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Philadelphia School District’s Financial Crisis To Blame For 1,300 Vacant Teaching Positions

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In three weeks, students in Philadelphia will be back at school, but the district still does not know who will be teaching thousands of them.

The district’s website shows 1,300 vacant teaching positions scattered across almost every school. The district says the process for filling those positions won’t even begin until Tuesday of this week, which means teachers who are not yet assigned are still not able to make lesson plans or set up classrooms.

“I’ve never seen this many vacancies, this late in the summer,” said Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “It is late in the process; there is no doubt about it.”

Officials say the district’s financial crisis is largely to blame. A buy out package led to more teacher retirements this year (about 1,100 compared with 800 during a normal year), and 1,200 teacher lay offs in June meant more staff must be moved around to cover openings.

For most of the summer, there have also been questions about which schools would be converted to “Promise Academies,” a favored program of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, which requires all the teachers in those schools to reapply for their jobs or move to another position.

“We’re concerned,” said Estelle Matthews, the district’s chief talent officer. “We have two and a half weeks to pull this off, but I think we’re going to do it.”

“I think it’s just overall chaos, quite frankly,” said teacher Wendy Coleman, who also is the union representative at Laura Carnell Elementary School in the city’s Oxford Circle neighborhood. Her school has 21 vacant teaching positions.

The delay means teachers who will fill those positions will have little time to get ready for the first day of class. Due to space constraints in the school building, some of the teachers will be paired with another teacher, which means they will have little time to ensure they can work together. And many of the teachers waiting for assignments may be changing grade levels, which means becoming familiar with a new curriculum.

It’s “frustrating,” Coleman said. “Teachers want to do their job, and they want to do it well, but they need the tools and resources and the knowledge base to do that.”

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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