Media alerts and updates - June 2008


June 24, 2008 

Governor's budget updates 

It's down to the final wire on the Governor's education plan, which
Philadelphia is counting on for more than $87 million. Last week the
Senate pushed back by recommending the state reduce education spending by 41% including a $12.5 million cut in pre-K access!

We need everyone to push in every way they can. Here's how you can help:

  • Call your state representative and senator today and Friday to check in on the education budget. Specifically, we want to know where representatives stand on the six-year funding formula a on protecting Philadelphia's share. Click here to find your legislator.
  • If you have more time, ask your friends, neighbors, colleagues, partners to do the same (we need people outside of Philadelphia). The majority of districts in Pennsylvania will see dramatic improvement in funding over the six year plan. Contact us for more details.
  • If you have more time, consider writing a letter to the editor about the importance of school funding. Letters can be put in neighborhood weeklies, the Inquirer or Daily News, anywhere. If this interests you, let us know and we can find addresses and help with topics!

June 19, 2008

Parents Laud EMO Decision: "Accountability trumps politics," says one parent

Parents United for Public Education, which has been calling for accountability on private management contracts in Philadelphia, lauded the School Reform Commission for terminating six contracts with Education Management Organizations (EMOs) yesterday. Another 20 EMO schools have been given one-year probationary contracts with plans to closely watch how they spend their money.

"We think this sends a clear message that the failures of privatization will not be tolerated," said Helen Gym, a Philadelphia public school parent and member of Parents United. "This 'experiment' is over."

Parents United, along with other grassroots groups such as the Philadelphia Student Union, has kept the issue of EMOs at the forefront of reform dialogue in Philadelphia. As the District faces a long term deficit and limited resources, Gym said the millions spent on EMOs has become "unconscionable."

EMOs were established in Philadelphia as a condition of the 2001 state takeover of the Philadelphia public schools. A grassroots effort led by students, parents, and citizens brought thousands of protesters into the streets and limited what was initially billed as the nation's boldest experiment with privatization. Approximately one-sixth of Philadelphia schools were turned over to different providers, including for-profit companies, non-profits and universities. Edison Schools Inc. received the bulk of the EMO schools – 20 of 41 at the time.

Since then, parents and students, as well as a local education newspaper, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, have raised concerns about EMO failures, including whether they provided adequate services to special needs students and lack of information about how management fees were spent. They also drew attention to declining enrollment in EMO schools and "sweetheart" contracts that paid for more students than were enrolled. In 2007 four independent studies found that EMOs performed no better academically than average District- managed schools despite collecting almost $110 million in management fees.

Although the SRC decision terminated only six contracts (four of which belonged to Edison), the bulk of EMO schools are under a one-year contract that puts them "on watch" for possible termination. Edison Schools Inc., comprises the majority of this category as well.

Parent Aissia Richardson said that the SRC decision today was an important statement that "accountability would trump politics."

"They've had six years here and millions of our dollars," Richardson said. "If they haven't done the job, it's time for them to go. Isn't that how the market works?"

Read Parents United's statement on the EMO decision here. For more information, see:

  • the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer;
  • the RAND/RFA study on EMOs;
  • articles in the Philadelphia Public School Notebookhere and here.

June 11, 2008

Parents United raises questions about BRT employees on School District payroll

What are 85 real estate assessors doing on the School District's payroll?

They belong to the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT).

According to the School District's budget, 85 BRT employees sit on the School District's payroll for a cost of $4.7 million in fiscal year 2008. That's 18% more than it was last year. Next year at $4.9 million it will be almost a million dollars more than a year ago. (Click here to view the page from the School District budget that details the cost of BRT employees' services - this is a PDF.)

Currently only 74 BRT employees are on the District's payroll. A review of those names shows over 40% of them hold political positions, including ward leaders and political committee leaders. Click here to see the list of names. (PDF)

What's wrong with this picture? A lot.

First, what do these people do exactly and why do we need so many of them when they have rapidly growing expenses? Second, the fact that such a large percentage of them appear to hold political positions and are outside the scope of both the city (even though they're doing city work) and the School District (since they are offsite at the Curtis Center) raises concerns that this money is being spent wisely. And finally, $4.9 million may not seem a lot to some people, but it would almost double the arts and music programs in the school that were allotted this year. It would buy back 50 teachers, a third of the number cut this year. It would more than buy back the 25% librarian losses we suffered this year.

We all know that public money needs to be spent wisely. When that money is on the District, the consequences are even more obvious when there are concerns that the money can be better spent.

Last week Parents United for Public Education sent a letter to the Board of Revision of Taxes asking them to remove BRT employees from the School District payroll and asking them to justify expenses that compete with the education of kids. It's not that we want to second-guess the work of the BRT, but we do need some accountability for why people think they can park their expenses on our kids dime.

Read Parents United's letter to the BRT here. (PDF)

Support the campaign by contacting your local councilperson and asking them to investigate the issue. You can also help by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Talk about it! It makes a difference!