As school layoffs loom, furious activity

RRXFUNDS12-- Unite Here Local 634 are demonstrating in front of City Hall for School Safety staff cut of School District of Philadelphia. Nicole Hunt from Unite Here Local 634 is speaking in front of the City Hall about concern of Students Safety Staff cut at Philadelphia School district. PIX 1 OF 1 June 11 2013( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
RRXFUNDS12-- Unite Here Local 634 are demonstrating in front of City Hall for School Safety staff cut of School District of Philadelphia. Nicole Hunt from Unite Here Local 634 is speaking in front of the City Hall about concern of Students Safety Staff cut at Philadelphia School district. PIX 1 OF 1 June 11 2013( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
Posted: June 13, 2013

Amid massive Philadelphia School District layoffs, the teachers' union Tuesday decried the lack of education funding, Mayor Nutter spent the day in Harrisburg seeking support for schools, and laid-off noontime aides demonstrated outside City Hall.

"The students trust us," said Doris Hogue, an aide at South Philadelphia High School and one of 1,203 aides who received pink slips last week.

"When fights are getting ready to occur, the students come to us," Hogue said during a rally outside City Hall that drew about 30 aides, students, and parents. "If you let us go, I just hate to see what September will look like."

Daniel Frye, a Kensington Urban High School junior and member of Youth United for Change, called the aides "the glue holding our schools together."

And, with June 30 budget deadlines for City Council and the legislature inching closer, contingents of mothers from the "Children's Voices" campaign will visit City Hall and head to Harrisburg on Wednesday to deliver 4,000 letters from schoolchildren.

"We have been struck over and over again how many people in this debate don't talk about the children," said Liz Hersh, whose son attends Science Leadership Academy in Center City. "We felt we had to give voice to the children in this, how they feel about school and what they stand to lose."

Facing a $304 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the School Reform Commission adopted a budget May 30 that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has said would be catastrophic for city schools.

Last week, he announced that 3,783 school staffers will be laid off at the end of the month. Hite said he hopes most of the positions can be restored if the district gets more money.

He has asked for $60 million more from the city and $120 million from the state. The district also is seeking $133 million in union givebacks, mostly from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

In a meeting with The Inquirer's editorial board Tuesday, PFT president Jerry Jordan said his union is aware of the need to find savings but has not yet prepared an economic package to show district negotiators.

He called the scale of union concessions the district is seeking "unreasonable."

"We understand the fiscal problems that the district is having," Jordan said. "Where we will end up when it comes to a settlement, we don't know. But we are trying to be as accommodating as we can, understanding the fiscal problems."

While he declined to detail the kinds of savings the union was considering he said some savings might be found in health care. Jordan said union members were adamantly opposed to pay cuts.

The district's contract proposal calls for pay cuts of 5 percent for those earning under $25,000; 10 percent for those earning up to $50,000; and 13 percent for those above $50,000. Those levels would remain in place until 2017.

Jordan said the PFT will send buses to Harrisburg on June 25 - the day after the teachers' last day of school - for a statewide education event.

"It's not just a Philadelphia issue," Jordan said, "and I think that if the push for additional funding is only from Philadelphia, that's going to hurt us."

Meanwhile, Nutter spent Tuesday in Harrisburg seeking support for several proposals that would give the city more power to levy taxes to support schools. He called his visit "productive."

He has proposed taxing cigarettes by $2 a pack in Philadelphia and raising the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent. Both measures would need approval by the legislature and City Council before they could be enacted.


Contact Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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