By Steve Gunn
PHILADELPHIA – “The Philadelphia school district is nearly insolvent, lags behind most other urban districts in academics and loses students to charters because parents believe it doesn’t keep their children safe.”
That paragraph, from a story posted today on Philly.com, sums up the severe challenges facing the Philadelphia school district. The good news is that the district’s School Reform Commission has announced an ambitious plan to make things better.
It would involve closing 40 schools next year and 64 by 2017, moving thousands of students to charter schools, dismantling the school district’s central office and creating smaller “achievement networks” of 25 schools apiece.
Various groups would bid to manage the “achievement networks,” and the winners would be required to sign performance-based contracts.
All in all, it looks as though the Philadelphia district may decentralize, create a new level of administration that’s focused on promoting excellence in a more manageable number of schools, and formally recognize the fact that charter schools often provide quality alternatives to traditional government schools.
The plan must be approved by the School Reform Commission before it’s implemented.
“What we do know through lots of history and evidence and practice is that the current structure doesn’t work,” School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said. “It’s not fiscally sustainable and it doesn’t produce high-quality schools for all kids.”
Not surprisingly, the teachers union came out against the plan. Union President Jerry Jordan called it a “cynical, right wing, market-driven” proposal that would totally dismantle the school system.
As if the current system is operating so well that it doesn’t deserve a little dismantling.
Our guess is that the union fears that a loss of students to charter schools would mean fewer union teaching jobs and less union dues revenue. The union probably also fears a renewed focus on academic excellence in the new “achievement networks,” which would probably involve more teacher accountability.
But what else is the district do to? According to the news story, the reform commission plan is largely driven by district budget problems, which we know are largely driven by runaway labor costs. Left unchecked, the district deficit could grow to $1.1 billion by 2017.
Does that type of financial emergency bother the teachers union? Apparently not. The district is currently planning a 2012-13 budget that would require a $156 million cut in labor costs, which would in turn require some salary and benefit concessions from the unions.
In response to that news, Jordan said the union would not negotiate anything until its contract expires in 2013. Thanks for nothing.
If the union isn’t willing to help address the massive problems facing the school district right now, it should refrain from criticizing the plans of others who are working on strategies to save money and improve instruction for Philadelphia students.