Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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To work a civil service job for the City of Philadelphia, you have to pass an exam meant to ensure competency. The test comes with preferences built in: veterans and the children and grandchildren of Philly firefighters or police officers who died in the line of duty get awarded automatic points.

If this referendum passes on Nov. 8, another group of residents will get similar preferences: graduates of the school district’s Career and Technical Education program.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for a preference in civil service examinations for qualified graduates of Career Technical Education programs in the School District of Philadelphia?

What it means

This question resulted from legislation Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced in January 2020, which proposed giving Career Technical Education graduates a five point preference. At a February 2020 meeting of the Committee on Law and Government, Gilmore Richardson said the change could bolster a flagging period of recruitment to government positions.

“If we were doing such a great job already, we would not have so many open and/or hard to fill positions,” Gilmore Richardson said. “This is not about excluding anyone, but increasing our ability to hire a skilled and diverse workforce, ready to fulfill our city’s needs on day one.”

The pandemic has only worsened the vacancies and lowered the rate at which city workers are hired — nearly 4,000 of the city’s budgeted positions are reportedly vacant.

Generally, CTE programs are workforce development programs that work with high school students, and the school district’s model is in that mold. The district offers programs in 10 different concentrations meant to give “the opportunity to receive training in a specific career pathway in several career areas.”

Gilmore Richardson’s legislation specified that:

  • CTE graduates will receive a preference of five points in all civil service entrance exams, unless the bonus would place a CTE applicant above a veteran receiving a preference
  • Graduates are given the preference strictly for the 36-month period after they finish their program
  • The preference applies whether the applicant graduated from a CTE high school or CTE program within any other kind of high school in the district
  • CTE graduates will not have a preference applied for positions in the Philadelphia Police Department or the Fire Department

The descendants of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty and veterans receive a 10-point preference, as compared to the proposed 5-point preference for CTE graduates.

Veterans present at a February 2020 hearing spoke against the idea, and Councilmember David Oh, a veteran himself, later argued that “there are other ways to assist graduates of Philadelphia career and technical schools without a charter change,” saying the change “distorts the original intent and spirit of the benefit given to veterans.” There has been no sign of organized pushback from unions for city workers, firefighters, or police officers.

The relevant bills were suspended in early March, and stayed that way until this June, when Council took up the issue again. Both of the bills, placing the question on the ballot and providing rules for the potential new preference, passed 14-3, with Councilmembers Oh, O’Neill, and Driscoll voting against.

The final resolution placing it on November’s ballot passed 13-4, with Councilmember Bass also voting against.

Who’s for it?

  • All announced mayoral candidates
  • Most of the rest of City Council

Who’s against it?

  • Councilmembers Oh, Driscoll, O’Neil, and Bass
  • Veterans organizations

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...