The School District of Philadelphia's leaders, along with educational advocates, went before the City Council this week to ask for a $55 million increase through council borrowing to cover cuts in school staff and supplies. Susan Snyder and Troy Graham, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, quote Superintendent William R. Hite:
"Let's stop acting like these are other people's children. They are our children," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said at a noon news conference at School District headquarters. "Today, we're asking City Council to save the children of Philadelphia from significant budget cuts."
Council leaders said last week that they would not borrow more than $27 million, and the appearance of Hite and his entourage did not change that decision. Council President Darrell L. Clark reminded the group that the council had proposed a plan to the district and the Mayor Michael Nutter administration to transfer $50 million to the district in exchange for a group of old buildings they could, presumably, sell.
"They opted not to take that direction, so it's a self-inflicted wound," Clarke said. "The School District had an opportunity to access $50 million last year, and they chose not to do that."
The council does plan to pass a bill allowing the city to borrow the $27 million the district needs to finish out the school year ending June 30. The reason the district asked for the $55 million was so it could apply the extra amount to next year's $216 million deficit.
Clark told the school district that this was a matter for the General Assembly. There, city leaders are seeking permission to increase the tax on cigarettes to $2 per pack. But, School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green disagreed:
"Playing a game of chicken with the state when the stakes are our children and our schools is not the wise or responsible course," Green said.
The district says it needs $320 million to make a change in the struggling system. This figure includes $75 million from the city, $150 million from the state, and $95 million from labor concessions.
Last month, for the first time, the district did not have a budget ready by May 31. In order not to have a shutdown, the district must act. Without the "council borrowing," the system will have to make more than $40 million in cuts. Hite believes the district cannot function properly if these cuts are made.
Hite says there would have to lay off 800 teachers and would see class sizes greater than 40 students, reports Kathy Matheson for NBC Philadelphia.
"If we don't get anything from the cigarette tax, and there's not revenue that comes from other places, then we'd have to begin a series of spending reductions: a significant number of layoffs and program eliminations," Hite told the council members.
Mike Dunn of CBS Philadelphia reports that the property that was to be sold with the proceeds going to the district experienced a shortfall in proceeds.