SRC warns substitute-teacher contractor it must do better

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Teachers union president Jerry Jordan called on the SRC to cancel its contract with Source4Teachers. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers previously represented substitutes. (DAVID MAIALETTI/Staff Photographer)

The firm hired to staff Philadelphia classrooms with substitute teachers has been put on notice: "Continued poor performance puts this partnership in jeopardy," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday night.

Source4Teachers was awarded a $34 million contract to provide substitutes, promising it would fill 75 percent of vacancies on the first day of school. It has done no better than about 15 percent to date.

School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff also said the Cherry Hill company's work "has been unacceptable," and said the SRC took full responsibility for its vote to approve the contract.

The SRC's move "was not about cutting costs," Neff said. "It was about solving a crucial problem."

Under district management, the substitute "fill rate" was about 60 percent.

Hite said the district was working closely with Source4Teachers, immediately bumping up substitute pay for certified teachers to $110 daily, exploring the use of a subcontractor to fill some jobs, using more recruiters, and streamlining the hiring process.

Teachers union president Jerry Jordan called on the SRC to cancel its contract with Source4Teachers. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers previously represented substitutes.

"With a fill rate that doesn't come close to the 75 percent they promised, Source4Teachers is an even worse failure than we imagined," Jordan said in a statement. "By failing to deliver on its commitments, Source4Teachers is shortchanging our schoolchildren."

Bernadette O'Brien, a teacher at Webster Elementary, said she had considered postponing surgery because she wasn't certain a substitute would be available to cover her class. At her school, special-education students have been especially affected, with some classes broken up and others covered by stretched-too-thin staffers, she said.

Students' individual education plans are not being followed because of the lack of substitutes, O'Brien said, leaving the district vulnerable to legal action.

Jackie Rosenfeld, a teacher at J. Hampton Moore Elementary, echoed the call to dump Source4Teachers.

"It wouldn't be the first time you canceled a contract," Rosenfeld said. The SRC is currently locked in a costly legal battle with the teachers union over a so-far-unsuccessful bid to nullify that contract.

Others decried the performance of contractors who run the district's transportation services.

Christopher Frank, whose children attend Independence Charter School, said bus service has been a nightmare. A bus never once picked up his second and fourth graders in the morning, and drop-offs have come as late as 6:21 p.m., three full hours after school dismissal.

"It's been very frustrating," said Frank, a district teacher. "This is what happens when we contract out. There's no accountability."

William Gipson, whose grandson goes to Russell Byers Charter, cited similar problems. He was told it might be a month before the issues were fixed.

Hite acknowledged the transportation issues, and said too many children were being affected by them.

The commission on Thursday also blocked a new charter school. The operators of Belmont Charter had wanted to open a high school, applying in the winter to do so.

The new Belmont school was denied then and again Thursday, over the objections of Commissioners Bill Green and Sylvia Simms.

Belmont will be able to reapply for the next round of new charter schools, to be considered in the spring. Applications are now being accepted for those, as per state law.

The SRC took action, over objections, to award a $3.8 million contract to Elliott-Lewis Corp. to manage its headquarters on North Broad Street. Some in the audience suggested the cost was too high; Neff voted no to that contract, but all other commissioners voted yes.

The commission also pledged to spend more than $2 million to extend leases for two Center City magnet schools, Science Leadership Academy and Constitution High.

Community member Gail Clouden, known as "Mama Gail," loudly objected to those leases, saying the district was spending money it did not have on some children while depriving others of opportunity.

The leases run through the 2017-18 school year. Simms voted no to extend the leases.

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