Philadelphia Superintendent: Schools Can't Start Without More Money
In an impassioned plea to the city of Philadelphia, schools superintendent William Hite announced today that if the district does not receive at least $50 million by next Friday, schools may not open on time.
Schools are supposed to open on September 9. Philadelphia's city council has been considering making a $50 million contribution to help narrow the district's $304 million budget shortfall but have not yet made a decision. City council president Darrell Clarke canceled a press briefing about school funding yesterday, according to Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
We need a commitment from the Mayor and City Council President to access $50M to responsibly open the doors to every school on time.— Dr. William Hite (@SDPHite) August 8, 2013
Without those funds, Hite said in the announcement, the 136,000-student district will be forced to consider delaying the start of school, or opening schools for half days, or some other alternative. The shortfall has led to dire cuts for the next year, including the termination of many assistant principals, nurses, and counselors. Hite said that principals in the district were concerned about their ability to run schools safely with so little support.
I will not put our children's safety at risk by putting them into environments that are disorderly and chaotic. Students deserve better.— Dr. William Hite (@SDPHite) August 8, 2013
The district has received $112 million so far from state and local sources to make up its shortfall, according to Hite's announcement. The state announced a so-called rescue package for Philadelphia schools earlier this summer. But some of those funds were dollars the district was expecting anyway, and some came with conditions attached that mean they have not yet made their way to district coffers. One of those conditions called for deeper concessions from the city teachers' union. And a hoped-for, $2-per-pack cigarette tax that would have helped the city raise funds for schools did not make it through the state's legislature this year. (The Philadelphia School Notebook has more on what exactly the state's contribution looks like.)
But that $112 million isn't enough, the superintendent said:
"I want to be clear about why the $50 million matters now: $50 million allows us to tell parents that when their child is walking through the hallways, eating lunch or at recess, an adult will be supervising them. It allows us to tell parents that counselors will be available to serve children in our largest and neediest schools, and that an assistant principal will be on hand to resolve any disciplinary issues that keep children from learning. ... No principal can run a 3,000-student high school—much less a 400-student elementary school—on their own. They need support, and we have an obligation to provide them with the staff and resources they need. Parents also need reassurance that a school has what it needs to serve their child."
Hite said that even if city hall delivers the $50 million by his August 16 deadline, the money won't be sufficient for the schools to do more than open the doors. He laid down the gauntlet for the city's teachers' union, saying "we need all labor partners to sacrifice." The city's teachers' contract expires on August 31. The district's blue-collar union has already made concessions.
The union issued a response, saying that it hoped the city's leaders step up to fund the schools, but arguing that the district's call for more sacrifice from labor was misguided. "The district's current contract proposals will not create better schools; rather, they will cause a mass exodus of high quality educators and a deterioration of teaching and learning conditions in our schools for years to come."
Hite said he was "deeply dismayed" by the situation.
Close to two dozen schools in the city are slated to close their doors permanently this year, so the district was already preparing for a tumultuous start to its year as many students move to new campuses.
Photo: William R. Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia speaks during a news conference at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in Philadelphia in May.