Less than a month after nearly eliminating teacher vacancies, officials with the Philadelphia School District fumed yesterday about hundreds of teachers who have gone AWOL just days before the start of school.
Without giving prior notice, 200-plus teachers - more than 100 of them just this week - have either resigned, have taken sick leave or simply have not shown up at their assigned schools, said Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who called their actions "inconceivable."
"In some ways I'm dismayed at the fact that professionals would not think of the impact of their actions on children," she said.
The district has sent letters to the new and veteran teachers who have been no-shows since July.
In the letter, Ackerman said that those teachers' names will be sent to the state Department of Education for "review."
Personnel Chief Estelle Matthews said that those who left without giving 60-days' notice, which violates a statute in the Pennsylvania School Code, have blown their chance to work in the district again.
"Even if I'm not here in five years, they still can't work here," she said.
As a result of the departures, 38 positions are waiting to be filled, which Matthews plans to take care of from a pool of 215 supplemental teachers. About 400 more applicants will also be considered.
"We're determined that we're going to fill every job. . . . When school opens [Tuesday], schools will be filled with teachers," she said.
The exodus comes shortly after district officials hired more than 1,000 teachers during a revamped hiring campaign.
Among recruitment efforts, the district began searching for applicants in June, as opposed to August in past years, at various conferences and job fairs.
As an incentive, teachers were given a $1,000 signing bonus. The first half of the bonus is distributed in October, the second at the end of the school year.
The number of teachers who are MIA is small considering the district's roster of 11,000 teachers, and the vacancy rate this time last year was roughly double what it is now.
Still, Matthews said: "I'm really disappointed because they are professionals and I always assumed professionals follow the process."
Ackerman said that she plans to ask for stricter consequences for teachers who leave without giving proper notice.
"I think people used the fact that we gave them contracts and jobs early, and have it as an ace in the hole, and when they got something better, they decided to move on," she said.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said that in today's competitive marketplace, teachers shouldn't be penalized for entertaining more than one option.
He added that the employees who took sick leave are seriously ill, describing the administration's response to their claims as a "punch below the belt."
Jordan said that instead of focusing on the negative, the district ought to "applaud and support the teachers who are here . . . the teachers who have been preparing their classrooms all week."