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Philadelphia School Reform Commission Declines to Vote on District's Budget

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission, acting in defiance of the city's charter, decided not to vote on the Philadelphia school district's budget, one that the school superintendent had called "wholly insufficient" to educate the city's children.

The fallout from the action—or inaction, as the case may be—at Thursday's meeting is still unclear, as the charter requires that the school district pass a budget by May 31.

But the commission members seemed to have calculated that whatever ramifications may come from violating the charter would pale in comparison to adopting a budget that did not have the endorsement of Superintendent William R. Hite because of the devastating impacts that were forecasted from the cuts it contained.

The $2.49 billion budget plan still needed an additional $96 million in funds from the city, $150 million from the state, and $95 million in labor concessions to fill in gaps. 

Hite had asked for $216 million more just to open schools at the current level, which many argue already leaves the school system underresourced and understaffed due to years of accumulating budget cuts, particularly last year's. He really wants $440 million more, which would allow him to undo some of the reductions made in prior years and add programs and resources.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hite said he could not, in "good conscience," recommend the proposed spending plan for the 2014-2105 school year. 

 Without all the funding requests being met, the proposal would have led to higher class sizes, cuts to maintenance and transportation, and the layoff of nearly 800 teachers.

 The "disinvestment" in the schools threatened the future of one of the nation's greatest cities, he said.

 "Since my arrival two years ago, I have become increasingly troubled by what is happening in our schools and to our students and staff,"  Hite said, according to the Inquirer. "I hear the same message from parents, teachers, principals, students, and other staff—that this is no way to operate our schools."

 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook quoted SRC chairman Bill Green as saying that the commission would rather not act on the budget, which he referred to  as "Doomsday II"—last year's was Doomsday I— than adopt the plan and give the impression that the proposed cuts were "feasible or acceptable."

 "Instead, we will continue to focus our energy and attention on securing the needed funding for our schools," Green said.

The announcement was greeted with cheers, according to the Inquirer. 

 Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers released a statement saying that the SRC's decision to delay voting on the budget was "the only moral option."

"By not adopting a budget this evening for the 2014-15 school year, the School Reform Commission acknowledged what the PFT, parents and students have been saying all year: Our children simply cannot withstand any more cuts of teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, music, art or any other school programs," the statement read in part. 

Mayor Michael Nutter called the SRC's decision a "smart move," according to the Inquirer. 

Green, the chairman, told the Inquirer that the commission will meet on or before June 30 to vote on the budget. 

 The Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the meeting. So do the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Newsworks.org.

 You can also follow the discussions and twists and turns on funding Philadelphia's schools on Twitter, using the hashtag #PHLed.

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