Charters join Phila. School District in seeking aid

Noah Tennant (right), principal of Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School , photographs Mayor Nutter with students Siddiq Moyer (left), 17, and Emmanuel Sloan, 17. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Noah Tennant (right), principal of Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School , photographs Mayor Nutter with students Siddiq Moyer (left), 17, and Emmanuel Sloan, 17. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 25, 2013

The drumbeat for more money for Philadelphia's taxpayer-funded schools continued to rumble across the city Thursday.

At a West Philadelphia rally, leaders from more than 20 city charter schools, who at times have been at odds with the district, joined its campaign to obtain more state and city aid to cover a looming $304 million shortfall.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., two School Reform Commission members, and Mayor Nutter later met with a large contingent from the city's Democratic legislative delegation to discuss the schools' financial crisis.

And the district's top finance officer went to the High School for Creative and Performing Arts in South Philadelphia to make an after-school budget presentation to a dozen students and answer questions about the "doomsday cuts" that might be imposed in the fall.

How can a school run without secretaries or counselors? students asked. What will be done about students who use extracurriculars as a way to escape bad home situations? How will I get into college without a counselor? How will I even be competitive to get into college without any extracurriculars? Will it always be like that?

Salma Bakri, 15, a sophomore at the Academy at Palumbo, said: "This isn't going to go away. If the budget is like this, we're going to keep trying."

To plug the massive shortfall projected to hit the district July 1, Hite has asked for $60 million in extra funding from the city and $120 million from the state. The district also seeks more than $100 million in givebacks from the teachers' union to cover the rest.

Last week, Nutter announced proposals to tax cigarettes by $2 a pack and raise the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent. He also has announced a strategy to crack down on delinquent tax collections.

He estimated his plan would raise an additional $95 million for schools in 2013-14 and $135 million in the second year. The cigarette and drink taxes require approval from Harrisburg and City Council.

At a rally at Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School on Thursday, charter leaders pledged to push for the mayor's plans.

"We have got to share in the advocacy and share in the fight to ensure Philadelphia's public schools are adequately funded," said Lawrence Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

Because the money charters receive is based on how much the district spent on students the year before, drastic cuts at district schools in 2013-14 would be felt at charters the next year.

"We need everybody in this room and across this city to stand up for education," said Naomi Booker, president of Philadelphia Charter Schools for Excellence, which organized the event with the state coalition.

"I'm thrilled we're all here together," Hite told charter students, parents, and educators.

Hite said he was committed to making sure all city students at taxpayer-funded schools receive a good education, no matter what type of school they attend.

Nutter urged the audience to advocate for his tax proposals.

"We need your voices," he said. "You are citizens of this city. You are taxpayers."

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Phila.) added:

"We need to have tens of thousands of parents, tens of thousands of students, for when we go to City Council, and when we go to the legislature."

David Hardy, CEO of Boys Latin, called the charters' decision to join the district battle "a historic step in improved cooperation."

He said charter leaders would contact every Council member and send buses to Harrisburg on June 4 to lobby legislators.

"This is just the beginning," he said.

Hite later met with legislators from the city's 28-member House delegation, some of whom reportedly were upset about concessions the district is seeking from the teachers' union, including abolishing seniority.

"I think it was extremely healthy, a healthy dialogue," said State Rep. Cherelle R. Parker (D., Phila.), chair of the Philadelphia delegation.

She declined to comment on whether the teachers' union talks were discussed.

"We reinforced at this meeting the importance of Philadelphia remaining unified in any effort to petition the state for funding needed for the School District," said Parker, who will introduce legislation for Nutter's proposals.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said Hite called it a good meeting. "They spoke about the needs of the schools and School District," he said, adding that Hite "was extremely grateful for everyone coming out and having a conversation about this important issue."


Contact Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@

phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Sarah Smith contributed to this article.

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