Philly School District restores some music teachers, secretaries

     William R. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, speaks during a news conference at Andrew Jackson Elementary School, Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

    William R. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, speaks during a news conference at Andrew Jackson Elementary School, Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

    The Philadelphia School District, which in June laid off about 3,850 employees, finally delivered a tiny bit of good news Friday.

    Superintendent William Hite said the district now has an additional $33 million, which will be used to bring back about 220 secretaries, or at least one per school, and 66 traveling music teachers.

    However, there is is only enough money to pay those teachers through January.

    He said the extra aid will also be used to restore fall sports, and support the turnaround of low-performing schools.

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    Hite made the announcement at a special meeting held by the School Reform Commission Friday. He said he wants to spend the extra funding on secretaries because principals identified them as vital to getting schools open in September. 

    The principals also said it was important to get their own secretaries back, Hite said, but that is not guaranteed due to the district’s labor agreement. Secretaries, who are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union, can apply to transfer to other schools, which could set off a chain reaction of movement.

    “Where we can return secretaries to their school, that is our intent,” Hite said. “That is part of our conversation with the PFT.” 

    Hite said he chose to restore music and sports because students see them as invaluable.

    “If, in fact, they don’t have programs like music, like the arts in some cases, like athletics,” he said, “then these things don’t really represent schools for them.”

    In particular, Hite said he was influenced by the students who organized a protest against budget cuts at the district’s headquarters in May. They requested a meeting with him after the rally, and later “declared themselves my advisory group,” Hite said.

    The district said secretaries and music teachers have not been notified yet that they will get their jobs back.

    District officials declined to say how much of the extra $33 million comes from the city and state governments. However, Hite said previously that the district can now count on only $17 million from the state’s basic education subsidy and improved city tax collections. The rest of the money will be raised by going after vendors that owe the district money, and other “savings,” officials said.

    Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski said the $33 million breaks down this way: $17.6 million for the secetaries and expenses of summer reorganization; $3.9 million for the music teachers; and $3.7 million for athletics. The remainder, $7.8 million, will be invested in the district’s internal turnaround initiative, known as the Promise Academies — although the SRC engaged in a lengthy debate Friday over how to evaluate, refine and improve that model.

    Parents, teachers say schools budget is inadequate

    Hite said the restored positions are “not enough.” Teachers and parents at the SRC meeting agreed.

    Thousands of other employees are still laid off, including guidance counselors, assistant principals and teachers, as well as workers who monitor the lunchroom and help maintain order in school hallways.

    The school district asked for an extra $180 million in combined city and state aid, as well as $133 million in concessions from labor unions. Gov. Tom Corbett’s funding package for the district comes up with about $127 million from the city and state. There are also strings attached to some of that money.

    The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract expires Aug. 31, and the union has not agreed to any givebacks.

    Joan Taylor, a teacher at West Philadelphia’s Middle Years Alternative School, asked the School Reform Commission to resign in protest of the state not meeting the school district’s funding request.

    “Will you, the most powerful people here, stand up for equitable education funding by refusing to be complicit to the injustice we have foisted upon the children we’re supposed to protect?” she said. “This is not a rhetorical question. You need to get on the right side of history.”

    Hite still hopes to win labor concessions, as well as $45 million in state aid that comes with strings attached, in order to restore more positions.

    Before the state releases those funds, Corbett’s education secretary must determine that the district has “begun implementation of reforms that will provide for the district’s fiscal stability, educational improvement and operational control.”

    While the meaning of that is open to interpretation, Corbett is expected to be looking for labor givebacks.

    Hite is also not relying yet on an extra $50 million that the city is planning to borrow on behalf of the district against future sales tax revenues. Prior to schools opening in September, Hite said he expects the SRC to hold additional special meetings in order to approve an amended budget.

    Read more about the SRC meeting, including the body’s approval of three Renaissance conversions, on the Notebook.

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