system,” Jordan said.
The PFT will fight the district on this, Jordan promised - legally if necessary, he said.
There are six Promise Academies operating this year — University City and Vaux High Schools, Roberto Clemente Middle School, and Ethel Allen, Dunbar and Potter-Thomas Elementary Schools. Next year, 10 more schools will be added to the ranks — FitzSimons, Germantown, King, Sayre, South Philadelphia and West Philadelphia High Schools, and Alcorn, Barry, Pennell, and Smith Elementary Schools.
Promise Academies get more funding per student than other schools. This year, each Promise Academy got a $430 subsidy for each child they educate. Next year, it's being cut to $215 per student.
Many of the teachers who staff the current Promise Academies are fairly new to the profession and would be vulnerable to layoffs.
There's been no official word on when layoff notices might go out. Legally, the district has until June 30 to notify employees of a reduction in force.