This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
Money is so tight in the Philadelphia School District that Superintendent William Hite said he may not be able to open schools on time if he is not assured soon that more city funding is on the way.
Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke both want to provide extra cash, but they’re quarreling over how to do that.
In light of the schools’ massive budget shortfall, Philadelphia-area state lawmakers are trying to push Gov. Tom Corbett to immediately give the District millions of dollars that have been set aside. But the Corbett administration has long argued that the District’s unions must make major changes before the cash is released.
Corbett’s funding package for Philly’s schools, announced in June, includes a one-time infusion of $45 million that originated from an apparent settlement with the federal government. Before Corbett hands over that money, state law requires his education secretary to certify that the District has begun to implement financial, educational and operational "reforms."
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said that the School District has already executed big changes, like closing schools and slashing its budget. He believes that the Corbett administration legally can, and should, release the $45 million payment ASAP.
"Hopefully they’ll get to the point where they will not stand in the school doors of these kids who deserve to have the adults act like adults," he said. "[The School Reform Commission has] closed 31 schools to try to make a much more efficient and well-run operation."
Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Philadelphia) is also trying to persuade the Corbett administration to provide $45 million to the District now.
"Pennsylvania realized an unexpected windfall and some of that was to be directed to the district if it met satisfactory measures of reform," he said. "The Philadelphia delegation is comfortable that it has."
The Corbett administration, however, is not.
Pennsylvania budget secretary Charles Zogby gives the SRC credit. He said it did "yeoman’s work" in shutting down dozens of city schools. But he also wants to see changes from the District’s labor unions, particularly the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, before the state opens up its wallet.
"The savings and the reforms … are necessary to put the District on sure footing going forward," said Zogby. "That, in everyone’s mind here, is still critical before any money flows to the District."