With little more than two months remaining in the academic year, more than 100 teacher vacancies remain across the Philadelphia School District, resulting in thousands of students' being taught by uncertified teachers, it was disclosed during a City Council hearing Monday.
Following the joint hearing of the Education Committee and the Children and Youth Committee, a district spokesman said there are 139 vacancies, which represents 1.6 percent of the district's 8,443 teacher positions.
"Our goal is to seek zero vacancies. We know we have a lot of work to do," said spokesman Fernando Gallard.
In the meantime, the district will offer a variety of summer classes to help those students who did not have a regular teacher for more than one-third of the school year.
In an interview, Cheryl Logan, the district's chief academic officer, said those students and others in kindergarten through seventh grade will be invited to summer enrichment programs to help them prepare for the coming school year. Also in that group will be English-learners and special-education students.
One program will offer 2,100 eighth graders going into ninth grade a bridge before entering high school.
The district did not offer summer education last year because of budget concerns.
Councilwoman Helen Gym and Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, blasted the district for failing to hire enough certified teachers, as state law requires.
"We've never seen such neglect and so little attention paid to staffing mandates within the School District. Never," Gym said in an interview. "When it comes to providing basic staffing, they are abdicating their duty by not fully staffing the schools, and we will not let this continue into September."
She asked the district to audit its hiring practices, with a goal of getting to the bottom of why the district is perpetually understaffed.
Jordan had the same sentiment.
"I've been on record since the first week of school about the lack of certified teachers and the number of vacancies," Jordan said. "I have never seen a time when the number of teacher vacancies were so high, not only at the opening of school but throughout the year."
The district's human relations office, Jordan said, "tends to work in a vacuum. They don't tend to include us."
The union has a lot to offer, he said.
Gallard said long-term vacancies are filled with long-term substitutes, who provide students with the 900 to 990 hours of yearly instruction required by state law.
Gallard said 500 teachers have been hired since the start of the school year. In March, the district pledged to hire 800 more teachers in time for next fall.
A strong job market has given teaching candidates more options while making it harder for the district to fill classrooms, he said.
"People need to know that we have been very, very focused on this issue," Gallard said.
Also during Monday's hearing, Logan said the district will end the practice of combining students from two grades into split-grade classes, which critics have railed against. She also reiterated that all schools will have nurses and counselors next school year.