"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

I have been spending the summer tutoring and doing professional development (and vacationing), and I have been thinking about school staffing issues. I am wondering if Dr. Ackerman's consistent hiring of more and more administration (perhaps to insulate herself) at the same time she is letting school support staff go is a wise decision. It is very easy to fire or lay off school support staff--this is mostly because, to people who do not work in schools every day, their titles and duties seem to be rather nebulous. Many people might ask what a "non-teaching assistant", or a "parent ombudsman" or a "community relations liaison" actually does. Well, they all do something vital for the life and smooth running of the school. The most well known community liaison currently may be Violet Sutton-Lawson , recently laid off from South Philly High, the woman who used her body and formidable personality to protect an Asian student from being beaten during the horrible events of December 2009. Sutton-Lawson's actions were certainly heroic, but truth be told, there are many unheralded support staff personnel in schools who work heroically with students every day. Sutton-Lawson's work with pregnant teens has probably helped many of them stay in school--kids can't get an education if they do not attend school and feel safe while they are there. Support staff can listen to, protect, advise, and help discipline students every day. Non-teaching support staff help make the smooth and safe running of schools possible. Many non-teaching assistants (NTAs) help keep order in large school hallways and other common areas, and they also give students another adult in the building who can support and mentor them. That kind of support and continuity is invaluable to all students, but especially to those who come from deprived circumstances.
In my K-8 school this year, our parent ombudsman and student advisor were crucial in helping the teachers and counselor help get a student removed from an unsafe situation at home and put with a relative who could give the student proper care. Our support staff was able to arrange appointments, follow up on phone calls and inquiries, and do home visits and gather data that teachers just do not have time to obtain. Because these two people did their jobs well, we were able to work together to turn this student from a child with 3 absences per week into one who attended school every day. If we did not have these two people in our school to help teachers and counselors, it would have taken us much longer to help this child. Stories like this one may not seem important in such a grand plan as Ackerman's Imagine 2014, but it is the thousands of small successes that support staff help us with that will help make the plan come to fruition.
I suppose Arlene would say she is saving money with all these cuts of crucial school personnel, but a beginning NTA makes just over $19,000.00 per year, and the top salary is a little over $39,000.00 per year. In a 3.2 BILLION dollar budget, the pay for these important positions hardly seems excessive. However, Arlene would rather keep hiring administrative staff at salaries of about $180,000.00 per year (yes, SIX figures), than keep students safe and cared for and her actual schools running well. I know that any teacher, principal, or student I talk to has a very clear idea about the great value of our support staff, what we are not very clear on is what a six figure salaried "chief" or "communications officer" sitting at 440 North Broad Street (SDP headquarters) actually does to make the lives and education of our students better each and every day.
+++Update: More administrative positions, more SIX figure salaries.
+++New Update: Arlene and her minions make more than the mayor, governor, and the superintendents of NYC, LA, and Chicago (not including bonuses). http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/20100729_Phil_Goldsmith__Ackerman_and_SRC_tone-deaf_to_Philadelphia_taxpayers__financial_plight.html

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