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Philly Teacher's Union Releases App for Reporting School Facilities Problems

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers unveiled last week a new smartphone app designed to encourage educators to report to their union facilities problems in the schools where they work.

"We've always said that many of the building issues we find can be resolved quickly and cost-effectively with better reporting, tracking, and sharing of information between the union and the district," PFT President Jerry Jordan said in a statement. "We developed this app to give educators the ability to more quickly and effectively report mold, air quality issues, flaking lead paint, and other health hazards."

The release of the PFT Healthy Schools Tracker comes amid intense scrutiny on the physical condition of the Philadelphia district's 300-plus schools, athletic complexes, and other buildings. As part of its ongoing "Toxic City: Sick Schools" series, the Philadelphia Inquirer has documented extensive, troubling examples of flaking lead paint, airborne asbestos, mold and other environmental hazards at dozens of city schools. A civic coalition known as the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative has mobilized to advocate for improvements.

The district itself says it would cost nearly $5 billion—with a "b"—to complete all of its outstanding repair work. (The district's overall annual operating budget is about $3.1 billion.)

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The struggle to balance such maintenance work with investments in "innovation" was one of the 10 Big Ideas explored by Education Week in a recent special report.

"A constant pursuit of innovation can lead us to neglect, defer, and ignore the essential work of maintaining what we already have," wrote professors Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell. "This is especially true in K-12 schools, where administrators, teachers, and others feel pressure to propose fresh initiatives, adopt cutting-edge technologies, and purchase new digital devices."

In recent years, the Philadelphia district has poured considerable resources into "innovative" education models, opening new schools and expanding others.

The Healthy Schools Tracker is It's available on Apple's app store (an Android version is under development.) Users follow a six-step reporting process, identifying the school and location where the issue was seen, the type of problem found, and other details. They can also upload photos.

During its testing phase, the union's new smartphone app led to a couple dozen new reports of facilities problems, on top of the 100 or more work orders that typically come into the district's office each day, according to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

"All the information we can get is useful," James Creedon, an environmental consultant for the district, told the local education news outlet.

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