The School Reform Commission answered questions about funding and actual reform within Philadelphia’s public school systems at a press conference last Friday.
The question and answer session, attended by Commission Chairman James E. Nevels and Commissioners Sandra Dungee Glenn and Daniel G. Whelan, focused on the future of the 60-days-old organization and the schools.
Nevels called the upcoming changes “historic,” but over the next few months, little will be noticed by those outside the school, except the much publicized layoff of 325 administrators and officials. Many changes happening now are cosmetic, fixing up approximately 60 schools by September, a number equal to maintenance performed over the past five years.
Other changes taking place within the schools include “a heightened awareness about the need for application of the code of conduct for students,” Nevels said. The school district is also dealing with the lack of certified teachers.
Over the next few weeks the selection of education and service providers will be made public. The commission is still working out details for selection in a way that will push politics aside.
The commission must decide from a list of 27 respondents, which includes Edison Schools and some of its biggest competitors. Temple University is on that list, as well as a few community organizations. As many as 33 companies and organizations had expressed interest.
After the commission names educational providers, contract negotiations begin.
Just how the as-yet-undetermined number of “privatized” schools will be split remains to be seen, but the commissioners said performance and location would be major factors. They do not plan on privatizing all of the chosen schools at once, but instead in waves as small as 15 to 20 at a time.
“I don’t think we can do 100 schools, I don’t know how many we can do,” Whelan said.
District officials said that of the 264 schools, 170 were testing below average and that as many as 100 will be up for outside management.
Education service providers will receive the lowest performing schools first, and where they are located in regards to the company taking over will be factored in. So the Community Education Coalition of West Philadelphia, if chosen, would most likely manage schools only in West Philadelphia and Temple would manage schools in North Philadelphia.
Whelan answered most of the questions regarding fiscal matters of the district. He said the district hopes for a 1 percent increase plus $75 million, while Pennsylvania’s other public schools will receive a 1 percent increase.
This, Whelan said, will be a “huge political problem,” but state representatives in the area backed it.
Philadelphia has pledged up to $45 million.
Fiscal stability is listed as a major step toward stabilizing the district as a whole. That has started with $25 million saved from layoffs next year. Should all of the money be collected from the city and state, the district plans to borrow $300 million.
With financial stability, Glenn hopes to improve educational quality with updated, and in some cases actual availability of, textbooks, improved libraries and extracurricular activities, like music programs.
All of these will be done with economic efficiency, something the commission wants to work on, but without overstepping bounds.
They would like to keep each school fairly independent, but with purchasing, buying bulk means money saved.
Money will continue to plague the process more than anything. Budget projections show a $100 million deficit over the next few years. City Council debated Tuesday and Wednesday over this shortfall.
Brian Swope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org