Philadephia schools to open on time, but some cuts announced

Friday, August 15, 2014
VIDEO: Phila. schools to open on time, but cuts announced
Superintendent William Hite announced on Friday that the Philadelphia School District will open on time, but some cuts were announced amid a budget crisis.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Superintendent William Hite announced on Friday that the Philadelphia School District will open on time, but the district will cut $32 million in services amid a budget crisis.

Hite said opening schools on time Sept. 8th would be the least disruptive option for students and staff.

"To delay school opening, during which time we would be required to continue paying employees, make charter school payments and meet other contractual obligations - all while students are not being educated - punishes students for the failures of adults," Hite said.

However, Hite did announce some cuts to ensure the on-time opening, saying he hopes the cuts are temporary, and could be restored if a new funding comes through, specifically the passage of the $2-a-pack cigarette sales tax.


Click to watch Action News' coverage of the news conference as it happened live

Those cuts are:

-High school students who live within two miles of their school would not receive transportation. That impacts some 7,500 students at district, charter and non-public schools.

-300 students will be impacted in the Multiple Pathways to Graduation Program, which results in "fewer high quality options for students," Hite said.

-Elimination of preparation and professional development before school opening for teachers at some of most challenged schools, the Promise Academies

-Schools will be cleaned less frequently

-School district will leave school police officer vacancies unfilled

-There will be additional departmental staffing reductions. Details about the cuts will be announced later, Hite said, but remarked the cuts would bring "reduced, direct support for schools and for families."

"It is incredibly frustrating," Hite said at a news conference. "I would much rather be talking about ways we can spend investments."

The district has been dealing with an $81 million budget shortfall.

Officials had been counting on that cigarette sales tax for some of that money, but last month Republican house leaders in Harrisburg failed to reach a consensus.

They postponed a scheduled vote and are not scheduled to reconvene until September 15th.

State lawmakers have promised to pass the cigarette tax upon returning from their vacations.

Governor Tom Corbett is planning to advance the district $265 million, but the district had already budgeted that money. Superintendent William Hite has said that money won't affect the current deficit.

Hite announced other possible sources of revenue, but cautioned they were "high-risk assumptions." Those options include negotiations for lower pricing from key vendors, additional building sales, and what he called manageable charter school payments.

The district, one of the nation's largest with about 200,000 traditional and charter school students, has cut 5,000 jobs and closed more than 30 schools over the past few years. But it struggles with a structural deficit caused by rising pension and health care costs and charter school payments.

"We cannot cut our way to a quality education," said Bill Green, chairman of the state-run School Reform Commission, which oversees the district.

Green stressed that the $81 million puts the district back to where it was last year - a $2.6 billion budget that left dozens of schools without full-time counselors or nurses. Officials say they need $224 million more to make transformative educational investments in the schools.

Union president Jerry Jordan said his members have had no raises for three years and spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for basic school supplies. The union proposed "tens of millions of dollars" in health care savings that the district rejected, though he declined to provide specifics.

To prevent future budget crises, school advocates have asked state lawmakers to create an equitable funding formula for education and for new rules to curb charter school growth. Some support an extraction tax on natural gas drilling to fund schools; Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without such a tax.

"Another year of bare bones services that leave our students at risk and falling further and further behind is not acceptable," the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools said in a statement.

Chanel Smith, a rising junior at Edison High School, said students are always told they can succeed if they work hard. But Edison lacks many resources, she said, noting the building's old textbooks, no extracurricular activities and overcrowded classrooms.

"If you don't give us the tools, what do you expect us to do?" Smith said.