DN Editorial: INADEQUATE: That describes school rescue efforts - and future schooling itself

Posted: August 07, 2013

SCHOOL opens in 34 days.

And since our editorial last week enumerating the many things that must happen for schools to get the money they need to open - a total of $304 million from the state, the city and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers - zero progress has been made.

There are promises of money from a variety of sources, but the district doesn't yet have full commitments or access to the money. For example, $50 million that would come from an extension of the 1-percent hike in the sales tax has not been authorized by City Council; some members, including Council President Darrell Clarke, want to split up the proceeds from the sales tax between the schools and pension fund. Councilwoman Sanchez proposed last week instead to have the city write a check for $50 million from the general fund. City officials announced Monday that that option was a no-go.

Also, a no-go: a hike in the cigarette tax proposed by the city that lawmakers in Harrisburg failed to ratify before they went on summer break.

Plus, the so-called money that the state has cobbled together - including $45 million from a federal loan forgiveness, which still hasn't been finalized - is tied to the state department of education signing off on District "reforms."

Meanwhile, teacher contracts are currently being negotiated; the district is looking for $133 millioin in concessions.

To many, 34 days may seem like plenty of time to pull it all off in time for schools to open. But it's not really 34 days. That's because in June, the district laid off more than 3800 people, which includes teachers, counselors, assistant principals and aides. Unless the district firms up its financial commitments, those layoffs will not be reversed. Even if those personnel do get rehired, the District is required to send letters through the mail notifying them; figure that to take two weeks.

Now we're down to 20 days before schools open.

To say nothing of the fact that as we get closer to September, more of those teachers and counselors laid off will likely look for or will have already taken new jobs outside the district (after what must be an anxious summer of not knowing if they have jobs).

In other words, the city's school system is in flames, and the firemen are arguing about which bucket of water to use to put it out. The question is, by the time they get around to deciding, what will be left still standing?

Superintendent Hite - who may have the worst job in the history of the city - is playing a tense game of piecemeal planning, to figure out what he can offer the 150,000 students and their families to constitute a school system. The district has devised a complicated choreography of moves depending on what money it gets, and by when.

So, rather than building a a program of academic excellence, District officials are forced to cobble together a piecemeal, ever-changing system with a new standard: adequacy.

Really? That's the best we can offer the children of this city? An adequate education? Parents who aren't content with that should call their City Council member and demand action.

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