Published Online: October 7, 1998
Published in Print: October 7, 1998, as Urban Education

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Rethinking Residency: A growing roster of unfilled teaching posts has prompted Philadelphia officials to rethink the city's rules that require public school employees to live in town.

Those requirements, on the books since 1983, say that new teachers and staff members must move to Philadelphia within a year. But a glut of teaching vacancies in the 215,000-student system, especially in specialized positions in languages, science, and math, have brought the issue to the fore.

When the district's director of school human resources, Marjorie Adler, surveyed prospective teachers who turned down positions offered them last year, the main reason they cited--even more than pay--was residency. "Our starting salaries are lower than some of our suburban counterparts', and we have a big, slow hiring process because of union constraints, but residency was right up there" atop the list of concerns, Ms. Adler said.

Between 1986 and 1993, teachers were regularly granted waivers of the residency rule. But the City Council put an end to those exceptions because they were not extended to city employees--police officers, firefighters, and other municipal workers--who are also required to live in Philadelphia.

While the decision over whether to change the requirement is one that district officials can influence, it is ultimately up to the City Council. Ms. Adler said that she hopes her survey findings and the district's pressing teacher shortage will resonate with council members. But, she added, "we don't want for this to become a political football."

About one in five big-city school systems have residency requirements for school staff, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based advocacy group.

And debates over lifting or softening such policies come up in those cities fairly regularly--most recently in Milwaukee and Buffalo, N.Y.

In most cases, the requirements extend to all city employees. Many cities reason that having workers live where they work fosters good community relations and helps retain a dwindling middle class.

But employees' unions, including teachers' unions, are almost unanimous in their opposition to such policies.

"If you want to attract good people, you've got to provide incentives, not disincentives," said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers. "This doesn't fit with current needs school districts have."

--KERRY A. WHITE

Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 14

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