Philadelphia School District Lays Off 300 as Funding Crisis Continues


The School District of Philadelphia has announced that more than 300 employees will receive layoff notices at the end of the week.

Most of the personnel involved will be noon-time aides and special education classroom assistants. At present, it seems that no classroom teachers will be affected by the dismissals.

Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer, writes that, according to the Philadelphia School District, the layoffs do not seem to be connected to the cigarette legislation that has stalled $45 million in state funding. Dan McQuade, reporter for Philadelphia Magazine, says that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's line item veto of the budget has no relation to the layoffs.

However, district Superintendent William R. Hite said on Wednesday that if the cigarette tax is not enacted by August 15, there would have to be as many as 1,300 layoffs. Those already announced will be effective on July 31.

Because the School Reform Commission has the authority to let employees go without regard to their seniority, the number of years that an employee had been with the district was not taken into consideration. The teachers' union is challenging that stance.

There is even speculation that if the cigarette tax delay continues, Philadelphia schools will not open on time. Hite is pleading with Republican legislators to resolve the fight over the cigarette tax.

"With schools scheduled to open in less than two months, it is crucial that we secure the needed funding to support our students and schools," Hite said.

The Delaware News Journal‘s Marc Levy reports that the purpose of the $2-per-pack tax is to secure money for the financially strapped Philadelphia schools. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has said that unless the tax is secured, schools will not open since there is already a $93 million deficit in a $2.6 billion budget.

The proposed tax would bring in $80 million per year. In the end, the delay in passing the tax is based on partisan disagreements. There are provisions, which don't involve education, attached to the bill that potentially could cost the state $70 million, and Republican leaders "need time to figure out how to respond to these Senate-initiated changes."

Every week that the tax is not put into effect diminishes the potential influx of money for Philadelphia's schools by $1.6 million. Also, much to Hite's chagrin, the Senate has come up with an amendment that would end the cigarette tax increase after five years. Website Newsworks has reported that Hite claimed he would shorten the school year, if necessary, rather than increasing class sizes.

"I've indicated over and over again that I have no intention of putting 40 children in a classroom. I have no intention of reducing services beyond where they've been reduced," he said Wednesday.

The next voting session will take place on August 4. Philadelphia's schools, numbering 202 with almost 200,000 students, are scheduled to open on September 8. Implementation of the tax would not come until 45-60 days after the bill becomes law, meaning if it did pass on Aug. 4, the tax would not take effect until at least September 19.

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