This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan spoke at Northeast High School on Monday to draw attention to the “District’s failure” to fill numerous teacher vacancies in the city’s public schools.
At Northeast, where there are 10 listed vacancies, Jordan said in a statement that the lack of teachers amounted to “1,815 students who are being denied full-time teachers every day.”
“Some of the 9th graders here have three or four entire periods with no full-time teacher,” he said.
Northeast is not the only school with many vacancies. Edison High School has seven listed vacancies as of Monday. Harding, Huey, and Strawberry Mansion all have five vacancies.
The School District lists 177 total teacher vacancies on its website as of today.
Last Wednesday, a Notebook count found 214 teacher vacancies listed districtwide after the annual “leveling” process, in which staff, usually in mid-October, are reassigned to schools based on need and actual student enrollments. Under-enrolled schools typically lose teachers to schools that are over-enrolled.
“This process has been completely compromised because there are so many vacancies,” said Jordan.
Before leveling is completed, when new positions are created, and before teachers from under-enrolled schools move into those positions, vacancies can be high. But 177 vacancies is unusually high for this point in the year.
Last fall, teacher vacancies peaked at 217 during one week in late October after 50 new positions were created during leveling. After leveling was completed, the vacancies were nearly halved. But last year’s teacher vacancy count remained above 100 for most of the fall, which was markedly higher than in previous years.
District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said that the high number of vacancies this year is the result of a change in the way that leveling was conducted. A new “hold-harmless” policy was instituted, allowing each under-enrolled school to keep one excess teacher that in previous years would have been transferred to an over-enrolled school.
“Leveling this year was not as disruptive as it could have been,” he said.
Though the District expects this policy to benefit students in the long run, Gallard said, it does “increase our number of vacancies” in the short run.
He said that the District has already hired 600 teachers this year, compared to only 400 last year by this time.
The District’s human resources office is “actively filling vacancies,” said District Director of Recruitment Kendra Rosati.
“We are in the process of filling vacancies with external hires, of which we have 80.”
But Rosati said it would take more than a week to get all of the 80 new hires placed in specific schools.
Union: District failed to fill openings
"These missing teachers are not the result of budget cuts, nor are they vacancies that just sprang up in September,” said Jordan. “These vacancies have existed since the end of the last school year, and the District simply failed to fill them.”
Jordan also criticized the District for the 20 certified school nurse vacancies. “In a city where children already lack access to a full-time school nurse, the District is compromising the health and safety of thousands of schoolchildren through simple negligence.”
“This crisis was created, either through intention or incompetence, by the District. Dr. Hite and his administration owe it to our children to immediately fix the mess they have made," Jordan said.
The problem of filling vacancies has been exacerbated by the failure of Source4Teachers, the firm hired by the District to handle substitute teacher positions, to meet its projected fill rates. Despite promising a 75 percent fill rate in September, the company, even on its best day, has been been unable to fill more than 28 percent of needed substitute positions.
Last Wednesday, Superintendent William Hite said the low substitute fill rate will not “go on forever.” He suggested a point after which the District would consider canceling its contract with Source4Teachers, though he did not give a date.
"If they don’t meet those requirements, we’re going to have to go in a different direction.”
The contract with the company allows the District to cancel the contract for any reason on two weeks notice.
The PFT demanded as much on Monday.
"They should start by immediately ending Source4Teachers’ contract and returning to the previous system of hiring substitutes,” said Jordan. “The old system did a far better job of putting qualified educators in our schools.”
Editor’s note: The School District has clarified that the fill rates they have been reporting to the media are the overall fill rates for substitute positions. These reported fill rates have counted the positions filled by 24 salaried District instructional coaches who have been reassigned as substitutes. The fill rates the Notebook has cited in its coverage thus overstate the fill rate attributable to Source4Teachers by between 3 and 4 percent. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said the District "will use the fill rate attributable to Source4Teachers when reviewing their contract."