This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Superintendent William Hite said that his voice might stay calm, but he is definitely not calm about whether he will be able to open schools on time. He was expecting at least to have access by now to $50 million in new funds from the city — and he still doesn’t have it as Mayor Nutter and City Council remain at odds over the best way to make it available.
"I will not be irresponsible in putting students into environments that are not able to serve their needs," Hite said in an interview Wednesday. "At the moment, a principal and a secretary in a 3,000-student high school is not sufficient to serve the needs of students there." Northeast High School has 3,000 students.
So far, he has access to only a small portion of the additional funds from what one frustrated official described as the "contortionist deal" worked out in Harrisburg to close the District’s financial hole. The $50 million was supposed to be a loan against a future sales tax extension that the City Council has yet to approve, partly because members don’t agree that all the revenue should be directed to the District.
And a promised one-shot, $45 million state payment is dependent on certification from the state secetary of education that the District is putting certain reforms in place. Presumably, this will require changes like the severe dilution, if not elimination, of seniority protection, a change that is anathema to the teachers’ union.
In all, that’s $95 million that still can’t be added to the budget.
"Everybody is celebrating the return of one secretary per school and art and music and sports, but there is a lot more still needed in order to open schools," Hite said. "This is getting down to crunch time for us."
School opening is still six weeks away, but Hite said this does not mean schools can be readied for opening if the money is released in week five.
The funding available to the District now, he said, "is nowhere near sufficient to open schools. … My point is about the urgency of this. It’s not likely we will be in a position to open schools if in fact we don’t have access to at least the revenue portion we thought we would have by now."
The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.
This daily feature is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginnng of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to email@example.com.