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Philly's Schools Will Open on Time, But With Cuts to Programs

Philadelphia's schools will open on Sept. 8, but the district will reduce transportation, cleaning and repairs, and professional development for some teachers as a result of cost-cutting measures that officials there hope will be temporary.

Superintendent William Hite said at a press conference Friday morning that there will be no mass layoffs at this time to close a remaining budget deficit of around  $81 million—there was a possibility that more than 1,000 employees could lose their jobs—but added that the district will revisit the issue in mid-October.

The decision was made to open schools after the district received assurances from Gov. Tom Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai that the $2-per pack cigarette tax would be among the first things legislators will tackle when they return to Harrisburg after summer recess, Hite said.

The district had pinned its hopes on using revenue from the tax to plug the budget hole, but lawmakers left for the summer without agreeing on the deal. In the first year, the cigarette tax is expected to generate between $38 million and $60 million, the district's chief financial officer, Matthew Stanski said.  

"In reaching this decision, we focused primarily on the hardship that not opening schools on time would create for students and families—most importantly, the loss of classroom time for students," Hite said.  "As a school district, our priority is maximizing the opportunity for student learning. To delay school opening—during which time we would be required to continue paying employees, make our charter school payments, and meet other contract costs, all while students are not being educated—punishes students for adult failures."

Among the cuts announced Friday morning:  

  • High school students who live within two miles of their schools will no longer receive district-provided transportation and will have to find alternative ways to get to and from schools. About 7,500 traditional, charter, and nonpublic school students will be affected by this change .
  • Reduction in the multiple pathways to graduation program, which will affect 300 students.
  • Cuts in professional development and preparation programs for teachers at some schools.
  • Cuts to cleaning and repairs, meaning schools will be cleaned less frequently and repairs delayed
  • About 34 vacant school police positions will not be filled, many of them in elementary schools.
  • About $800,000 in administrative cuts.

This is the second year in a row that there has been a question about whether the schools will open on time and warnings about the consequences of drastic cuts on students' education.

"We cannot cut our way to a quality education for Philadelphia's children," said William Green, the chairman of the School Reform Commission, who called the annual funding jockeying "nothing short of a tragedy."

In addition to pleading for more state aid to end the district's structural deficit, Hite and Green asked the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to make deeper concessions in wages and benefits.

Green said if the teachers union does not make those concessions, the School Reform Commission, which runs the district of about 131,000 students, may impose those cuts.

"That is not a threat," Green said, "...just a statement of fact."

Hite and Green noted that the obtaining the $81 million will only return the district to a level of services that both leaders deem inadequate and insufficient to fully educate the city's children. 

The news was not well received on Twitter, where #Phled advocates have been vocal about the lack of action in Harrisburg and the continuing cuts.

From Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education

And Public Citizens for Children and Youth 

 

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