Hite wants $320M in new aid annually for schools

Hundreds turned out for a strategy, policy, and priorities meeting in which they were broken up into small groups on Jan. 13, 2014. Dr. William Hite, Jr, Superintendent of Schools talks to one of the groups. (CHARLES FOX/Staff Photographer)
Hundreds turned out for a strategy, policy, and priorities meeting in which they were broken up into small groups on Jan. 13, 2014. Dr. William Hite, Jr, Superintendent of Schools talks to one of the groups. (CHARLES FOX/Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 21, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. wants $320 million in new money annually to begin to execute his ambitious blueprint for Philadelphia schools, and fully carrying it out could double that amount, he said Wednesday.

That request for the 2014-15 school year is above and beyond $120 million the system is banking on - but has not yet gotten - from an extension of an extra 1 percent city sales tax.

For a district that practically scraped together spare change to open schools last fall, those numbers are stunning. But Hite is firm.

"It's our case for getting to great schools," the superintendent said. He said that level of financial support would allow the district to move 10,000 students into better schools, either through improving their existing schools or turning schools over to charters.

In his "Action Plan v.2.0," released Monday, Hite made a case for what he said it would take to make all public schools great.

He outlined 52 separate actions under four broad goals: ensuring that every 8-year-old reads on grade level, every student graduates ready for college and career, every school has a great principal and teachers, and the School District is fully funded.

The $320 million would begin to pay for a laundry list of programs, from additional supports for special education students and English-language learners to expansions of strong charter schools. The details were revealed in a financial supplement to the action plan, to be released Thursday.

But the money wouldn't buy everything officials say is necessary to put Philadelphia schools on par with their top-performing suburban neighbors. A University of Pennsylvania report estimated that city schools would need to spend about $770 million more to get to adequacy.

That level of funding would put the district light-years away from its current straits. Many schools now lack supplies, extracurricular programs, and full-time nurses and counselors.

"Schools don't have what they need this year," Hite said.

In putting a price tag on at least part of his plan, Hite also stressed that the district is counting on major concessions from its unions, especially the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, whose leaders are negotiating a new contract.

The district needs money, Hite said - it built into its budget $133 million this year in givebacks - but it also wants big changes in work rules, including drastically weakening seniority provisions and lengthening the school day.

Dramatically revamping the teachers' contract has been a particular item of interest for new School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green and legislators in Harrisburg.

The big unknown, of course, is where the $320 million might come from.

City Council has signaled its reluctance to come up with new money yet again. Gov. Corbett has proposed a modest $29 million increase in funding for next year, but even that is not guaranteed.

The governor has acknowledged that a new state funding formula is needed, and district officials said they are "enthusiastic" about that process.

"At the same time, our students and families should not have to wait another year for better-resourced schools," Hite wrote. "We ask our funders to invest in making our schools better now."

Also included in Hite's financial supplement were details about what the district hopes to realize from philanthropists.

The district has set as a goal $2 million in donations from corporations, $7 million from local and regional foundations, $5 million from national foundations, and $25 million in in-kind services.


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag

www.inquirer.com/schoolfiles

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