This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Holly Otterbein and Tom MacDonald, NewsWorks
[Updated, 8/2, noon] Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said he will not be able to open all city schools on time on a full-day schedule unless he is assured by the end of next week that he will get $50 million in promised new funding from the city.
Because of the School District’s budget shortfall, he said he would either need to delay the Sept. 9 starting date for all schools, open just some of the city’s 218 schools, or run on a half-day schedule.
"I am deeply frustrated," Hite said. "Our students are the most important part of this equation. … They did not create these circumstances, yet they will be most impacted by any delay."
Hite’s announcement set off a new round of disputes between Mayor Michael Nutter, who said he backed Hite’s stance, and City Council President Darrell Clarke. Clarke, along with some other Council members, dislikes Nutter’s recommended approach to finding the money.
If the School District gets a guarantee of the $50 million, Hite said that would enable him to bring back about 1,000 of the 3,800 employees laid off in June.
Assistant principals, guidance counselors, noontime aides, secretaries, and teachers were among those who received pink slips last June. So far, the District has only been able to restore about 286 secretaries and traveling music teachers.
"Fifty million dollars allows us to tell parents that when their child is walking through the hallways, eating lunch or at recess, an adult will be supervising them," Hite said. "It allows us to tell parents that counselors will be available to serve children in our largest and neediest schools."
Four District principals, who accompanied Hite during his press conference Thursday, also cautioned against opening schools without additional funding.
Linda Carroll, principal of Northeast High School, said the District would be putting her in an impossible situation with 3,000 students and a skeletal staff.
"Just imagine in any venue in America you have 3,000 teenagers and 1 adult," she said.
Sticking point in City Council
The $50 million in city funding is a key piece of Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to fill part of the School District’s budget gap, which was originally a whopping $304 million.
Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly permitted the city to extend a local 1 percent sales tax that was enacted as mid-recession "emergency" measure and was due to expire next budget year. The idea was that the city could borrow $50 million on behalf of the School District against future sales tax revenues this year, while $120 million of those revenues would be earmarked for the schools in future years.
Though thatt wasn’t his first choice, Nutter said Thursday that he supports Corbett’s sales-tax plan as the only way to give Hite the resources he needs when he needs them.
"Other ideas have been offered and we’ve explored them and certainly we will look at any idea," he said. "Unfortunately, they just don’t work with the time allotted. … I will settle for nothing less than our schools being opened safety and securely … as they were scheduled on Sept. 9."
But City Council, which is on summer recess until Sept. 12, has not extended the sales tax so far.
The sticking point involves Philadelphia’s pension crisis. Council President Clarke wants to split the sales tax revenues between the schools and the deeply underfunded city pension system. He criticized the Corbett plan, which he said was not crafted with sufficient Council input.