After a summer of uncertainty, the first day of school for the Philadelphia School District will be September 8 as planned, but with temporary “service reductions.”
Facing an $81 million budget reduction, school district Superintendent Dr. William Hite announced the projected first day of classes last week. Hite also stated that “mass layoffs” would not be happening.
“For the sake of educating children and minimizing disruptions for families, we have made the decision to make a series of additional difficult – and hopefully, temporary – cuts in order to open schools on time,” said Hite. “Delaying the start of the school year punishes students for adult failures.”
Hite is hoping to make the $32 million cuts to transportation, school police, and building cleaners to be a temporary fix.
Service reductions in transportation means that students who live within two miles of the school are no longer eligible to ride the bus to school each day.
The cut will affect about 7,500 of the district’s 135,000 students, one-fourth of whom live below the poverty line.
“Things are still dire in the schools,” said Cindy Farlino, principal of William M. Meredith Elementary School. “We limped along last year trying to make it work, and it looks like this year will be more of the same.”
While Governor Tom Corbett did advance the district $265 million, that money was already budgeted for and does not help fix the problem at hand.
Hite discussed further concessions with the teachers union last week, asking the teachers to consider a reduction in benefits. According to Jerry T. Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), union members have already gone without wage increases for the past two years in an effort to help the cause, and often pay for thousands of dollars worth of school supplies out of pocket.
Union members recently offered to discuss changes to their benefit package. Currently, members pay no premiums for health care for themselves or their families.
“The changes that have been put forward by the PFT have not been consistent with those already agreed to by our blue-collar employees and our administrators,” school district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. “Those are the type of changes we’re looking for.”
Administrators say they are willing to pay 8% of premiums this year.
Lawmakers are currently considering a cigarette tax for only Philadelphia. The tax is expected to bring in $49 million this year for area schools. If the tax does not go through by October 1, the district may need to make even more cuts, including laying off more than 1,000 staff members. District staff is already down 15% from what it was two years ago.
This is the second year in a row the school district has faced massive budget cuts. Hite is beginning his third year as superintendent.