School & District Management

School Plan Widely Misunderstood, Philadelphia Officials Say

By Kristen A. Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pa. (MCT) — May 16, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Appearing before City Council for another day of grilling on the Philadelphia School District’s budget and proposals to transform operations and close dozens of schools, officials Tuesday said there were widespread misunderstandings about a plan to revamp the district.

“Achievement networks”—groups of 20 to 25 schools run either by district staff or by outside nonprofit providers, such as universities or charter organizations—would be the foundation of the plan to decentralize. Those networks’ primary purpose would be to provide services requested by individual schools, School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said she was “very concerned with public confidence in the plan. … We’re not asking you to stop the plan. We’re asking you to put the brakes on the plan.”

But School Reform Commissioner Feather O. Houstoun said that much of the public perception of the achievement networks “doesn’t follow as I understand the recommendations.”

Both Houstoun and Ramos said that the transformation plan was not final and that the SRC was taking very seriously feedback from the public in meetings around the city. They and other officials have said that the plan is not privatization, as critics have suggested.

Councilman Bill Greenlee wanted to know why more input from teachers, parents, and principals wasn’t sought before the transformation blueprint was first released.

Ramos acknowledged Greenlee’s point as “fair criticism,” but stressed that the document is far from finished, that feedback is being sought at meetings around the city, and that the SRC will take suggestions very seriously.

Finances were also a topic, as the district is asking for $94 million from the city, which would come from Council’s adopting Mayor Nutter’s proposals on property taxes.

Council is not sold on the plan. Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, chair of the education committee, pointed out that the district has laid off a number of low-paid workers and has issued layoff notices to thousands more.

“That’s a real problem—being asked to raise taxes for people whose jobs were just cut,” Blackwell said.

“That’s a big, big problem for us.”

Sánchez asked if the SRC would be willing to submit to a city review of district finances.

“We can disagree on policy, but we have to agree on the numbers,” she said in an interview. “A lot of what we heard from the [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers] and others last week was, ‘There’s no confidence in the numbers.’?”

Ramos said he would be willing to have the district’s finances reviewed. Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis, a former district chief financial officer, now holds that job for Council and will likely perform the review. Council members also said they wanted to hear about the district’s finances more often than once a year, as has been the custom.

Councilman Bill Green—who opened up his remarks by suggesting Sánchez, the former head of the Latino education organization ASPIRA, be considered as permanent superintendent, a notion she waved off—wanted more details on the 2012-13 budget.

On May 31, the SRC will vote on a $2.5 billion spending plan that will include a $218 million shortfall. To make ends meet, officials want to borrow the money rather than cut already bare-bones school budgets or other services.

“To knowingly spend more than your projected revenues is against the law, and there has to be some approval process for that,” said Green, a frequent district critic. “I just want to know, who has to approve that?”

Ramos said that state officials will have to sign off on the deficit spending. When Green asked what the contingency plan was should the approval not be granted, Ramos said the district would either need to find alternate revenue sources or cut spending.

With a cash flow problem and too many empty seats in school buildings, the district plans on closing 40 schools in 2013 and six more per year for the next four years. Responding to a question from Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown about the closings, Houstoun stressed the need to act swiftly.

“I think having schools hanging three, four, five years may be worse than just trying to figure it out at one time,” Houstoun said. “If we were to go slower, we would have to raise money for every school that we don’t close.”

Councilman Mark Squilla inquired about the future of the district’s headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. Already underutilized, it will become even emptier with plans to further reduce the size of the central office staff.

Squilla wanted to know if officials were banking on any rental income for the property.

There are no plans for the building—yet, Ramos said. He said he would like see “one or more schools there, or having other uses that are not just purely administrative uses.”

Talk also turned to issues of climate and safety. Ramos said that recently, the district had turned away from viewing safety “as something incidental to instruction and education.” Now, he said, “it’s a threshold issue.”

The district wants to focus more on prevention and on professional development, he said.

“I think part of the culture that we have to break from is reducing tasks in some industrial way to, ‘This is my job, this is your job,’?” Ramos said. “There is nothing more fundamental to everybody’s job than school climate and safety.”

Copyright (c) 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion The Consequence of Public-Health Officials Racing to Shutter Schools
Public-health officials' lack of concern for the risks of closing schools may shed light on Americans' reticence to embrace their directives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educators' Support for COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Is Rising Dramatically
Nearly 60 percent of educators say students who are old enough to receive COVID vaccines should be required to get them to attend school.

4 min read
Mariah Vaughn, a 15-year-old Highland Park student, prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the vaccine clinic at Topeka High School on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
Mariah Vaughn, 15, a student at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at her school in August.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week