Philly schools will open on time, but more cuts announced

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    back to schoolPhiladelphia city schools will open on time Sept. 8, but with reduced services and a remaining $81 million budget deficit, the district announced Aug. 15.

    “For the sake of educating children and minimizing disruptions for families, we have made the decision to make a series of additional difficult – and hopefully, temporary – cuts in order to open schools on time,” said Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite in a statement: “Delaying the start of the school year punishes students for adult failures.”

    Under the cuts, there will be no transportation for students who live within two miles of their school (increase from 1.5 miles); reduced services for alternative education programs; elimination of preparation and professional development for teachers; less frequent cleaning of schools and a delay in repairs; not filling school police officer vacancies; and departmental staff reductions in direct support for schools, which would be detailed at a later date.

    The announcement comes a week after Gov. Tom Corbett authorized a $265 million funding advance of money the district would have received later in the year to help the schools open on time.

    Both Hite and Corbett, in respective statements, put pressure on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Hite called for concessions in health benefits from the unionized teachers.

    Corbett called on the “paid union leadership to join all of us in these efforts to finally fix the financial crisis confronting the Philadelphia School District.”

    “The members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have always done their part to address the district’s fiscal issues,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan in a statement.

    “Last year, we offered to make adjustments to our benefits program. We additionally offered to forgo a wage increase for one year. These concessions alone would have closed the budget deficit if the district had accepted our proposals last August.”

    Hite and Bill Green, chairman of the School Reform Commission, said the concessions were not enough. Green said the commission will be forced to impose terms on the PFT if they don’t concede, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    City officials and the governor also have called for legislative action to give Philadelphia the the ability to increase the tax on cigarettes sold in the city by $2 per pack. Hite said the tax, which could come up for a vote in mid-September, would raise $49 million this year.

    That bill is currently mired in the legislative process over other provisions in the legislation that include increases in certain hotel room taxes and city revitalization improvement provisions. Corbett has publicly supported the tax option for Philadelphia schools but said recently he wanted the bill to run “clean.”

    House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, in a statement, said: “Schools will open on time while the House forges ahead in once again passing a clean bill with cooperation from our colleagues in the Senate.”

    Democrat Tom Wolf, Corbett’s re-election foe, blamed Corbett for the school district’s troubles.

    “Philadelphia schools should never have been placed in a position where they have to rely on cash advances and cigarette taxes while facing massive layoffs and further program cuts, but Governor Corbett’s complete mismanagement has forced the school district into turmoil,” Wolf said in a statement.

    Last year, the state advanced the School District of Philadelphia $400 million and certified $120 million through the one percent sales tax extension implemented by the city. The state also provided the district $45 million to help close its budget gap.

    –Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire