Local/State

Hite meets with parents as Philadelphia teachers return to classrooms

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Philadelphia schools superintendent Dr. William Hite met with some parents Tuesday night, less than a week before the scheduled start of classes in the district.

Parents told Action News they fear chaos when schools open with reduced staff on Monday September 9th.

Some members of the Home and School Association were hoping to get some level of reassurance during their meeting with the superintendent.

The meeting was closed to the media, but it doesn't sound like it went very well.

"Ultimately, none of our questions were answered," said parent Katera Moore.

"I'm extremely frustrated," said parent Pattie Gillett.

Parents and teachers emerged from the meeting at School District Headquarters feeling no better about how things may go on Monday than they did before the meeting.

"And some of the parents got a little feisty as you can imagine," said parent Garth Connor.

"The violent schools, nothing about the safety, which I thought was why we were here to begin with, to figure out what the safety problem was," said Marsha Dougherty, a student support assistant. "And he spoke mostly about the money."

Two weeks ago, the city agreed to borrow $50 million to give the district, just so it can open schools as planned on September 9th.

But many of the schools may open without counselors, administrative staff, nurses and librarians.

"There's schools that don't have enough desks in the classroom, there's schools that don't have enough textbooks, there's schools that don't have enough teachers," said Gillett. "But he didn't seem ready to address any of that."

"And it's obvious to all the parents that the schools are not going to be properly staffed," said Connor.

TEACHERS RETURN TO CLASSROOMS

Earlier Tuesday Philadelphia public school teachers returned to their classrooms as contract talks continue with the school district less than a week before the scheduled start of school.

"We're trying to keep our morale up," teacher Barbara Finkle told Action News.

"We're short-staffed. We don't have a counselor. We have a nurse 2 days a week. However, we do what we always do. We always rise to the occasion. No matter how much is taken from us, we rise to the occasion. We are teachers. That's what we do," said teacher Gregory Chandler.

Many teachers expressed mixed emotions.

They said they are excited to return to jobs they love. But they are also concerned, seeing the impact of the current layoffs of support staff, and uncertain about their own futures.

"I think it's really difficult to go into a situation where you feel devalued," said teacher Amy Price.

Philadelphia public school teachers currently make between $45,000 and $90,000 a year.

Most, however, don't pay for health insurance premiums.

The district says it must have $100 million in concessions from teachers and has suggested 5- to 13-percent pay cuts.

The district has not said if it would impose such cuts.

Teachers feel they are being made scapegoats.

"I'm trying to figure out what to talk to all the utilities about when I say I can't pay this amount per month, or my mortgage. Because personally it's going to hit me," said teacher Holly Shaw, adding that a 13-percent pay cut "is a big cut."

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