Mayor, community groups, head of teachers union welcome new superintendent
According to early reports, the School Reform Commission seems to have gotten it right with the selection of career educator Dr. William R. Hite Jr. as its next School District of Philadelphia Superintendent.
A myriad of stakeholders unanimously hailed the SRC for its choice, giving embattled school officials rare praise.
“Today, we take a giant step toward providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children,” said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos last Friday, when the decision had been reached. “Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader.”
Hite Jr. comes from the Prince George’s County Public Schools system, Maryland’s second-largest school district with an enrollment of 135,000 and a budget of $1.6 billion.
The SRC has promised to release the details of Hite Jr.’s contract as soon as it is finalized.
Nutter, kept abreast at every stage in the superintendent search, also praised Hite Jr. for his education acumen and dedication to students.
“I was very impressed with Dr. Hite’s passion and commitment to educating children, support for the professional development of teachers and principals, and his dedication to working with the broader Philadelphia community,” Nutter said in a joint statement released by the SRC. “He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia. I would like to thank Wendell Pritchett for leading this effort by chairing the search committee and to all of the members of the community who attended meetings, offered advice and were involved in this thorough process.
High-ranking members of City Council were equally impressed with the new superintendent’s education acumen and his straightforward, yet affable nature. While Hite Jr. seems at ease in Philadelphia, even with taking on such a monumental challenge, veteran members of Council expect Hite to deliver on the hype.
“I am very pleased. He was my choice — and not that the other guy couldn’t do the job — but [Hite Jr.] was my pick from the beginning,” said Education Committee Chair Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, noting that Hite Jr. was very forthcoming about the problems identified in the district, including combating low morale and dealing with special education issues. “But I am interested in what he plans to do about crime and truancy, and how he wants to handle alternative education for the kids who don’t make it out of regular classes.
“We look forward to the opportunity to directly engage him.”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, co-chair of Council’s education committee, echoed Blackwell’s sentiments.
“I believe the background of Dr. Hite is important, as he has served as an educator, principal and superintendent. He faced numerous and similar challenges as the Superintendent in Prince George’s County School District that we face here in Philadelphia,” Reynolds Brown said. “That history will be vital and inform how he tackles the numerous budget and academic issues that confront the Philadelphia School District. He also seems well aware that the district cannot face the problems that it faces on an island — that it takes a community effort of all stakeholders. I appreciate that approach. I look forward to working with him as we move the needle forward for our students.”
To form that relationship with students and teachers, Hite Jr. must first form a relationship with the powerful Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union. Previous superintendents had, at best, lukewarm relationships with the union, but PFT President Jerry Jordan seems willing to start anew with Hite.
“On behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the city’s educators and staff, I congratulate and welcome Dr. William R. Hite as he assumes the role of Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. In a time of great upheaval for our schools, we are hopeful that Dr. Hite’s appointment signals the beginning of stability and clarity that has been lacking for many months,” Jordan said in a statement released by the PFT. “Dr. Hite’s background as an educator and administrator in urban school districts should serve him well as he navigates the unique challenges facing Philadelphia’s Public Schools. The PFT looks forward to collaborating with the new superintendent to ensure our students and teachers are given the support, tools and conditions that foster high quality teaching and learning.”
Leaders with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity — long a watchdog organization in the superintendent search — have yet to meet with Hite, but its leadership is looking forward to working with the new schools chief.
“I have not had the opportunity to hear or meet with Dr. Hite, however, some Black clergy, our general secretary and others, have met with him and conveyed that Dr. Hite was very charismatic, and his presentation was very good,” said Black Clergy President Rev. Terrence Griffith, referring to the recent community forum Hite Jr. attended. “It seems that he has done a tremendous job in Prince George’s County in terms of resuscitating that school district.
“I don’t know if being charismatic qualifies somebody, but it goes a long way in reaching a lot of people,” Griffith continued, “but if those people who attended the forum are correct, then the SRC has chosen wisely.”
Mayor Michael Nutter joined officials from the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation in announcing “With Art Philadelphia” — a $2-million, two-year campaign designed to position the city as a premier arts destination.
The campaign will launch in March, before the May opening of the Barnes Foundation’s Philadelphia campus on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Barnes opening has been touted as the biggest art story in the world for 2012.
“We maximize this great opportunity by launching the first-ever coordinated, sustained visual arts marketing campaign in the city’s history,” Nutter said Thursday morning, as he addressed 150 members of the city’s tourism and hospital industry.
“The goal is to highlight Philadelphia as one of the world’s great artistic and cultural destinations, and therefore increase visitation to our region from around the world.”
With Art Philadelphia — with a tagline of “Curate Your Own Experience” — will highlight the city’s visual arts exhibits, museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, arts education institutions, gardens and horticultural sites.
As the initiative evolves, it will go beyond the traditional definition of visual art to embrace the region’s gardens, high fashion boutiques, independent collectives, public art and annual events.
“We are no longer a historic city located between New York and D.C. With the message that will be carried by With Art Philadelphia, Philadelphia will build a lasting reputation as a outstanding center for arts and culture that invites visitors to return year after year,” said City Representative Melanie Johnson.
The campaign is the result of a partnership between a growing coalition led by the city of Philadelphia and GPTMC. Partners include the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Visitors and Convention Bureau, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Parkway Council Foundation, PNC and PECO.
The campaign will be marketed through advertising, public relations, media partnerships, a new microsite and social media events.
GPTMC President and CEO Meryl Levitz also unveiled the new With Love, Philadelphia XOXO winter tourism campaign, geared toward getting couples to stay at Philadelphia hotels.
The $825,000 campaign runs January through March and offers a new look and 29 Nights of Dates sweepstakes — featuring more than 60 prizes on facebook.com/visitphilly. The With Love, Philadelphia XOXO campaign will be advertised in the Philadelphia, Northern New Jersey and New York markets.
No one wants to see their child adjudicated to spend time in a juvenile facility. Unfortunately, many families in Philadelphia have children who will commit a crime, will stand before a Family Court judge, and find themselves in detention.
For years, the facility for housing and educating these children was called the Youth Study Center, and its central location was at 20th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway – that is until a new state of the art building was completed this year. The new Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC) officially opened its doors Thursday amid fanfare, protests and mutual congratulations from those who saw the project through. Mayor Michael Nutter was joined by other city officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the secure, short-term residential detention facility for youth ages 13 to 20. The Center offers social and educational programs which aim to steer children accused or found guilty of crimes away from further illegal behavior.
“The new Juvenile Justice Services Center represents years of planning and collaboration,” said Nutter. “The building reflects Philadelphia’s commitment to addressing the needs of our citizens: the security needs of our residents and the social-service needs of at-risk youth as they develop into productive, contributing citizens.”
The new facility is at the corner of 48th Street and Haverford Avenue, and is easily accessible by public transportation or car. The $110 million, city-funded Center has more than 160,000 square feet and beds for more than 150 residents.
“The goal of the Center is to help young people who are involved in the juvenile justice system make better decisions and improve the trajectory of their lives,” said DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose. “This new facility embodies our belief that given the right support, children have an immense capacity for change.”
The Center is not just a detention facility for keeping young people who have made bad decisions off the streets. It features 10 classrooms, a gymnasium, a health clinic, outdoor recreation spaces and a garden. Visitation space includes a play area where volunteers can baby-sit young children, and rooms where youth can meet with their families, lawyers, social service providers and probation officers. Family Court courtrooms, Judges’ chambers and conference rooms are also on site.
“Philadelphia is working hard to improve outcomes for youth involved with the justice system and the courts,” said Judge Kevin Dougherty. “The design of this new facility allows for enhanced programming to better meet the needs of young people we are serving to maximize opportunities for their transformation.”
But not everyone is pleased with the new state-of-the-art facility, or the money that was spent to construct it. As Nutter and city officials remarked how the staff of the facility are committed to helping young people turn away from criminal behavior, protestors from the surrounding community wanted to know why a detention center for young people was built at a time when the Philadelphia School District found it necessary to close more than thirty schools.
“They’re calling it an education center to make it sound good, but they’re basically locking up children,” said Diane Eizer, one of the protestors. “The number of children being locked up is so absurd that even trying to make the argument that some kids need to be locked up is ridiculous. They’re criminalizing behavior that kids in wealthier communities get a slap on the wrist for - and for which kids in this community go to jail - things like minor drug possession.”
“The point is these are children, babies, who we are supposed to be teaching how to not mess up,” said Sonia Williams, another protestor. “Why treat them as if they have one chance to get it right, and if not, it’s the end? Children need time to learn and grow and the city is not giving them that. Is it cheaper to help these children on the front end, to have preventive measures like more education? Yes, in the long term but the people who are in charge of these facilities don’t care about that; they don’t care if the city is in ruins.”
Judge Dougherty said he agreed with the protestors, but people in law enforcement also must consider public safety.
“Yes, we do need more funding for education, but we also need to keep the communities safe and help children who have been engaged in criminal acts turn their lives around. Our successes outweigh our failures - and those are stories that don’t get told often enough,” he said.
Councilman Bill Green has again stepped up to the microphone to blast Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration for not providing the data Council needs to make a decision on Nutter’s proposed property tax Actual Value Initiative. Green has released a spreadsheet that will help residents estimate how the proposal will affect them.
“In implementing AVI, we must proceed with full information, make data-based decisions and keep the public informed every step of the way,” Green said as he announced the launch of his spreadsheet to a small group of reporters on Monday at City Hall.
The spreadsheet provides the tools for property owners to use to estimate the value of their property and of their current assessment and plug them into the spreadsheet to get an educated guess of their property taxes under AVI.
As an example, Green walked reporters through the calculator using a house valued at $120,000 — the median property value in the city.
Under the current tax system, the property taxes would be $1,520.
Under AVI, there is a range of possibilities, dependent on whether Council enacts a homestead exemption, and how much, or whether council approves a smoothing measure proposed by the administration — but under most scenarios, taxes would go up.
For example, with no homestead exemption, the taxes on the property cited would rise to $1,755; with a $15,000 exemption they would rise to $1,600, and with a $40,000 exemption, they would jump to $1,310.
If council approves several amendments proposed by Green, the tax bill for the same property would be $1,607, $1,492 and $1,200 respectively. With the administration’s smoothing proposal, taxes would rise higher than under any of the other proposals to: $1,705, $1,744 and $1,732 respectively.
Green emphasized that the numbers generated by the spreadsheet were based on conversations and data provided by the administration and other sources, and represented a “best guess” by his office. He said he hoped it would serve as a way to provide residents with much-needed information.
“We now have a model,” said Green, adding that he was surprised the administration hadn’t provided a similar tool for Council and residents.
At the core of his opposition to the administration’s plan is a lack of information — particularly, the administration’s inability to provide Council with the total value of real estate in Philadelphia. That number is crucial, Green argues, because it is what will drive the rest of the city’s calculations as it moves to AVI, which is supposed to be revenue neutral, and generate the same dollar figure in its first year as was generated under the current system this year.
But administration officials have been unable to provide that figure, along with others, because the reassessment won’t be completed until July at the earliest.
Council must pass its budget by June 1.
“Would you sign a contract to buy a house at a price based on a formula with variables that won’t be known until a month after you move?” Green asked.
He has also expressed concern that the move to AVI will shift the majority of the tax burden to homeowners, because home values are expected to change dramatically with new assessments while commercial assessments have been kept more current and so more closely reflect the new value.
That has created an unintended shift in the administration’s plan which, Green said, will hit homeowners disproportionately hard. He estimated Monday that property taxes would not increase by 9 percent, as administration officials projected, but closer to 30 percent.
There might also be other unintended consequences, Green said, but without complete data it was impossible to tell.
“The unknown unknowns may exceed the many known unknowns,” he said.
An outspoken critic of the administration’s plan, Green said with more data he could be persuaded to support the move to AVI this year, because more complete information would allow Council to weigh in on ways to protect taxpayers.
“I could get comfortable with the shift to AVI this year,” he said.
Council has been wrestling with the mayor’s budget proposal for weeks and it is uncertain whether it can be passed before the June 1 deadline. Last week Green proposed several amendments to the mayor’s plan, and there are a couple of other pieces of legislation circulating in City Hall too.
He said he was unsure how his proposals would be greeted in Council chambers.
The administration has remained firm about the need to implement AVI this year.
Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, said he hadn’t seen the spreadsheet and couldn’t comment on specifics, adding, “We’ve been in discussions with the councilman … We’ve been working with councilmembers to try and answer their questions and we certainly have been in conversation with Councilman Green about the issues he’s raised.”
The spreadsheet is available at Green’s website, greenforphiladelphia.com.
City Council’s unease with the Actual Value Initiative — the shift from property taxes based on partial values to one based on full market values — was apparent this week during budget hearings.
A number of members are concerned that the shift, which was supposed to be revenue neutral, is actually a tax increase.
“You need to address the outstanding questions as relates to the math of this on the issue of whether or not we are asking the public for a tax increase,” said Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. on Wednesday morning as he summed up concerns about AVI.
Jones was just one member of Council who peppered Finance Director Rob Dubow and Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart with questions and comments over several days this week as Council dug into Mayor Michael Nutter’s $3.6 billion budget proposal.
The administration’s budget numbers show that the move to AVI would provide an additional $90 million in funding for the school district this year, for a total of $673 million. The city, which splits property tax revenue with the district, would collect $458 million, roughly the same amount it collected last year.
Administration officials have avoided calling that extra revenue a tax increase, and instead say it represents the amount captured by increasing property values, which have risen since the city froze assessments in 2010.
But council members, who now appear to be fielding more questions from angry constituents, are nervous.
“This AVI issue is probably going to be the most difficult and angry issue that we’re facing — maybe since I came into council in ’92,” said Councilman Jim Kenney. “I can’t yet find a justification for explaining to people that I represent, citywide, why the additional $90 million makes sense.”
Kenney, like many of his colleagues, voted for property tax increases in several recent budget cycles, and said this week he supports funding for public schools. But, noting that in testimony Monday School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said previous school administrations were guilty of “bad fiscal policy,” Kenney added that he wanted a better idea of how the district would spend the additional money.
His questions and comments suggested that council might feel more comfortable if revenue figures were changed to eliminate the added $90 million for the district.
“Would you agree with me, subjectively, that with the $90 million off the table it would be difficult for people to argue that this is fact a tax increase?” he asked Dubow, who declined to “get into whether it’s a tax increase.”
Dubow then added that he was sure the district was aware that it would need to justify the added money.
Last year council approved a 3.9 percent property tax increase after school officials, led by former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, said if it didn’t the district would be forced to get rid of full-day kindergarten and yellow buses.
“We were spun,” said Jones, agreeing with Kenney that he would need to know where any additional money was being spent.
Council members are also concerned about how the administration plans to roll out AVI.
The mayor wants to see it done this year. Under the administration’s plan, residents will receive their new assessments in October, and bills based on the new numbers in December.
That concerns council members who are being asked to make decisions based on budget numbers that could change as residents challenge tax bills through city appeals and maybe even court challenges.
“If we for some reason go forward and find out what we’re doing here, the formulation, the method is not legal … and all those appeals are granted we’d collect less revenue, correct?” asked Councilman Mark Squilla.
Dubow said the city had factored greater appeals, losses and lower collections when drawing up the budget.
“We’re assuming that goes up substantially,” he said.
At last week’s city council meeting, Squilla emerged as one of the prime opponents of AVI after he introduced legislation that would freeze property tax millage rates and assessments at current levels.
Squilla also raised concerns about a portion of the city’s AVI plan that would create a $15,000 exemption for residents’ primary residence. That portion of the plan needs approval by the state legislature before it can be enacted.
“We’re still at a point where we cannot give the public real information because we don’t know everything that is going to happen,” said Squilla.
Mayor pledges continued focus on safety, education in second term
A victorious Mayor Michael Nutter urged city residents to work with him to continue the “Philadelphia renaissance,” started in his first term, as he prepared for his newly won second term.
“We’re not done yet,” he told an enthusiastic crowd gathered Tuesday night at the Radisson Warwick Hotel ballroom. “This is the time to look forward to the next four, 10, 25 years … But I can’t do it without you.”
The mayor appeared just before 10 p.m. to give his victory speech. Though relatively early, it was already apparent that he had easily won over two other challengers on the ballot.
In unofficial results, Nutter captured almost 75 percent of the vote. Republican challenger Karen Brown got 21.7 percent and the third candidate on the ballot, Wali “Diop” Rahman, garnered 3.6 percent.
The early victory was hastened by the city’s use of computers to electronically count the vote — only the second election in which they’ve been used. By 8:45 p.m. websites and networks across the city were declaring Nutter the winner. Hundreds, including U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah, state Sen. Anthony Williams and Councilman Jim Kenney, packed the ballroom to congratulate Nutter.
The mayor reminded residents of the achievements of first term: a 14 percent reduction in shootings, a 15 percent dip in violent crime, a 20 percent drop in murders, graduation rates over 60 percent and nine years of test score gains.
“I believe that we have now set Philadelphia on a new path,” he said. “We’ve redefined our future and we are beginning — beginning — to realize our true potential of this historic, remarkable city.”
But, rather than look back, he chose to focus on the future.
“Let there be no mistake, this is just the beginning,” he said. “We have much more work to do. Tonight is not a time for satisfaction, but of impatient restlessness, a sense of urgency, of boldness. Tonight is a time to push forward.”
He outlined the priorities of his new term.
They included a continued focus on public safety — especially illegal gun use.
“You can now actually rent a gun,” he said. “Do your cowardly act and then return it. That’s insane … We’re not done until the penalty for being caught with one of those illegal weapons is so devastating that you would think twice about even touching a gun.”
He vowed to battle poverty, which he said affects one in four Philadelphians.
“We must redouble our efforts to continue to attract businesses and jobs to Philadelphia,” he said, linking that to better education. “We cannot grow. We cannot compete. We cannot prosper if we don’t focus like a laser beam on creating a learning environment to allow each child, boys and girls, to reach their learning potential.”
In city council races, all of the Democratic at-large incumbents retained their seats. They were, in order of number of votes: Bill Green, Kenney, Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Bill Greenlee.
On the Republican side, preliminary numbers showed David Oh winning one of two minority seats with state Rep. Dennis O’Brien, former speaker of the House capturing the other.
Only about 140 votes separated Oh from his nearest competitor, Al Taubenberger, and a recount was underway at Tribune press time. It could be weeks until results are certified.
In the district races, machine candidates largely carried the day. Mark Squilla carried the First District. He will replace Councilman Frank DiCicco who is retiring at the end of the year. In the Second District, state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson will take over Council President Anna Verna’s seat when she retires in January. Union officials Bobby Henon carried the Sixth District, replacing Councilwoman Joan Krajewski. In the Eighth District, represented by Donna Reed Miller, who is leaving at the end of the year, Cindy Bass won.
All of the incumbent district council members kept their seats.
Finally, city commissioner’s chosen were: Democrats Stephanie Singer and Anthony Clark and Republican Al Schmidt.
State Rep. Jewell Williams won the sheriff’s office with the backing of 76 percent of voters.
Democratic incumbent Ronald Donatucci kept his title as register of wills.
The Gates Millennium Scholarship represents much more than just a scholarship. It allows its recipients to chase their wildest academic and scholastic dreams, no matter if those dreams lead them to the most prestigious universities in America, England or elsewhere.
And so it will be for this year’s crop of recipients — including two from Philadelphia — who last Tuesday were recognized by Mayor Michael Nutter in the mayor’s City Hall Reception Room for their hard work and dedication to education and service.
Jamil Caldwell, a senior in both the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School and the Freedom Schools’ alternative scholastic programming model, said he was “shocked and overwhelmed that my hard work has been rewarded,” through a statement released by Communities in Schools of Philadelphia, one of the facilitators of the Freedom School system. “Philadelphia Freedom Schools prepared me for the academic rigor and persistence that I needed when applying for the scholarship, as well as maintaining the grades and activities necessary to qualify.”
Caldwell joins fellow students Taleeah Allen-Wright, Roebuck Dredden, Shahrin Islam, Chyheim Jackson-Burgess, Marisa Miro, Sadiyah Sabree, Khalil Taylor, Bach Tong, Phong Vo, Yjaden Wood and Yun Zheng as the awardees hailing from Pennsylvanian school districts — the GMS went to only 1,000 seniors nationwide.
“Education continues to be the best pathway to opportunity, and we believe that college costs should not be an obstacle along that path,” said Jim Larimore, deputy director for student success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s why scholarships like the Gates Millennium Scholars Program and others are so important. Scholarships provide students who have the will to get a postsecondary education with a way to get one, thereby securing a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.”
That Caldwell earned such a prestigious scholarship that will completely pay for his studies at Temple or at Barcelona’s European University — or any other school on the planet — reflects well on both MCSCS and Philadelphia Freedom Schools; the PFS program also produced other GMS awardees, as Shaneese Thompson received the scholarship in 2010 and Ewinka Romulus in 2011.
“We are immensely proud that for the past three years we have had three Gates Millennium Scholarship scholars within the program,” said Philadelphia Freedom Schools Director Bunmi Samuel. “I think [these scholarships] reflect well on the program, the support we give our students and knowing they have adults who want to see them do well.”
Philadelphia Freedom Schools promotes a unique academic model which focuses on community service and cultural reinforcement; Communities in Schools of Philadelphia serves as its lead agency.
“We have formal chapters in 15 high schools, but members in 63 schools that meet during the week,” Samuel said. “They also come out to our ‘Wednesday Academy’ at Benjamin Franklin High School and social actions on Saturday.
“But for Jamil, primarily, he’s still really shocked. It is amazing to see happen.”
Two bills — one that requires energy benchmarking and another that requires ten-year batteries in fire alarms — were signed into law by Mayor Michael Nutter this week.
The first, which required public buildings to benchmark and report energy and water usage, was touted as a way to improve efficiency.
“Energy benchmarking and disclosure will encourage people and organizations to think how to be more energy efficient and present opportunities for improvement in energy management,” said Nutter said as he signed the bill into law.
The bill amended the ‘Energy Conservation’ portion of The Philadelphia Code, requiring large commercial buildings to benchmark and report energy and water usage data. City officials hope the bill will force owners to be more aware of their energy use and to find ways to improve efficiency. According to a statement from Nutter’s office, “Building owners will need to benchmark their buildings using Energy Start Portfolio Manager and report the results to the city beginning in 2013.”
The information will be made public in 2014.
The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability will issue regulations this fall and begin doing outreach and education in the winter and spring.
The bill was sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who was present at the signing.
“Energy benchmarking will provide the critical information and data necessary to make Philadelphia a more energy efficient city,” she said. “Inevitably, we will hand over the keys to this planet to our children and grandchildren. I join the Mayor in making sure that to the best of our ability, we hand them a more sustainable and healthier planet to grow and prosper.”
The second bill changed the city’s Fire Code, requiring smoke alarms in one- and two-family buildings to have 10-year, non-removable batteries.
Smoke alarms are required on each level of a dwelling, including the basement. On the floors with one or more bedrooms, the smoke alarm for that floor is required to be installed in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms
One- and two-family dwellings built on or after January 1, 1988, and apartment dwelling units, are not affected as those dwellings are required to have hard-wired smoke alarms.
The law will go into effect Jan. 9, 2013.
“This measure will make the job of the Philadelphia Fire Department – ensuring the safety of our homes and businesses – that much easier. Tragedies can be prevented when working smoke alarms are present,” said Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. “Ten-year, lithium battery-powered smoke alarms provide our citizens with a longer period of Optimum Fire Protection and Community Risk Reduction.”
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., who sponsored the bill in council lauded the its becoming law.
“With this bill fire safety is no longer obsolete,” he said. “No longer is the reminder change the clock; change the battery relevant.”
Citing the need to improve access to food for the city’s hungry, Mayor Michael Nutter on Tuesday named members of a special commission called the Philadelphia Food Access Collaborative.
“No Philadelphian should go hungry when resources and dedicated volunteers who are willing and able to help are present,” Nutter said in a statement.
The mayor created the 18-member collaborative board with an executive order signed Tuesday. Members are charged with six goals.
First, Nutter asked that they increase the availability of meals at existing indoor sites where meals are served. To that end, members are supposed to put together an inventory of groups that run the sites and assess their needs in an effort to increase the number of indoor options.
Second, the collaborative was asked to coordinate meal schedules to eliminate gaps in service with a schedule that includes indoor and outdoor sites and make that information public.
The third charge was for the board to find space for places that outdoor programs can be moved indoors. Members were also asked to make sure that people who need food have easy access, as well as access to other social services they may need at the sites where they receive meals.
Finally, Nutter asked the collaborative to put together an annual report on its activities and the overall state of emergency food access in Philadelphia, and to fundraise to support its efforts.
Members are: Kevin Barr, executive director, St. John’s Hospice; John Barrett, vice president, Logan Square Neighborhood Association; Adam Bruckner, director, Philadelphia Restart; Bill Clark, president and executive director, Philabundance; Andre Cureton, daytime program supervisor, Bethesda Project; Kim Fortunato, director, childhood obesity and hunger program, Campbell Soup Company; Brian Jenkins, executive director, Chosen 300; Samantha Matlin, special advisor to the Commissioner for Policy Development and Research, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services; Dick McMillen, executive director, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission; Carey Morgan, executive director, Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger; Joe Pyle, executive director, Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation; Joseph Rogers, chief advocacy officer, Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania; Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha; Jay Spector, president and CEO, Jewish Employment and Vocational Services; Salomon Vazquez, Outdoor Food Provider, The Connect Church.
Nutter also named two co-chairs to the group: Bill Golderer, convening minister, Broad Street Ministry, Pastor, Arch Street Presbyterian Church; and Mary Horstmann, deputy director, Policy Planning and Coordination, Mayor’s Office.
The collaborative was Nutter’s response to a report issued earlier this year by a task force he seated as part of an ongoing debate with homeless advocates across the city.
The administration is part of an ongoing lawsuit between the city and several groups that feed the homeless. Advocates sued the city to overturn Nutter’s executive order, issued in March, which banned large-scale feeding of the homeless outside. Violators faced fines of up to $150. Earlier this month, federal Judge William Yohn Jr., issued a temporary ruling against the order, allowing the continued serving of outdoor meals until he could issue a final ruling in the case.
In the wake of the dispute that led to the suit, Nutter seated the task force to find ways to feed the homeless that might placate both sides.
DHS case management gradually shifting to regional agencies
Mayor Michael Nutter and DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose announced on Wednesday that the agency would be starting the implementation of a major shift in how its cases are handled — a change designed to streamline case management and provide more oversight in situations when children are at risk.
Over the next four years, the Department of Human Services will transition into what is called the Improving Outcomes for Children model. All case management would be handled by ten service provider agencies called Community Umbrella Agencies or CUAs. DHS personnel would take over oversight, monitoring of cases and training. The CUAs will be chosen and contracted by DHS, and each will manage cases within a specific geographic region.
“DHS has seen some tremendous improvements under the leadership of Commissioner Ambrose,” said Mayor Nutter. “But no matter how much we have done, there is still more work to do. ‘Improving Outcomes for Children’ is another opportunity for our administration and DHS to put first the welfare, safety and best interest of Philadelphia’s children.”
The contracting of the Community Umbrella Agencies will take place over a period of four years, at the end of which, all direct case management will be handled by them. Under the old system, DHS-involved children had two case workers, one from DHS and one from a provider agency. Under IOC, DHS will streamline case management into a single-case management system. This allows for children in the DHS system to have a consistent case manager from the provider agency with the experience and knowledge of DHS staff to account for the care and services given to DHS children and families by the provider agencies. The first two CUAs are Northeast Treatment Centers (NET) and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM).
“APM has a long record of serving eastern North Philadelphia, building affordable housing, helping reunify hundreds of families and providing behavioral health and foster care services,” said Ambrose. “It is an agency truly, as its name says, on the march. NET has also performed very well with its school-based programs, parenting classes, and adult drug and alcohol treatment program. Both APM and NET have a documented record of more than 40 years of commitment and involvement in the communities they serve.”
DHS spokesperson Alicia Taylor said the shift to the IOC model clarifies responsibilities.
“There would be several people overseeing a case. DHS would provide direct oversight, support and monitoring. There would be a much clearer clarification of responsibilities,” said Taylor.
“NET is known to many people as a national leader in the field of recovery. But we started as a youth services organization more than 40 years ago,” said Regan Kelly, vice president of Northeast Treatment Centers. “We’ve always maintained a strong connection to supporting youth and families in their own communities. We’ve developed very successful home- and community-based programs for youth and families and support more than 400 families every year. We look forward to partnering with the local community and DHS to make this a nationally recognized child welfare system.”
APM and NET will begin training with former DHS case management workers as early as next week. DHS will still be responsible for the children within its care and will still operate the DHS Hotline, continue to perform intake and will still conduct investigations.
One of the problems the change to IOC is meant to address is that during the Danieal Kelly case, the social workers from the provider agencies and DHS each shifted the blame back and forth. Kelly, a 14-year-old who suffered from cerebral palsy, died in August 2006 from starvation. Her parents, her DHS and service provider caseworkers and others directly connected with her death were arrested and prosecuted.
Last year Kelly’s father, Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child. Dana Poindexter, the DHS caseworker, was found guilty of child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person and perjury. Her mother, Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2009 and is serving a 20-to-40-year prison sentence. Mickal Kamuvaka, head of the service provider agency was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, reckless endangerment, perjury and criminal conspiracy.