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Countdown, Day 28: Amid scramble for $50M, activists demand more and principals meet

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As Mayor Nutter and City Council worked on plans to put $50 million in the School District’s coffers by the end of this week, a coalition of education activists and the faith-based organizing group POWER planned to demand more than that minimal amount, which Superintendent William Hite has described as "necessary but not sufficient."

The groups say that the patchwork funding package worked out in Harrisburg is far from sufficient for the District to meet its long-term needs. They are demanding a more long-term solution to the District’s funding, one that can sustain a level of resources necessary to provide city students with the "thorough and efficient" education they are entitled to under the state constitution.

To plan strategy, POWER is convening a citywide town meeting at 7 p.m. Monday that they are calling "Tell It to the Children." For this gathering, at Mother Bethel AME Church in Society Hill, attendees are encouraged to bring cell phones and will be asked to call city and state officials.

Hite has said that without at least the $50 million, schools may not open on time on Sept. 9.

On Monday morning, Hite tried to reassure school principals who gathered for their annual convening in anticipation of the opening of school. But some weren’t convinced. Although they said they supported the superintendent’s efforts, they also acknowledged that they expect to face the most difficult year of their careers as they try to operate schools with barebones staffs.

Hite has set an Aug. 16 deadline for the city and state to come up with $50 million so that he can restore more of the 3,800 laid-off workers in time to avoid chaos as schools open.

"One of the reasons Friday is so very important is because we need at least two weeks before our schools can be adequately staffed," he told the principals at Fels High School. "We need two weeks to recall individuals, two weeks to get them in place. We need two weeks to get classrooms ready, and all the operations for schools so that puts us right to the beginning of the school year."

Roxbourgh principal Dana Jenkins, who is new in her position, tried to be optimistic.

"I’m ready as I can be," she said. "I’m still hopeful that we get the other resources that we need, but we’re going to move forward with whatever we have. Dr. Hite is our leader, so I stand behind my leader." Roxborough is expecting an influx of about 100 students from the closed Germantown High School this year.

Constitution High School principal Tom Davidson, a veteran of this and other districts, said this situation is unlike anything he’s ever encountered.

"It’s going to be the biggest challenge that we’ve all ever faced in our careers, I am sure, if we were to open up in September with the current status quo," he said.

Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks contributed reporting.

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 feature, appearing each weekday, is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginning of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to

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