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Climate managers fired, deputy superintendent hired

In a cost-cutting move, the Philadelphia School District this week laid off 33 managers whose primary responsibility was keeping order in schools and maintaining safety, eliciting criticism from teachers and union leaders.

In a cost-cutting move, the Philadelphia School District this week laid off 33 managers whose primary responsibility was keeping order in schools and maintaining safety, eliciting criticism from teachers and union leaders.

The district also cut 17 nonteaching assistants who help maintain order and 11 other community-relations positions at schools throughout the city.

The climate managers, a relatively new response to persistent violence and disruption in the district, vary in effectiveness, and officials within the administration don't agree on the need to have them.

The cuts were made in the same week that Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced a new management position in naming Leroy Nunery to be her deputy superintendent. Nunery is paid $180,000 as the district's chief of institutional advancement and strategic partnerships; Ackerman said it had not been discussed whether his salary would change.

"I find it difficult to reconcile the hiring of a deputy superintendent at a time when 33 managers whose primary purpose in the schools was to establish a safe climate for the students and staff are being laid off," said Michael Lerner, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, the union that represents the managers and principals.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, also blasted the cuts.

"Kids need more adult attention and supervision now than ever," he said. "You're not going to be as successful in getting children to improve academically."

The climate manager position was established in 2006 under former schools chief Paul Vallas as a way to keep order in schools and help principals with other noninstructional concerns.

Of the 60, 33 were funded through the district's central budget; the other 27 were paid for through individual school budgets. Under this year's proposed cuts, the district would pay half the salary of the managers, with the individual schools funding the rest, or allowing the money to be used for other programs or personnel.

A climate manager costs about $90,000, including salary and benefits. James Golden, the chief safety executive, said they had been "largely effective" but were casualties of a 6 percent reduction in the Central Office budget.

John Frangipani, the district's chief operations officer, said he would prefer to have two assistant principals rather than a climate manager. An assistant principal is a certified educator who can do many other tasks, including teacher evaluations, and can step in for the principal, he said. Managers have bachelor's degrees but do not have to be educators.

He also maintained that safety should be the responsibility of a school team: "You can't lay it at the feet of a climate manager."

But at Audenried High School, a 360-student school in South Philadelphia, teachers say the climate manager assigned to their school in February was invaluable. Before he came, the school was chaotic, students roamed the halls, and discipline was not always followed through, they said.

On Jan. 22, a group of teenagers ran into a classroom and attacked a student. The teacher, Brynn Keller, testified about the incident on Jan. 28 at a hearing held by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

District officials at the time said they had been monitoring the problems and on Feb. 1 they added the climate manager and an in-school suspension room. They also temporarily added more police officers and closed off part of the building, which serves ninth and 10th grades.

"They solved a really bad problem and our school was transformed," art teacher Peter Coyle said.

Next year, the school will add 11th grade and grow to 500 students, yet it will have fewer resources and more physical space to cover, Coyle said.

Teachers said they would give up other resources to keep their manager.

"He's more important than professional development, having a SMART board, computer labs. . .," said Hope Moffett, an English teacher.

Terry Pearsall-Hargett, the school's principal, said the improvement in security was due to a progressive discipline policy and team effort, including the teachers.

"I think they're giving more credit to an individual than the team," she said.

She said the school would retain a police sergeant.

Not all schools with managers have been immune to problems. South Philadelphia High School, which was rocked by racial violence earlier this school year, has had a manager.