Union Predicts Teachers Will Flee Philly Schools in Advance of Reforms

Hundreds of disenchanted teachers are preparing to flee 70 city schools that are to be privatized or otherwise transformed under sweeping reforms planned for the fall, union officials said Friday.

Twenty teachers at the Luis Munoz-Marin School asked for transfers after learning the elementary school would be handed over to a for-profit company, Edison Schools Inc. Another 416 in the system have filed for retirement — about a third more than usual.

Jerry Jordan, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, predicted many more will follow suit by the start of the new school year.

"We have been getting an overwhelming number of calls from teachers who are concerned about being able to transfer out of schools being privatized," Jordan said. "They are totally demoralized."

On Wednesday, the city's School Reform Commission said it would privatize 42 of the district's 264 schools and turn them over to nonprofit groups, universities and three for-profit companies, including Edison.

The plan also calls for nine failing schools to be operated by community groups as charter or independent schools. Another 19 would be "reconstituted" — which in the past has meant a purge of top administrators and most of a school's teachers.

Many teachers believe the education companies will cut programs and trim staff to make troubled schools profitable. Teachers also argued this week that many of the targeted schools don't deserve to be on the city's takeover list, despite low student test scores.

Joyce Paige, a learning coordinator at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School, said teachers there have already implemented reforms that have made the school into one of the best in the district — even though it is in one of the city's poorest areas.

"As far as we are concerned, reconstitution means we didn't do our job. And that is not true," Paige said. "They never came to see what this school was like. They don't know what an excellent staff we have, or how dedicated we are."

The changes are also being made over the objections of Mayor John F. Street, who lost control of the district during a state takeover in December.

Philadelphia's school system, the nation's seventh-largest, has 265 schools and more than 200,000 students and a budget of $1.7 billion. The majority of its students score in the bottom quarter on state reading and math tests and the district has predicted a budget shortfall this year of $107 million.