Hite to Council: $60M would simply fill a hole

Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite, Jr. (right) and School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos testify before City Council about why the city should give the district $60 million more this year.
Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite, Jr. (right) and School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos testify before City Council about why the city should give the district $60 million more this year. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 01, 2013

Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. presented to Council today the "cold, harsh scenarios" facing the district unless the city and state contribute $180 million in new money and the teachers' union agrees to enough concessions to cover a $304 million budget shortfall.

He said the district would have to ax such fundamentals as athletics, guidance counselors, librarians and summer programs. He noted that he was asking for funds to fill "a hole, a gap."

"They will not allow us to provide the education that our young Philadelphians deserve," he said. "It will not allow us to fully invest in our teachers and principals, and improve their working conditions."

Council members then proceeded to ask Hite and School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos a series of questions about the district's $60 million request, noting that the city has raised taxes two years in a row without the state kicking in new money.

Ramos said there was a "qualitatively different feel" among state legislators, who are "no longer debating the need" to restore funding to Philadelphia schools.

"I don't hear some of the negativity," Ramos said. "There's recognition that efforts have been made locally in a short amount of time to right the ship."

Council President Darrell L. Clarke also asked Ramos, who was appointed chair of the SRC by Gov. Corbett, to arrange a sit-down for Council members with the governor.

"In all honesty, I have no idea why people say the governor won't put in additional money for the School District of Philadelphia," Clarke said. "I've never had that conversation with him."

Clarke also unsuccessfully sought specific proposals for finding the $60 million.

"What do you want and how do you want it?" Clarke asked. "You've requested a tax increase."

Ramos reiterated that his plan called for "shared sacrifice" from the city, state and unions, but he did not attempt to tell Council how to come up with any new money.

"Collectively, I think we're all responsible for getting there," Ramos said.

Hourse before the proceedings began, about four dozen parents, students and teachers demonstrated in light rain before classes started outside South Philadelphia's Meredith Elementary School, to demand more funding for schools.

"Fund our schools," and "The children deserve better," the demonstrators chanted before about a dozen of their number set off on a march from the Queen Village school to City Hall.

School District of Philadelphia leaders are expected to ask Council for an additional $60 million in school funding at the hearing.

"Adequate funding of public schools should be a priority," said Meredith's principal, Cindy Farlino.

The protesters say the proposed budget leaves no funding for secretary and counselor positions and new books and paper.

"Stop balancing the budget on the backs of our children," said Leslie Tyler, 44, copresident of the Meredith Home and School Association, which organized the rally. "All of the public school children in Philadelphia are suffering."

Secretaries, counselors, books, paper: "Those are necessary," said Lea DiRusso, a parent and building representative at Meredith. "Those are not extras. They are the foundation for education."

"As kids, we shouldn't have to pay for the School District's mismanagement," said DiRusso's sixth-grade daughter, Alysa.

Parents held signs with phrases such as: "Tripling our taxes. Crippling our schools."

Andrea Appel, a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter in the fourth grade, said her property tax appraisal has tripled. She said she's not willing to pay the taxes if the schools in the neighborhood are going to deteriorate from inadequate funding.

Appel said she adopted her daughter Evyn from China, saying her daughter was born in a village with no resources and that America offered the opportunity for a better education. "I'm not going to keep her in a neighborhood with no resources," Appel said of her daughter.

Appel said she attended Philadelphia public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade and always lived in the city. "If there's no public school good enough for my daughter, I'd have to move," she said.


Contact Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman at sabdur-rahman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @sabdurr.

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