Media alerts and updates - March 2008

 

March 14, 2008

As deadline nears, parents call on SRC to terminate EMO contracts

A number of District parent organizations today sent a request to the School Reform Commission asking them to respect an approaching deadline on EMO contracts.

Parents United for Public Education and the Philadelphia Home & School Council called upon the SRC to terminate the contracts of all the EMO providers. Parents said the District must give ample notice for any school management contract changes.

Last year the School Reform Commission disregarded recommendations from its own staff to terminate a majority of the EMO contracts. Instead the SRC renewed all the EMO contracts for one year and doubled the budgeted amount for EMOs from $6 million to $12 million. Parents said the SRC has not lived up to its promise to take the year to carefully review each EMO contract, noting that reports promised on the District's website were not delivered on time. In addition, they said EMOs needed careful review of services to special needs students and English language learners. District staff and other groups had cited the EMOs for failure to deliver adequate services to these populations.

"We're not going to be in the same position we were last year -- holding onto these failing EMOs and floating the bill just because we missed a deadline," said parent Gerald Wright.

Wright said it was common practice for organizations to terminate contracts and invite desired providers to reapply.

"We understand the desire for school choice but it's got to be a quality school choice," said Greg Wade, president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council. "That's what the District is supposed to do -- give parents the best choices for their kids."

For more information, email Parents United for Public Education.

Letter to the SRC, March 14, 2008

Dear Members of the School Reform Commission:

We are writing to urge you to take action on March 19th to terminate the EMO contracts, in order to respect the right of parents and schools to have ample notice for any school management contract changes.

Last year, parents and citizens were appalled when the School Reform Commission renewed all the EMOs for one year, despite studies showing that EMO's failed to achieve greater academic gains than the average District- managed school despite collecting more than $100 million in management fees. Parents were particularly outraged that the SRC disregarded the recommendations of the District to terminate two-thirds of the EMO contracts and instead doubled the budgeted amount of money for EMOs. Meanwhile, many of our schools lost personnel, programs, transportation and thousands of dollars in discretionary funds.

Since then, it was promised that the District would take this year to review the EMOs and arrive at solid solutions for struggling schools. This time is nearly up. Already the District has missed promises made on its EMO timeline to deliver a best practices EMO report in January. It is imperative that our District not face another embarrassment and be locked into another year of contracts with failing providers while our schools continue to struggle with resources.

We ask that the School Reform Commission terminate the contracts of all the EMO providers and selectively invite EMOs to apply at desired schools. This is a common practice which allows the District to protect itself and its assets and allows careful review of each EMO at every school.

Parents in the District respect the multiple provider model, but we must believe that it is a quality multiple provider model. Your termination of EMO contracts would be a first step in ensuring accountability for all the providers.

Respectfully,

Helen Gym/Gerald Wright, Parents United for Public Education

Greg Wade, president, Philadelphia Home & School Council

March 12, 2008

Budget update

On Tuesday, March 11, members of Parents United for Public Education met with Dr. Cassandra Jones regarding the school by school budgets. Last week, parent groups called upon the District to redo all the school budgets to incorporate reduced class size and develop a plan for the SRC's other priorities including art, music, libraries, counselors and nurses. Members of Parents United will speak to the SRC today about the school budgets and call upon the District to prioritize class size reduction, return discretionary funds, avoid unfunded directives, and put a moratorium on new contracts until school based needs are addressed.

New Directives on Art/Music and Libraries

Dr. Jones said the District had issued a directive to all principals on Tuesday asking that schools prioritize an art or music position and either a Librarian or LIMA (minimum part time) in their school budgets. This directive is unfunded which means that schools must find dollars in their existing budgets to pay for these positions. The librarian/LIMA priority applies even if the school does not have a library.

According to the directive, schools are asked to pay for positions as follows:

  • 0-499 students: 2 days a week of either art or music teacher ($37,000), 2 days a week of librarian ($37,000) or LIMA ($22,800)
  • 500-799 students: 3 days a week librarian ($55,500) or LIMA ($34,200)
  • 500-999 students: 3 days a week music or art ($55,500)
  • Schools over 800 students must buy a full-time librarian ($92,500) or LIMA ($57,000)
  • Schools over 1000 students must buy a full time art or music teacher ($92,500)

The District will ask schools to account for what services, positions, and other items may be sacrificed as a result of this new directive.

Parents United response: Parents United appreciates the District's efforts to improve libraries and the arts in our schools. However, we do not believe we should ask schools to pay for more directives without receiving more dollars. We believe a graduated plan is necessary for schools, and that schools should have the decision-making capacity about prioritizing their needs. We believe that the District needs to prioritize funding librarians in schools with libraries and building libraries in schools without libraries. We are against forcing a school to buy a librarian/LIMA without plans for that school to build a school library (as separate from classroom library) especially if that school uses those funds to develop literacy in other ways.

Class size reduction plan for grades K-3

Dr. Jones said the District intends to keep the 100 teachers in this year's budget to eliminate split grades and reduce class sizes at 40 Corrective Action 2 schools. The District intends to count the number of schools currently using funds to reduce class size. They said they will then be able to account for the gap to get all K-3 grades to have reduced class size, but are waiting until the population settles in the fall. The District identifies reduced class size as 24 students per teacher.

Parents United response: Parents United asks the District to use projected enrollments to set up class size reduction plans immediately. We do not think the District needs to wait until the fall. We ask that the District abide by a promise to reduce class sizes in kindergarten to 20 students with access to an aide. We ask that the District detail by name the schools receiving class size reduction currently, and a plan to get 100 percent of schools to reduced class size by the 2011-12 school year. In addition, we ask for a current assessment of class sizes districtwide.

Discretionary Fund reduction

In 2006, CEO Paul Vallas called upon schools to make up the deficit by reducing school based funds by 5 percent. Three years later, the 2008-9 budget still includes the 5 percent reduction. CFO Jim Doosey explained that the reduction remains because a deficit exists within the budget. Dr. Jones said she was unaware of this reduction and pledged she would do everything possible to return the money to schools.

Parents United response: Parents United fully supports Dr. Jones, and requests clarification of that reduction (which totals $10 million) and how long the District intends to take critical dollars away from schools.

March 5, 2008

Parent groups call upon District to redo school budgets

Today, School Reform Commission Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn issued a response to parents affirming that the District "stands by its priorities" and is preparing a "revised budget that begins to advance the outlined priorities in FY09." The statement was in response to a call from the majority parent organizations to redo all school by school budgets to account for reduced class size, preservation of arts and music and the elimination of split grades.

Last week Parents United for Public Education and the Philadelphia Home and School Council formally inquired about the status of class size reduction plans and the impact on school by school budgets. The inquiry triggered a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer which reported that the District had ordered that teachers be allotted according to the maximum class size and with split grades. The letter calling for the revised budgets was signed by Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Home and School Council, JUNTOS, Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project, Southeast PA Network for Family, Health and Welfare, and Philadelphia Right to Education Task Force.

Parents remain an active and vigilant force for ensuring that our budgets reflect priorities that put our children and classrooms first. Although the District has agreed to eliminate split grades, we believe that parents and students must testify to the importance of budget priorities and to articulate additional priorities for all schools. All of our groups strongly encourage parents to attend and testify at the upcoming SRC hearing.

  • SPEAK OUT on the District Budget: SRC Public Meeting
  • Wednesday, March 12, 1 p.m.
  • 440 N. Broad Street
  • To testify you must call 215-400-4040 by Tuesday, March 11

Email us for more information.

March 4, 2008

Letter to the School Distict on proposed fiscal year 2009 budgets

We the undersigned parent groups are deeply concerned about the school by school budgets released last week.

Not even four months ago, SRC Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn promised that an aggressive five-year plan for reduced class size would be factored into school budgets. In addition, the District laid out other academic priorities such as establishing art and music as "must haves" in every school, eliminating split grades, and establishing nurses, counselors and librarians as additional priorities for schools.

Through it all, parents have been critical partners, not just in praising the District's new priorities, but in aggressively seeking millions of dollars in additional resources for our schools. We have done so because we know the importance of driving more resources into our classrooms and stabilizing school budgets, which have been on the decline for years. It is the reason parents lobbied so hard for $30 million from City Council and why we made the Philadelphia Parking Authority's promise for millions to our schools a citywide concern.

In return we expect that the SRC holds to its promises on reduced class size, arts and music, and the elimination of split grades today. Quite frankly, the news that the District allocated teachers according to the class size maximum, resulting in split grades, has many of our schools outraged.

We acknowledge the District's intent to eliminate split grades. However, that does not address the fact that the District has not accounted for its class size reduction plan nor has it protected art and music teachers, classified as prep teachers, from reduction. Any reduction in teacher allotment is a concurrent reduction in preps. We have several reports of art and music teachers potentially losing their full-time status because of a decline in teacher allotments at schools.

Finally, as you know, the system begins forcing out teachers from schools this spring. Teacher allotments need to be restored immediately to avoid chaos and the loss of teaching personnel from local schools.

Because of these reasons, we ask the District to redo all the school by school budgets by the end of this month according to the following priorities:

  • No school should see a drop in teacher allocation unless there is a justified drop in enrollment, and with reduced class size, art/music and the no-split grade policy factored in. If we are moving toward all these priorities in the next few years, no school should be going backwards in the meantime.
  • The District must return teachers to the 40 Corrective Action 2 schools that received class size reductions last year, name the next group of schools to receive class size reduction in this year's budget, and roll out a plan to ensure that 100% of schools have reduced class size in grades K-3 by the targeted 2011-2012 school year.
  • The same should be done for art and music allotments. Art and music should be stand alone positions, separate from the allotted preps. Similarly, a school by school plan to ensure that 100% of schools receive librarians, counselors and full-time nurses must be created immediately as additional resources are received. All current positions should be preserved.
  • No school should see a reduction in the amount of discretionary dollars. Discretionary dollars are critical resources for schools to supplement the bare minimum District allotments.

Our schools need to enter a conversation where we're talking about additional resources, not fighting to keep the few teachers and aides left in the system. We reaffirm our position that the District must set a baseline guarantee to ensure that all schools are quality schools with stable resources and steadily increasing budgets for additional supports and programs at every school. We ask you to abide by your promise and immediately restore a new budget to all our schools.

Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project - Dolores Shaw, representative

JUNTOS - Peter Bloom, Executive Director

Parents United for Public Education - Helen Gym, Aissia Richardson, LeRoi Simmons, Gerald Wright, Leadership Collective

Philadelphia Home and School Council - Greg Wade, president

Philadelphia Right to Education Task Force - Cathy Roccia-Meier, president

Southeast PA Network for Family, Health and Welfare - Vernard Johnson, coordinator