Running In The Red

REGINA MEDINA / DAILY NEWS STAFF A sign notifies would-be attendees of yesterday's canceled meeting.
REGINA MEDINA / DAILY NEWS STAFF A sign notifies would-be attendees of yesterday's canceled meeting.

Guv's rescue package for schools funded largely through borrowing

Posted: July 02, 2013

IS HALF A LOAF enough to save school programs and thousands of education jobs in Philadelphia?

State lawmakers and Gov. Corbett cobbled together a patchwork bailout for the Philadelphia school district that's less than half of its $304 million budget gap for the coming school year, which doesn't fully address its long-term problems.

Here's what they did do as darkness fell on Harrisburg:

Q. How much money will Philly receive after Gov. Corbett's rescue package?

A. The rescue package - including funding in the state budget signed shortly after 10 p.m. by Corbett and other actions - totals more than $140 million for next year.

But only $15.9 million of that involves new funding out of state coffers. The remainder of the money includes enabling Philadelphia to more aggressively collect back taxes, estimated to be worth $30 million, a one-time agreement with Washington to waive $45 million that's owed the feds, and borrowing $50 million against the extension of the 1-cent Philadelphia sales tax also OK'd last night.

Q. What about the higher tax on cigarettes that was passed by City Council and Mayor Nutter?

A. It died. Thank Republican state lawmakers, who never met a tax they didn't hate.

Q. Won't these budget problems keep coming back year after year?

A. State officials say the city will be able to take full advantage of the 1-cent sales tax extension in coming years, to the tune of $120 million. Of course, city officials had once planned to use those dollars for other purposes.

Q. Are education activists pleased?

A. Not really. "We do not accept that having to borrow money is the same thing as getting an allocation of funding," said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania.

Q. Will the increased funding mean that Philadelphia might undo some of the more than 3,900 employee layoffs that had been announced?

A. We don't know yet.

"The process is still ongoing and we're unable to comment," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard. "As of right now, the 3,859 layoffs are still going forward."

Q. Was this a fair deal?

A. Do the math. Philadelphia received a 1.6 percent increase in education aid. Compare that with Potter County, 22 percent, York, 12 percent, Allentown, 11 percent, Lower Merion, 3.3 percent, Upper Darby, 10 percent.

Q. What about the future?

A. "The concern I have is having a sustainable funding stream for Philadelphia's children so we're not in the same position every June," said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan.

"Yes, without a long-term funding formula and a fundamental commitment to providing an adequate education for children across the state, then we're going to go through this over and over," Gobreski said. "First they came for Philadelphia and York, but other districts are right behind this district in crisis.

"I want to be clear. The state gave the district $15.8 million than they did last year," Gobreski said. "It provided a tenth of what the SRC asked for."

Q. How is the teachers' union going to respond? Will they make concessions?

A. "All of these things are happening in Harrisburg and no one is talking to us," Jordan said. "My members are very clear: They cannot afford to take a pay cut. My members are spending thousands of dollars in paper, clothing and food" for district students. Jordan said teachers spend $300 to $1,000 a year to fund educational activities.


On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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