Federation of Teachers
AFT Local 3431
Articles of Interest from Local and National News Sources; Headlines Are Links
EducationNews.org, May 22nd, 2013
Philadelphia school superintendent William R. Hite Jr. knows all about controversy. Since taking over the struggling, debt-mired school district, he has taken positions that have put him at odds with the city’s powerful teachers union.
Yet the task before him calls for a lot of radical thinking. Philadelphia’s public schools are underfunded, undersubscribed and chronically underperforming, and Hite knows that to fix all these problems he is going to have to tread on some very sensitive toes.
His latest proposal, submitted as part of a plan to win up to $120 million in additional state funding for the district, is bound to be more of the same. To win over Pennsylvania lawmakers who have traditionally balked at providing money for the city, he is calling for an end to teacher seniority. In a presentation of a proposed budget to the members of the School Reform Commission, Hite explains that the state legislators are unlikely to be interested in turning over more money if they think they’re signing off on more same-old-same-old thinking.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 17th, 2013
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association today released its legal argument supporting changes that Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed to pensions for current state employees and teachers which it claimed are legal under the state constitution.
In a statement based on testimony of PSBA acting chief counsel Emily Leader before the House State Government Committee, the organization said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allows changes to current employee's benefits under the Public Employee Forfeiture Act "if they were on notice of its provisions prior to accepting a new term of office, a promotion or new appointment."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 6th, 2013
Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed pension reform package, which calls for new employees to be enrolled in a 401(k) and current employees to see some changes in the way their pensions are calculated, is being met with fierce, but predictable opposition from state teacher unions.
The governor maintains his proposals, which include lowering a multiplier used to calculate the pensions of current employees, will stanch the bleeding of the pension debt, which now hovers at around $41 billion, and shift the liability for pensions away from the state in much the way corporate America has done.
Without the pension reform, the governor said, deep cuts eventually will have to be made to the general fund budget and core programs and services in the state.
Educationnews.org, Retrieved February 4th, 2013
High-profile New York politicians are pointing fingers at each other after the City of New York missed a January 17 deadline for creating a teacher evaluation program. The New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo is threatening to settle the dispute by imposing a solution on the city.
Earlier in the week, New York Mayor Bloomberg went to Albany to complain about the process. Noting that 99% of the other school districts in the state had found a way to comply, he explained that they did it by making “sham” evaluations. Neglecting the real issue of improving teacher performance, they had merely come up with paper solutions in order to get the promised state money.
New York City, locked in a stalemate with the United Federation of Teachers, is slated to lose $250 million in state money that would have been awarded if they had created an evaluation process in time. Bloomberg pointed the finger at the union, saying that the union had no incentive to evaluate its members.
EducationNews.org, Retrieved January 29th, 2013
A controversial decision by a suburban Chicago high school planned for today has left many parents uneasy about whether the planned “code red” drill procedure will go too far and cause emotional harm to the students. Derrick Blakely of CBS News reports that although Cary Grove High School administration sent some parents an email explaining the drill, not all parents received it, and even those who did are asking questions.
This code red drill is different because school officials plan to simulate the actual conditions of an armed attack. Parents who received the email read that the simulation was to be as realistic as possible. The email stated:
The simulation will take approximately 15-20 minutes, during which time teachers will secure their rooms, draw curtains, and keep their students from traveling throughout the building. Please note that we will be firing blanks in the hallway in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 28th, 2013
Pennsylvania Education Secretary Ron Tomalis today announced he has denied all eight cyber charter school applications for the coming school year.
"The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs," Mr. Tomalis said in a press release. "In addition, the financial plans presented call into question each applicant's ability to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students."
Pennsylvania has 16 cyber charter schools.
Cyber charter schools are chartered by the state. Brick-and-mortar charter schools are chartered by local school districts.
Retrieved January 14th, 2013 - from educationnews.org'
California’s parent trigger law has finally achieved its first success, the Los Angeles Times reports. After nearly two years of battling in front of lawmakers and judges, a parent group in a small school located near the Mojave Desert have won approval to convert their failing campus into a charter.
The parents’ fight to take over Desert Trails Elementary School has been a media sensation. It was looked upon as the first test case of the parent trigger law, and served as a demonstration to parents in other parts of California who were contemplating taking the same steps. Now the fight is over, and starting this August the running of Desert Trails will be handled by LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, a long-time charter operator.
Three votes on the local school board managed to hold back the conversion, but when two of the three lost their election for their seats this November, and the third left to take up his seat at the Adelanto City Council, a positive outcome looked possible. Teresa Rogers – who has been spearheading the conversion effort – won one of the vacated seats and the rest was history.
Peters Patch, January 14th, 2013
The Peters Township Board of School Directors last night voted to appoint the Chester County Intermediate Unit under the direction of Executive Director Dr. Joseph O’Brien to oversee the district’s superintendent search.
Under the terms of the agreement, O’Brien will work in collaboration with Charles Mahoney, Executive Director of Intermediate Unit 1, to complete the search.
Other superintendent searches overseen by O’Brien and the Chester County team are: Garnet Valley School District, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, Owen J. Roberts School District and the Radnor Township School District.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 9th, 2013
After studying the classrooms of 3,000 teachers, including some in Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has concluded the best way to determine teacher effectiveness is to use a combination of state test results, observations and student surveys.
The foundation Tuesday released the final findings from its three-year Measuring Effective Teaching project. The MET study -- which focused on math and English language arts teachers -- builds on its earlier reports by fleshing out the best ways to use the measures.
State Treasurer Rob McCord, along with officials from the Keystone Research Center, contend that Gov. Tom Corbett's pension overhaul proposal won't cut costs, but instead will add $25 billion to the pension debt by 2046.
But Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the governor's budget office, said that if Mr. Corbett's entire proposal -- including changes to future benefits of current employees -- is approved, it will save $50 billion by 2043.
The one thing both sides agree upon is that it is difficult to conduct an independent analysis of Mr. Corbett's proposal because much of the financial information upon which it is based has not been made public.
Mr. Pagni acknowledged "there are numbers that I have that folks on the other side haven't seen." But he said all pertinent financial information about the pension proposal has been shared with "the leadership and the budget and appropriations folks in the Legislature."
The employees affected by the changes would be public school teachers and state employees who are members of the Public School Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System.
Mr. McCord, a Democrat, and Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, gave their views on the budget proposal Tuesday during a media teleconference.
Mr. Corbett, a Republican, has proposed a pension overhaul package to deal with a $41 billion pension debt that calls for new employees as of 2015 to be enrolled in a 401(k)-type defined contribution plan rather than the current defined benefit plan. It also calls for changes to future benefits for current employees, including a reduction in the multiplier used to compute pensions from 2.5 to 2.0 and an increase in the penalty for employees who take a lump sum of their contributions upon retirement.
The proposal also calls for changing the number of years used to determine an employee's final salary from the highest three years to the final five years, capping pensionable income to the Social Security wage base, which is $113,700, and capping pensionable income to 110 percent of the average salary for four years prior to retirement.
During the teleconference Mr. Herzenberg said the 401(k)-type plan will "dig a deeper pension hole" by -- among other things -- reducing contributions into the current defined benefit plan. The result will be less money in the defined benefit plan, which would result in a smaller return on investments and create a smaller pool of money to pay retirees.
Another factor decreasing investment earnings would be a need for the fund managers to move investments, as more people in the fund move toward retirement age, to "less risky and more liquid" assets that would have a lower rate of return.
Also driving up costs is the fact that Mr. Corbett's plan calls for employers to contribute 4 percent to the defined contribution plan for new employees, which is a higher cost than a 2.2 percent cost for new employees in the defined benefit plan, Mr. Herzenberg and Mr. McCord said.
The increased costs and decreased earnings would require employers, which are the state and school districts, to increase their contributions to cover the loss, they said.
However, Mr. Pagni said, Mr. Herzenberg and Mr. McCord only took into account the cost to switch new employees to the 401(k)-type plan and not the savings that would come from the governor's entire package of overhauls. "The Keystone Research Center and Treasurer McCord failed to consider the entire package," Mr. Pagni said.
The treasurer and Mr. Herzenberg also said it was irresponsible for the governor to promote a plan that is sure to face legal challenges. The Pennsylvania State Education Association has maintained that benefits for current employees are protected by the state constitution and has vowed a legal battle if the Legislature enacts Mr. Corbett's plan.
But Mr. Pagni said the governor's office believes the pension changes are constitutional because they do not take away any benefits already earned by employees. He also said the governor's plan relieves the state of the risk of the defined benefit plan once all employees are shifted to the defined contribution plan.
Monitoring the Changing Times
This is a time of change in education, a time when the respect for tradition of our profession is at a low ebb, a time when lowering budgets has greater public support than providing necessary education. Jobs are being sliced and budgets are being reduced.
We need to be a part of the process to advocate for all kids, including our own.
The purpose of this page is to help our membership keep current with local education news and relevant national news. If you have suggestions for articles, email them to Mark Redilla, PTFT Communications Chair.