This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
If it seems like we’ve been here before, we have.
But now it’s worse.
On Friday, the Philadelphia School District unveiled a $2.49 billion budget that will cause drastic reductions to services and staff unless additional funds are secured.
The District says it needs $440 million in supplemental revenue to begin to implement its vision for student growth, but requires $216 million just to open schools next year with the same bare-bones levels as this one.
If this year’s budget is "doomsday," next year’s could be that which doomsday has left behind.
"Short of the $216 [million], our schools will go from insufficient to just empty shells that do not represent what I consider a functioning school," said Superintendent William Hite at a news conference Friday morning.
Hite has essentially been saying this for months. But Friday – after waiting in vain for the city, the state, or the District’s labor partners to take steps to close the gap – he brought out the megaphone to stress the urgency of this "empty shell" scenario.
"I’m frustrated," Hite said, adding that he’d rather focus on how the District could improve student outcomes. "But instead we’re talking about what we’re going to have to reduce or take away … from families that have already seen a lot of things taken away over the past several years."
What more could be stripped?
Depending on how much of the $216 million comes through, mass layoffs could occur, and student-teacher ratios could climb to as much as 37-to-1 in elementary schools and 41-to-1 in high schools.
"Forty kids in a classroom is too many," said Hite, "and we don’t want to go there."
School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green, whose overall educational philosophy does not emphasize small class size, echoed the superintendent. "My position is Dr. Hite’s position," he said.
The District’s current contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says classroom ratios should be no higher than 30-to-1 in grades K-3 and 33-to-1 in grades 4-12.
In addition to raising student-teacher ratios, District officials said that without additional funding, the line items for school support staff, facilities, transportation, health services, school police and central administration would face the knife.
The District’s budget assumes that it will gain $120 million from the city’s extension of a 1 percent sales tax; even though the Pennsylvania legislature approved the plan, it’s by no means a certainty.