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Questions remain over staffing, layoffs

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.


More than a month into its new fiscal year, the School District is still unable to say exactly how many positions have been eliminated as a result of the need to drastically cut its budget. And there is no new organizational chart explaining how the District has been reorganized.

But we do have some information from both the District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that may shed some light on what is actually going on with the largest mass layoff the District has seen in several decades.

According to the District, 2,418 people have been affected by the “reduction in force.”

They include 1,222 teachers, 739 non-instructional school-based personnel, and 457 people from the central office.

In addition, 1,182 people have taken advantage of an early retirement incentive program (ERIP). People eligible to retire have been offered 18 months of free health care benefits as an incentive.

Altogether, that could result in the reduction of as many as 3,600 positions. But the number of positions actually eliminated is unclear because undoubtedly some of the people who took the retirement offer have to be replaced.

The District’s original target was to reduce the workforce by 3,800, including 443 central office jobs. But that total included kindergarten teachers when the plan was to eliminate full-day kindergarten, which has since been restored.

And the 1,182 number for early retirements does not capture all the positions vacated through regular retirements, resignations, and people who have transferred from one job category to another.

The PFT also shared some numbers, not all of which line up with the District’s.

The union said that 1,522 teachers had been laid off as of June 30, 300 more than the District’s figure. One possible explanation for that discrepancy: teachers who were laid off as of June 30 but who worked in summer programs have not yet been counted as layoffs.

District spokesperson Elizabeth Childs said that the numbers could differ because 300 teaching positions had been restored, but the PFT did not confirm that. some teaching positions had been restored.

So far, according to PFT spokesperson Barbara Goodman, 877 PFT members have retired, either through ERIP or otherwise. (The District’s figure for ERIP retirements includes people from other unions and non-represented personnel.)

Goodman said that 881 non-teaching PFT personnel have been laid off. Most affected positions: supportive service assistants (SSAs), parent ombudsmen, student advisors, and people working in early childhood programs. Other categories with significant numbers of layoffs are nurses (18 and counting, given the School Reform Commission’s recent decision to increase the student-nurse ratio), secretaries, food service managers, non-teaching assistants, and social service liaisons.

Many of the non-teaching PFT members work in clerical jobs in the central office, and they have taken a big hit as well. For instance, in the human resources department, there are personnel clerks, benefits clerks, fiscal clerks, recruitment assistants, and the like. Many of them have been laid off, according to the union.

Ironically, with all the layoffs, retirements and other movement of personnel, these are the people needed to process all the paperwork. Some of them have been kept on for another three months, but will then be laid off.

“These are the people who do the nuts and bolts work,” said PFT Vice President Arlene Kempin, who is based in the central office.

Still, human resources has cut back its hours for people to come in with problems and issues. Some hours are designated “by appointment only.”

The District has put a drop box outside the office for people to put their paperwork during hours that the office isn’t accepting walk-ins. But so far, said Kempin, it is not secure even though it contains lots of personal information including social security numbers.

Said Kempin: “this is going to be an extremely tough year in more ways than one.”

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