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Philadelphia School Officials Continue to Seek Funds as Budget Deadline Looms

With the June 30  budget deadline fast approaching, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite and William Green, the chairman of the city's School Reform Commission, took their near-daily call for funding on the road Tuesday, kicking off their day with an interview on the WHYY radio program,  Radio Times.

School Superintendent William Hite said that all options were on the table, including opening schools later, and closing earlier. His answer was in response to a caller's questions about the options the district had considered, including not passing  a budget by the drop-dead deadline of June 30 and operating the schools until the money ran out.

Green, who joined the School Reform Commission this year, said that he was not entirely sure what kind of budget will  pass on June 30, as the district—to this day —still is unsure of its revenues for the upcoming year. He said he prays about the situation every morning "because I don't see how this will be accomplished without a higher power."

Radio Times was one of the stops on Tuesday's unofficial more-funding- for-Philly's-schools' tour. At noon, Hite, Green and other education advocates were expected to hold a press conference to again call for more money and detail the impacts on the schools if that does not happen.

The budget proposal, which the commission decided not to approve at the end of May—in defiance of the city's charter— will result in larger class sizes, fewer nurses, and cuts to transportation and other services.

The 2014-2015 operating budget is $2.49 billion and it has a $216 million deficit, according to the school system. But plugging the $216 million hole only gets the district to last year's level of services after hundreds of workers were laid off and services slashed. The district is asking for 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 says that $440 million in recurring revenues  would allow him to undo some of the reductions made in prior years and add programs and resources and set the district on a positive path.

Hite remained slightly optimistic saying that he did not believe Gov. Tom Corbett, or the general assembly, or anyone else wanted to see 40 kids in a classroom.

Tuesday's radio interview, conducted by host Marty Moss-Coane, covered how Philadelphia schools got to this point, ways that the funding crisis could be permanently addressed, and the impact that the annual budget shortfalls were having on the district's ability to create long-term educational and financial plans.

Even host Moss-Coane noted that the situation was familiar, like déjà vu, she said, because they had had the same conversation last year. 

The year-to-year brinkmanship was affecting not only the district's ability to plan, but also to attract and retain teachers, Hite said.

"This is becoming an unfortunate rite of spring, and  it's only my second spring, and already we are having to repeat this process,"  he said.

Green, the SRC chairman, said if the schools did not receive the funding the situation would be so dire that everyone would regret not doing the right—and easy— thing.

He said he doesn't understand why, despite the stark terms in which Hite had detailed the problem and the consequences, that the people responsible for funding the schools did not comprehend how desperate the situation had become.

Green argued that if the Philadelphia Public Schools were adequately funded, families would stay and move to the city, and that, in turn, will lead to reinvestment in the city of Philadelphia.

Funding options include a tax on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a cigarette tax, which would need general assembly approval, and an improved statewide school funding formula.

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