Last week, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite announced that he needs $50 million by August 16th (tomorrow!), to open schools in September. Without it, he will delay the opening of schools due to safety concerns. With one day left before the clock runs out, city officials are scrambling to find solutions. Today, Mayor Nutter stated that he would get it done by borrowing the money, but his plan is still at odds with some City Council members who favor selling district real estate to find the funds.
It seems the district's not much better off than it was in June when we highlighted the budget battle at the state level, but in the meantime, Dr. Hite has upped the stakes. He's asking the School Reform Commission to suspend parts of the state education code so that the district does not have to rehire teachers based on seniority. The President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has vowed a fight to defend seniority.
Our recent district study of Philadelphia highlighted the losses that stemmed from over 1200 teacher layoffs in 2011. Thirty-four percent resigned, even though the district ended up recalling almost all of the teachers they laid off. Many of these teachers may have been exactly the type that the district needed to try to retain. Since there is less than a month before the start of the 2013-14 school year, it's likely that the district has already lost a lot of talented teachers to neighboring districts or other jobs. Now, as the district faces lean staffing models where the final number of staff recalled is truly uncertain (the district still needs about $150 million to be fully funded for the 13-14 school year), it is vital that decisions about the teachers who end up in front of students are based on school needs and their overall teaching performance, not years of experience.
In the words of a Philadelphia teacher who left the district in 2011, "I didn't want to leave the school district [but] it was a LIFO kind of place." Philadelphia students have already faced a demoralizing and difficult school year and summer. When they return to school in the fall with potentially far fewer familiar staff faces in the halls, those faces should be the right ones.