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Mayor Nutter urges SRC not to adopt an 'empty shell' budget

By Paul Socolar on Jun 30, 2014 03:59 PM

In a letter today to the members of the School Reform Commission, Mayor Nutter urges the SRC "to refrain from passing a budget that would include cuts that are so painful that they raise serious questions about whether it is safe to open schools."

The SRC meets at 5:30 this evening to adopt a District budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Despite a legal deadline of May 31, commissioners postponed adoption of a budget last month, saying there was not sufficient revenue to pay for needed services.

Nutter's letter to the SRC says that if nothing changes in Harrisburg, the adoption of a state budget anticipated as soon as tonight could leave the District with a $93 million hole. Rather than cutting to eliminate this anticipated deficit, the mayor says, "I urge you to pass a budget that anticipates positive action from Harrisburg as they continue to work to finalize their budget."

The District's Plan B: More than 1,000 jobs eliminated

By Paul Socolar on May 6, 2014 10:56 AM

Is Plan B another round of budget cuts?

Monday's City Council hearing on the School District budget made clear that there is no consensus Plan B among local officials if the city fails to get state approval to impose a local cigarette tax that would raise $75 million. Superintendent William Hite said his Plan B is the devastating cuts described in some detail in District budget documents.

But the District is hoping to avoid those -- looking to the mayor and City Council to deliver revenues well beyond the $120 million the District is counting on from the extension of a city-only 1 percent sales tax surcharge.

Seeking memorabilia from 20 turbulent years

By Paul Socolar on Apr 28, 2014 02:14 PM

As part of the Notebook's June 10 celebration marking 20 years of publishing, we are assembling a collection of memorabilia that illustrate and illuminate these turbulent years in the Philadelphia public schools and the efforts to improve them. We're inviting Notebook readers to lend or donate objects to display at our June 10 event.

From AERA: The 'portfolio model' and where it's headed in Philadelphia

By Paul Socolar on Apr 7, 2014 10:07 AM

The American Educational Research Association conference is taking place in Philadelphia. These are prepared remarks from a presentation on Friday by Notebook editor and publisher Paul Socolar in a session about "The Landscape of Education Reform in Philadelphia." He was asked to discuss the "portfolio model" and how it has developed in Philadelphia; subsequent comments by Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason have spurred controversy. [Listen to the entire panel discussion below.]

First a cursory definition: Portfolio school districts rely on a variety of operators of public schools within the city, with the stated aim of providing high-quality learning opportunities … so ultimately every family can choose a slot in a good school. The term is borrowed from Wall Street: You're going to hang on to the successful companies in your stock portfolio and dump the losers. Proponents here talk about replacing “low-performing seats” with “high-performing seats.”

From AERA: Are the schools in Philadelphia trending in the right direction?

By Paul Socolar on Apr 4, 2014 05:14 PM

The American Educational Research Association conference is April 3-7 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the downtown Philadelphia Marriott hotel. This excerpt is from a presentation on Friday by Notebook editor and publisher Paul Socolar in a session about "The Landscape of Education Reform in Philadelphia." The topic was whether there are positive trends in school performance in Philadelphia.


Yes, since the state takeover in 2002, the trends are positive on a number of indicators … and not just test scores. Graduation rates are up – now, finally, two-thirds of students are graduating high school within six years. And more of the graduates are going to college.

But the story of how Philadelphia schools are doing is complicated and much murkier.

PFT asks state Supreme Court to reject District's petition

By Paul Socolar on Apr 3, 2014 03:32 PM

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has asked the state's highest court to reject the School District's recent petition for confirmation of its authority to unilaterally abrogate teacher seniority rights and other teacher work rules.

On Thursday, the PFT filed its response to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the court doesn't have jurisdiction over the work rule changes and that the issues under dispute should be subject to collective bargaining as they have been in the past. The union's attorneys argue that the "grievance and arbitration dispute resolution mechanism" established by state labor laws "is the only method for resolving these issues."

A closer look at the District's legal argument to the Pa. Supreme Court

By Paul Socolar on Mar 24, 2014 10:46 PM

School District lawyers, in their Monday petition to the state Supreme Court, argue that by law they do not have to negotiate with the teachers' union on such issues as hiring practices, layoffs, prep time, and contracting out.

The state takeover law exempts these "non-mandatory" areas from collective bargaining, the lawyers say. They ask the court to affirm that the District can unilaterally implement new rules and practices in those areas, even while continuing to bargain with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers on other contract issues.

The PFT plans to fight this argument in court.

Mayor proposes $153 million in new funds, less than Hite's request

By Paul Socolar on Mar 6, 2014 02:45 PM

Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter, in his annual budget proposal, addressed the dire needs of a School District that again faces an enormous budget deficit by proposing $153 million in additional funding for next year. That amount, if realized, still falls short of the District's request.

The District is turning to the state and city for a combined $440 million. It is counting on $120 million of that to replace funds that were promised and raised last year but were not recurring. And to cover rising costs while taking some steps toward his aspirational vision for the District, Hite has asked for a great deal more. The price tag attached to the first year of Action Plan 2.0, as it's called, is $320 million. A quarter of that amount will be used just to cover unavoidable annual increases in expenses.

Hite has said he wants the city to dig deeper by providing the $120 million promised to the District last year in the form of an extension of a sales tax surcharge and an additional $75 million to help fund his Action Plan.

City's charter enrollment surpasses 67,000; many charters exceed enrollment caps

By Paul Socolar on Feb 4, 2014 05:40 PM

New data released by the School District on Tuesday show that charter enrollment in Philadelphia has swelled to 67,315 students, which is more than one-third of all K-12 students in public schools. 

More than 1,500 of those students are enrolled in excess of enrollment caps for individual schools. Twenty charters are 10 or more students over their enrollment caps.

Four charters have more than 100 students in excess of their caps, led by Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter, where the District reports an enrollment of 1,302 despite an enrollment cap of 675.

The District has attempted to make those caps enforceable by writing them into its charter agreements. But this has not prevented the state from paying some charters directly for students enrolled in excess of the caps.

[Update:] A District spokesperson said Walter D. Palmer and four other charters have been billing the state for enrollment in excess of the caps. Other charters have not tried to secure payment from the state for more than the authorized numbers of students.

Education a focus of Gov. Corbett's budget address; plan includes funding boost

By Paul Socolar on Feb 4, 2014 01:35 PM

Gov. Corbett devoted nearly one-fourth of his annual budget address to education issues, proposing a total commitment of $10.1 billion to public education spending in the fiscal year starting July 1, a boost of 3.8 percent.

2013 on-time graduation rates for District and Renaissance high schools

By Paul Socolar on Jan 28, 2014 04:29 PM

What does the District's 64 percent on-time graduation rate look like, school by school?

It ranges widely, from a 99 percent graduation rate at Masterman to a half-dozen neighborhood high schools with graduation rates in the low 40s. Not surprisingly, special admission high schools with strict entrance requirements are clustered near the top, while neighborhood schools nearly all fall below the District's average rate.

Some improvement in District graduation rate in 2013; college success still limited

By Paul Socolar on Jan 23, 2014 12:04 PM

A decade ago, it wasn't far off to say that in the School District of Philadelphia, only half the students graduate.

At least now you can say two-thirds.

The District's six-year graduation rate -- the percentage of students who started high school in Philadelphia District schools in 2007 and earned their diplomas by 2013 -- has climbed to 67 percent. That figure includes hundreds of students who don't graduate on time, but persist through a fifth or a sixth year of high school to earn their diplomas.

Mayor 'deeply concerned' about appointment of Green to chair SRC

By Paul Socolar on Jan 17, 2014 02:50 PM

In a bluntly worded statement released to the press Friday afternoon, Mayor Nutter offered a less-than-welcoming response to Gov. Corbett's nomination of City Councilman Bill Green to head the School Reform Commission, calling it "quite frankly perplexing given his votes against some education funding measures and his published views on public education."

Arise Academy faces closure; 3 other charters are finally renewed

By Paul Socolar on Jan 17, 2014 01:01 AM

Three charter schools whose status has been in limbo since 2012 won belated renewals from the School Reform Commission on Thursday evening.

But a fourth, Arise Academy Charter High School, is a step nearer to closure.

More closings in 2014? No decision yet

By Paul Socolar on Jan 3, 2014 06:31 PM

There is no word yet on whether the School District plans to recommend additional school closings to the School Reform Commission in 2014. 

"A final decision has not been made yet," said spokesperson Fernando Gallard on Friday.

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