This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
As the School District secured the first installments of desperately needed new revenue this summer, one of the first steps taken was to rehire one secretary for each of the 213 schools — a recognition of the vital role they play in school operations. The cost was $17.6 million.
As schools prepare to open for staff members on Tuesday and for students on Sept. 9, those secretaries are back on the job. The District has estimated that three-fourths of schools saw the return of one of the secretaries from last year.
"It’s based on seniority," said Robert McGrogan, who heads the principals’ union, CASA. "The most senior got to stay at their home school."
But in all, only 218 secretaries have been rehired districtwide. Five of those are at schools that used discretionary dollars to pay for a second secretary position. Last school year, there were 306 secretaries districtwide, so 30 percent of those still have not been brought back.
One reason more secretaries are not back at their original school is that the District used to have two different categories of secretaries: Secretary I and Secretary III. But none of the 47 higher-paid Secretary IIIs were recalled. Schools that had only a Secretary III did not get their former secretary back as a result.
Besides planning and overseeing the work of other secretarial personnel, only Secretary IIIs were authorized to handle certain "approved information." McGrogan said some Secretary IIIs handled payroll and other administrative tasks for their schools, tasks that otherwise have to be done by the principal.
The procedure for the callbacks was negotiated with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents school secretaries.
McGrogan said that the secretary recall process did not make provision for schools where there is a need for bilingual secretaries.
Even before this year’s financial crisis, some schools had already reduced their secretarial ranks in the budget cuts of recent years. For instance, former Roxborough High principal Stephen Brandt, now at Bensalem High School, told the Notebook that he had whittled down the number of secretaries from four to one during his tenure at the school, trying to protect classroom positions and “preserve the integrity of the academic program.”
Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Jablow contributed reporting for this article.
The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.
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