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Philadelphia Schools Prepare for Budget Cuts

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

As the 2013-2014 school year approaches, Philadelphia's schools face a deficit of over $300 million in the district's $2.7 billion budget. While the district has asked for additional funds, the amount of money it expects remains uncertain.

In his budget proposal earlier this month, which presents a "doomsday scenario" for the upcoming year, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. laid out what Philadelphia's schools might look like if the district does not get the funds it needs.

The district already borrowed $300 million this year, but Hite and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski have indicated that this is not an option for the upcoming year.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hite said, "To continue to borrow just continues to put the district on the path to bankruptcy."

If approved, the new budget could have devastating effects. In Hite's scenario, there would be no dedicated funds for secretaries, aides, or summer school, and it's possible that the district would not be able to secure funds for counselors or librarians. Sports and extracurricular activities could also be on the chopping block, following already-steep cuts in these areas made in the last two years.

District officials have requested an additional $120 million from the state, $60 million from the city, and $133 million in labor union concessions, but an added $220 million in school-based cuts is still possible.

At the individual school level, principals will be asked to cut their schools' budgets by 25 percent. They will only receive enough funds to staff one principal and the number of teachers necessary for maximum class sizes: 30 students per class for kindergarten through 3rd grade, 33 students for all grades higher.

Schools would still offer those special services required by law, including services for special education and English-language learners. And, while there would still be food services, transportation, and nurses, their numbers would be reduced.

As the district waits for the city council to vote on and pass the final budget, it continues to make its case for increased funding and to negotiate with unions, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Earlier this year, the city's education officials voted to close down 23 of the city's underenrolled schools as a money-saving measure. There are roughly 53,000 empty seats in schools across the city that the district has continued to pay for.

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