District continues push for funding in Council

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER District official Matt Stanski crunches numbers earlier this month.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER District official Matt Stanski crunches numbers earlier this month.
Posted: May 23, 2014

WITH THE Philadelphia School District inching closer to massive layoffs for the second straight year, officials returned to City Hall yesterday to plead their case for additional funding.

At the request of City Council, district officials were in Council chambers to answer questions regarding the $216 million the district says is needed to keep schools at current "inadequate" levels. The district is asking the city for an extra $195 million, including $120 million from the extension of the sales-tax hike and an additional $75 million, possibly from a cigarette tax.

Superintendent William Hite said the clock is ticking because, under state law, the district would have to send out layoff notices to employees by June 30. Even if the employees were called back, he said, the district would incur costs it cannot recoup.

"In addition to that, we have now many families, students and faculty members who are rightfully so concerned about what our schools will look like," said Hite, noting that safety could be compromised for students.

The exchange grew tense at times as Council members drilled district officials about private discussions with local and state elected officials and whether they were doing enough to lobby lawmakers in Harrisburg.

School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green said that the district has made its needs clear, and that without the funding they would be forced to lay off more than 1,000 employees and to significantly increase class sizes.

"The schools are being held together by principals and teachers who are overburdened with the lack of adults in the building, and our best schools will start to deteriorate over time and our worst schools will get worse over time because of the lack of resources available," Green said.

Council previously had proposed splitting revenue from the sales-tax extension between schools and the city's underfunded pension. After pressure from education advocates, Council amended the plan last week so that the district would receive $120 million in the first year but less in each of the next four years.

Green said the new proposal still would have dire consequences for the district, because of rising costs each year that exceed projected revenue. He said the best hope to fix the district's constant funding woes is a fair funding formula, which is under consideration in Harrisburg but is not likely to help next school year.

Last year, the district requested $304 million from the city and state, but received only $112 million, most of which was in onetime revenue.

The district must adopt a budget by May 30. The SRC is scheduled to vote the previous day.


On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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