This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
Staff shortages. Classrooms packed to the brink. Scarce money for basic school supplies.
This is the current reality for the Philadelphia School District.
As of Tuesday, District officials said they can count on only $83 million of the $304 million they said they needed in the spring:
- $16 million from District savings;
- $15 million from improved local tax collections;
- $2 million from the state increasing its basic education funding;
- $50 million from the city — but the exact source of that money is still a point of disagreement between the mayor and City Council.
So what resources does this $83 million bring back to a district that laid off 3,859 employees in June?
"The bare minimum," said William Hite, Philadelphia school superintendent.
By that he means a bare-bones staffing and services scenario where:
- Student-to-teacher ratios in classrooms districtwide will be at the 33-to-1 maximum allowed in grades 4 through 12 by the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers;
- Only select schools will have guidance counselors and assistant principals;
- Money for building supplies and instructional supplies will be at a premium;
- Outside of fall sports, no funding is allotted for district extracurriculars, and there is no funding for spring sports and music teachers beyond January.
Hite says that, at this point, additional funding for schools must come primarily from concessions from the teachers’ union.
The District wants teachers to change work-rule provisions, including some that would weaken seniority; take pay cuts ranging from 5 to 13 percent (employees making more would contribute more); and begin paying into basic health-care coverage. Those concessions would add up to $103 million.
"If [District teachers] were using this profession to get rich, then this is not the place, and teachers will tell you that," Hite said. "What keeps them here is the work that they do with students, the fact that they’re acknowledged and respected, and the fact that they can grow and develop professionally."
Union members disagree with Hite’s rationale.
"I don’t think we’re being respected," said Amy Roat, teacher and union representative at Feltonville School of Arts and Science.
"What keeps us here in the District is the kids and that this is our community and our city," she said. "I agree that we’re not trying to get rich, but I’m also not trying to be as poor as some of my students are either."