SRC approves $34M deal to outsource substitutes; union vows challenge

By Kristen A. Graham

– The School Reform Commission voted Thursday night to outsource more than 1,000 substitute-teaching jobs, awarding a $34 million contract to a Cherry Hill firm to recruit, hire, and manage the workers for two years.

The unanimous vote came over the protests of the teachers’ union, which currently represents subs.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, vowed legal action, including a possible claim of unfair labor practices, and said the move was part of a plan to “privatize public education, one position at a time.”

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and the SRC, Jordan said in a statement, “used the shortage of substitutes as an excuse to abdicate their responsibilities to provide services to students.” The union said the district had allowed substitute vacancies to go unfilled to save money.

On average, every day 407 district classrooms have no substitute teacher, district officials said. (When no substitute is present, other teachers must cover the class.) Source 4 Teachers, the company awarded the contract, has promised a 90 percent “fill rate,” well above the district’s current 55 to 65 percent rate.

“That’s significantly impacting student instruction time, and it’s impacting teachers that have to sacrifice their planning and prep time to fill in for these absent teachers,” said Naomi Wyatt, the district’s human resources chief.

Though the privatization is fiercely opposed by the union and has drawn fire from City Council, there was little mention of it by speakers at the meeting. Several school nurses testified about the possible outsourcing of school medical services, including their jobs.

Michele Perloff, a veteran school nurse, decried the “debacle that is unfolding.”

“I ask you not to sell off our dedicated school nurses,” Perloff said. She and others said privately employed nurses would not understand schools the way they do, and that the relationships they have built with students affect not just health but also education.

Sporting a button reading “Every child deserves a certified school nurse every day,” retired teacher Lisa Haver decried the possible outsourcing of nurses. After the meeting, she also spoke out against privatizing subs.

“Any time you outsource services, you lose quality of the services,” said Haver. “There’s not really any accountability.”

Commissioner Bill Green said that privatizing the jobs was not a given, and that if nurses were outsourced, all would still have to have the same certifications.

The district wants “more and better” services for children, Green said.

The SRC also formally signed off on five new charters – Independence West (West Philadelphia), KIPP DuBois (West Philadelphia), Mastery-Gillespie (North Philadelphia), TECH Freire (North Philadelphia), and MaST Community Charter School II (Northeast Philadelphia).

Chairwoman Marjorie Neff, who also opposed the new charters initially, cast the only no vote.

Each school was awarded a three-year charter.

The SRC also approved closing a district school.

Kensington Urban Education Academy High School will close in 2016, merging with Kensington Business, Finance, and Entrepreneurship High School. The closure was supposed to take effect this week, but officials bowed to community pressure and said they would use the extra year to plan the transition.

Officials have said the merger is necessary to offer more courses and bolster student achievement.

Nadia Watson, a student at Kensington Business and a member of the organizing group Youth United for Change, noted that Kensington Urban opened just five years ago.

The district “didn’t give Urban the resources they needed to be a successful school,” Watson said.

Watson upbraided the SRC for turning its back on the community, to whom it promised four small high schools in Kensington.

“No matter what happens, we will not stop fighting for our small schools,” said Watson, a rising senior. “They were built for a reason and they should not be messed up.”

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  1. Pingback: Cutting Substitutes Pay For an Alleged Substitute Teacher Shortage? | The Teacher's Lens

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