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SRC meeting canceled; Hite will have press conference Friday morning

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

With D-Day upon us — the Aug. 15 deadline for layoffs and other cuts without a guarantee of more funds for this school year — District leaders on Thursday first announced a special meeting of the School Reform Commission, then canceled that and opted for a press conference instead.

Superintendent William Hite will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday in the atrium of District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. SRC members will be present.

The SRC meeting was canceled because there was no agenda and no action items for the SRC to vote on, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

It is generally expected that Hite will announce that he has received sufficient assurances from Gov. Corbett’s office and key legislative leaders to allow him to open schools on time on Sept. 8. Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski will give an update on the District’s finances.

The District says it faces a shortfall of $81 million just to reach the level of services it provided this past school year, when counselors, nurses, support staff, teachers, and school supplies were drastically scaled back.

The District has been lobbying for legislative approval of a $2-a-pack cigarette tax already passed by City Council that could raise a projected $45 million to $60 million this year for the city schools.

However, the General Assembly left for summer vacation without approving the cigarette tax legislation. Both Houses passed such an authorization, but the Senate added unrelated provisions that House leaders didn’t like. Plans for the House to come back on Aug. 4 to consider the Senate’s version were canceled when leaders feared they couldn’t get the votes.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) made a personal visit to Hite this week. Gallard said that Turzai told Hite that he would do his best to present a "clean bill" on the cigarette tax when the legislature reconvenes on Sept. 15. Such a bill would not include the additional provisions, mostly involving a hotel tax and other economic development initiatives in York County. But the York legislators are still pushing for those, so the politics could get dicey.

Even with the cigarette tax, the shortfall would not be completely closed. Gallard said that "the hope" is that the rest of the gap will be filled by "labor savings." The District has been negotiating with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for more than a year, seeking concessions on benefits and work rules as well as a pay cut. PFT leadership has vowed not to accept a pay cut, although it has said it would agree to changes to reduce the cost of health benefits.

Cancellation of the SRC meeting means that members of the public will not have the opportunity to speak on the budget.

Anyone who had planned to make remarks is invited to post them in the comments here.

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