This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $34 million, two-year contract with Cherry Hill-based Source4Teachers to provide substitute service to city schools.
The SRC is also scheduled to vote on the agreements for five new charter schools and renewals for five Renaissance charters: four Mastery schools, as well as Universal Daroff.
One of the new charters is a K-6 school at the former Gillespie Middle School, adjacent to Mastery-Gratz High School. Another amendment will change Mastery-Gratz from a 6-12 grade span to 7-12. These changes will, in effect, create a K-12 Mastery campus.
For the last meeting of the fiscal year, the current draft of resolution summaries spans 118 pages. By the deadline, 21 people had signed up to speak on various resolutions.
The controversial proposal to outsource substitutes is opposed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and many advocates. City Council, which also will meet Thursday and consider multiple tax bills to fund the School District, has also expressed opposition to that and another proposal to outsource some student health services.
Council last week moved bills that would raise $70 million for the District, but parked $25 million in its own budget pending further discussions on the outsourcing proposals. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said Wednesday that there had been “no further guidance” on any conditions for the $25 million.
District officials say that currently just four employees manage the substitutes, and on any given day, just 65 percent of teacher absences are covered. The District sought vendors that could promise at least 90 percent coverage.
The resolution states that the District received six responses to its request for proposals, but just two companies had the necessary capacity to meet the “quality and quantity” sought by the District.
According to its website, Source4Teachers works in 13 states, including Pennsylvania, and in several urban districts, including Richmond, Virginia, and Bridgeport and Hartford, Connecticut. It appears that Philadelphia would be its largest district.
There has also been opposition from Council and others to a proposal to outsource student health services. Bids on that proposal closed June 10.
The request for proposals says that the District is “open to diverse approaches … so long as the model delivers enhanced and high-quality health services to students without increasing current net expenses.”
Gallard said that six bids were received, but they have not yet been reviewed to see how many meet basic criteria.
Public Citizens for Children & Youth had sent a memo to Superintendent William Hite and the SRC asking them not to move ahead unless a new proposal can “provide at least the same or higher-quality care,” offer more access than is now available, and promote continuity of care within each school.
It urged the District to extend the response window for the submission of RFPs, which was barely a month.
The PCCY memo expressed concern that to save money, vendors would count on the churning of lower-paid, potentially less-qualified nurses and other medical personnel. Review of bids should evaluate its methods for “promoting longevity of staff,” it said, as well as a requirement that nurses provided by the vendor have bachelor of nursing science degrees.
It also said that a principal or former principal, as well as practitioners in health care and community-based care, should help review the bids.
“Selecting a qualified health care vendor is very complicated and is more likely to result in a good decision if appropriate professionals review the bids,” the memo said.
Gallard said that the idea was to “see what was out there” and what kinds of proposals would come in. Officials maintain that they are not necessarily looking to replace the unionized school nurses, but said they wanted to provide more service without spending more than the $16 million paid to the 183 nurses now working.
PCCY also urged “limited agreements” and a small pilot project to test the viability of the outsourcing idea.
School nurses and advocates say that nurses develop important relationships with students and families, and therefore should not be replaced with outside personnel who may not stay in a school very long.
Due to budget cuts, the District cut back its nursing force from 283 in 2011 to its current roster of 183. Many schools have a nurse for only a day or two a week. Principals and other staff must often deal with managing medication and emergencies.
Wealthier school districts that can afford them always opt for full-time school nurses, according to several suburban superintendents.
“School nurses often wear many hats in school buidlings, including helping children learn about healthy lifestyles; participating in school-based, behavioral-health service meetings; and engaging in [special education] evaluation teams,” the memo says. “The District must be explicit with respect to the services it is purchasing.”
In announcing the RFP process, the District said that it hoped to have outsourced services in at least some schools by September. Gallard could not say when the SRC might vote, but said that starting some outsourced services during the coming school year was still the goal.