Philadelphia ‘Doomsday’ Budget Passes as Commission Searches for Money

Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved a “doomsday” budget of $2.4 billion that would mean major school-wide cuts, reports Martha Woodall and Melissa Chea-Annan of the Inquirer.

In a five to one vote, Joseph A. Dworetzky was the only one to vote against the budget. He believes that the administration has not exhausted every possibility to find savings.

With $304 million in projected shortfall, schools would have to go without new books, paper, clubs, counselors, librarians, assistant principals and secretaries this fall. ‘

The lack of funds also means that art, music and athletic programs could be cut, and at least 3,000 layoffs would likely need to occur, including teachers. Class sizes are projected to be larger than they are now with no additional help from teachers aides.

This could be the reality for Philadelphia’s education system if more funds aren’t raised. School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos pledges that the district and the Commission would keep looking for additional funds to avoid these changes.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. requested and extra 60 million in funding from the city and another $120 million from the state. The district is also hoping to raise more than $100 million in concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Hite said the SRC will amend the budget if extra funds can be raised. He makes clear that it is currently not a reflection of what he would like for the public education system and student services, and the public seems to agree.

In order to provide more funds from the city, Mayor Nutter proposed to raise taxes on cigarettes to $2 a pack and raise the city’s liquor-by-the-drink tax by 5%.

Proposed bills may be passed to give the city more power to crack down on delinquent taxpayers.

Mayor Nutter estimates his plan will raise an additional $95 million for schools in 2013-24 and $135 million for the 2014-15 school year. It remains to be seen if legislation will be passed to make the plan viable.

Dworetzky said, “before we take the drastic action of this budget, we should be satisfied that we have turned over every stone” to search for new sources of revenues, find savings, and eliminate expenses that do not benefit students. Dworetzky said the administration had done some of that but he was not satisfied it had done enough.

In the SRC meeting over 57 speakers appealed to the commission not to adopt the budget. Before the meeting over 800 students, parents, politicians, teachers and employees gathered in protest, outfitted in red, white and blue as a sign of solidarity.