This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The annual ritual of District officials appearing before City Council began on Tuesday.
School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff told the lawmakers that "our fiscal house is now in order."
While acknowledging the need to significantly boost academic performance, Superintendent William Hite touted achievements: safer schools, better student attendance, three new innovative high schools, a push for early literacy, curriculum aligned to Common Core standards.
One student gave a personal testimonial and another made a video pleading for more funds for education.
But, as usual, Council members had their own concerns, including why cursive writing wasn’t a mandatory part of the curriculum.
Neff, Hite, and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski laid out once again the District’s dire fiscal picture. Unless things change in Harrisburg and a school funding formula favorable to Philadelphia is enacted, Stanski acknowledged that the District will be back next year, and the year after, to seek more funds. The reason? Fixed costs, including charter expenditures, personnel, pensions, and debt service are rapidly rising.
Council President Darrell Clarke made it clear through his questioning and statements that he believes Council has done more than step up, and the state has not. For next year’s budget, the District is seeking $300 million in additional dollars, two-thirds from Harrisburg and one-third from the city.
Clarke said that the District seemed satisfied with Gov. Wolf’s budget plan, which would give $159 million more to Philadelphia, and asked why that was enough. Mayor Nutter wants Council to increase the property tax rate to raise $109 million more for the schools.
Some Council members questioned the fairness of how money is allocated to schools and wanted more information about special education policies.
While several Council members, including Education Committee Chair Jannie Blackwell, lamented the lack of cursive writing instruction, there were hardly any questions about charter schools or the status of contract talks with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Charter and personnel costs are two of the biggest drivers of expenditures in the District.