Gov. Corbett advances $265 million to Phila. schools

Posted: August 08, 2014

GOV. CORBETT yesterday authorized $265 million in state funds to be advanced to the beleaguered Philadelphia School District to assure that schools open on time, but district Superintendent William Hite could not guarantee a Sept. 8 opening.

"It changes nothing about what we are considering, although it adds significant information in the decision-making process," Hite said during a news conference alongside Corbett and School Reform Commission members in the governor's offices at the Bellevue, on Broad Street near Walnut.

The advance is "an early disbursement of funds the district would normally receive throughout the school year," Corbett said. "The goal of this action is to allow the doors to open on day one and avoid layoffs," he added.

Corbett was forced to take action after the House failed to enable cigarette-tax legislation earlier this week as scheduled. Funds from the $2-a-pack tax are expected to generate $40 million to $50 million for the upcoming school year and more than $80 million the following year, Hite said. And they were expected to help close the district's $81 million deficit.

Hite said the district is still considering a delayed school opening, layoffs and a reduction in educational programs.

"None of those things are good choices," Hite said, adding that a decision would come by Aug. 15. "We're trying to wait until there is more certainty."

House leaders instead have opted to vote on the bill Sept. 15, seven days after schools are scheduled to open.

Corbett said he met with legislative leaders earlier this week and they told him the Legislature "would have difficulty" convening this month.

"I'm calling for the Legislature, though, to return to Harrisburg before school starts, and I expect them to address this issue as their first and No. 1 order of business," he said.

Even if the cigarette tax is approved, Hite reminded reporters, "that's $81 million to get us back to where we were this year and no one would submit that that was sufficient or adequate." The district also has asked for $224 million in new investments, Hite added.

Corbett said that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers leaders should "be committed to the students of Philadelphia, as they are to their own interests."

He called on the PFT leaders to follow the example of the Hite administration, the SRC, Mayor Nutter and City Council, who he said have all helped the district. "And yet the PFT remains the one entity not at the table," the governor said.

The PFT was one of two teachers unions in the state "that pays nothing in health-care" costs, he said.

PFT president Jerry Jordan later took issue with Corbett's comments, saying that last year the union was willing "to make accommodations to our health-care package that would save substantial amounts of money."

"We have made the effort," Jordan said.

After the announcement, Hite headed to a hearing at City Hall held by Senate Democrats. Nutter echoed Hite's concern about when schools would open. He said district resources last year were a disgrace, and without the cigarette tax revenue next year would be a disaster.

"We are collectively, pathetically, having a conversation about just trying to maintain inadequacy to fill a hole," Nutter said, his voice rising.

Hite told lawmakers that the uncertainty has not only created angst for the school community, but has resulted in significant turnover and is affecting the city's outlook.

"In my opinion, it is eroding public confidence in public education and hindering the city's economic prospects," he said.

Outside the Bellevue, a group of students from Youth United for Change and others protested.

Katherine Garcia, 15, who will be an Edison High School sophomore, called the announcement positive, "but then again, you gotta look at it. He did the budget cuts . . . he's mainly the whole reason why all of our funding and education is just dying out."

- Staff writer Solomon Leach contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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