On the eve of schools opening, staff are working hard to prepare for a critical and highly scrutinized first day of the year. Teachers at Lingelbach Elementary in Mount Airy have produced a creative music video about the challenges they will face tomorrow.
Contract negotiations between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District, however, remain ongoing. District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the two sides met again Sunday. Asked to comment on the status of the talks or any future plans, he said only that "it is our hope that we find agreement at the negotiating table."
A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Gov. Corbett's Philadelphia office, 200 S. Broad St. Organized by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), the vigil will draw attention to how the governor's policies and budgets over the last several years have resulted in unacceptable educational conditions in Philadelphia.
The Notebook has been counting down the days before schools open. For 40 days, we tried to follow each dramatic twist, every political turn that arose in what many believe is Philadelphia's worst school funding crisis in history.
Though the summer's unofficially over and the school year will start on time, the uncertainty of what schools will look like when they open Monday is of major concern. How safe will they be? What quality of academic instruction will students receive? The question remains to be answered: Will it be a calamity?
We ask that, on the first day of school, teachers and other school staff, parents, and students use Twitter to keep the public apprised of the successes, surprises, and problems or incidents that occur due to a lack of adequate staff and resources.
We encourage you to do this by tweeting issues, events, and images as they arise, using the hashtag #Philly1stDay.
The School District's staff has shrunk by 3,000 since June, with 17,144 employees (full-time equivalents) now on the payroll. That's a 15 percent staffing cut. The District has not yet released information about how many of those eliminated positions were teachers.
But when schools open the doors to students on Monday, classrooms will be feeling the pinch from reduced staff in a few different ways.
Teachers' contract negotiations took a break on Thursday for Rosh Hashanah, with plans to resume Friday and likely continue through the weekend.
"The expectation is that they are going to go on into the weekend," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.
Meanwhile, teachers are working under what is known as a "status quo" contract. How is that different from a contract extension?
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
The Philadelphia teachers' union said that it is putting on hold a new ad that blasts Mayor Nutter and Gov. Corbett over the School District's budget woes.
George Jackson, spokesman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the union has made the decision because Nutter and PFT president Jerry Jordan have scheduled a private meeting this week.
"We think we got [Nutter's] attention," Jackson said. "In the interest of fostering a productive dialogue, for right now, we're going to suspend the ads."
[Update: The ad reportedly aired on NBC10 Wednesday after the PFT said it was pulled. Jackson said there was a "miscommunication" with the station, and that it should be off the airwaves by Thursday.]
With opening day for students less than a week away, SEPTA has unveiled a simplified system for students who were displaced by the 24 school closings to find their new school.
About 55,000 students use SEPTA's buses, subways and trains to get to school. To make sure that students from closed schools, including the very youngest, have new travel routes, SEPTA has launched a new feature to their site called School Trip Planner.
Flanked by SEPTA officials, Fran Burns, the District's chief operating officer, announced the new feature on Tuesday.
Talks are continuing between District negotiators and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers on the eve of Labor Day observances and a mass union membership meeting. Both parties released similar statements saying they plan to keep talking until they reach an agreement.
The teachers' contract expired Saturday. Teachers are expected to report to work on Tuesday.
Sunday evening, a District spokesperson emailed, "The talks are ongoing. It is our intention to continue to meet until we have an agreement."
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District's bargaining team returned to the negotiating table on Saturday, the day the union's contract is set to expire.
Neither side has reported progress. Union spokesperson George Jackson said the PFT "plans to continue negotiating through the weekend," but also said the District has not offered any kind of contract extension.
As the School District secured the first installments of desperately needed new revenue this summer, one of the first steps taken was to rehire one secretary for each of the 213 schools -- a recognition of the vital role they play in school operations. The cost was $17.6 million.
As schools prepare to open for staff members on Tuesday and for students on Sept. 9, those secretaries are back on the job. The District has estimated that three-fourths of schools saw the return of one of the secretaries from last year.
"It’s based on seniority," said Robert McGrogan, who heads the principals' union, CASA. "The most senior got to stay at their home school."
The District has said that, so far, it has recalled 126 of the 270 counselors that it had laid off, all but 10 of them by using some of the $50 million in additional funds that the city has promised to deliver as a contribution to helping close the District's budget gap.
Although officials have not confirmed this, it appears that schools with fewer than 600 students were not allotted a full-time counselor. By looking at school enrollment projections from June, the Notebook calculated that only 85 of the District's 212 schools have 600 or more students. Ten additional counselors were also assigned to Promise Academies, seven of which have enrollments below 600.
Barring more recent purchases of counselors by principals or special allotments, that still leaves more than half of the District's schools, including half of the District's 48 high schools, without a counselor -- a situation that is unheard of in fully functional school systems.