Reporting John McDevitt
By John McDevitt, Kelly Hessedal, Mike Dunn, Oren Liebermann
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Students in the Philadelphia School District could get an extended summer vacation if the city doesn’t make funds available for the district’s operation costs for the upcoming year.
If a written guarantee of $50 million in funding for bare bones operational costs is not given to the school district by August 16th, Superintendent Dr. William Hite says there’s a possibility schools may not open or there may be shortened class days.
“We will not be able to open all 218 schools for a full day program without the funds to restore crucial staff members. We cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly, or provide a quality education for students.”
Mayor Michal Nutter is hoping City Council will support the Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to make the temporary sales tax hike permanent so the city can borrow $50 million against that revenue for the school district.
Reaction to Dr. Hite’s plea for an immediate infusion of cash was decidedly mixed at City Hall, where the mayor and city council are at odds.
Mayor Nutter, like Superintendent Hite, wants assurance from council that it will approve the extension of the hike of the city sales tax.
“It will enable us to borrow the $50 million to give to the school district so that it can open schools on time and safely this year,” said Nutter.
But Council President Clarke doesn’t like the Corbett plan.
“I don’t think that we should sign on to what is a bad deal,” said Clarke.
Clarke instead proposes that the district give the city a number of unused vacant properties in return for the $50 million in cash, and then the city could turn around the properties to bring back to the taxpayers.
“We know that there is a market, and we know that there is a willingness for people to purchase these properties,” said Clarke, speaking at a press conference he held in response to Mayor Nutter.
“The resources should not be expected to come from the employees of the school district,” warned Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President. “Our members have just gone to work, they’ve done their jobs everyday to educate children, and we need to those members – almost 4,000 of them who were laid off – restored.”
Mike Mullins, whose son attends second grade at Penn Alexander Elementary school in West Philadelphia, has gone on a hunger strike to raise awareness of the financial crisis facing the school district. He says he is not sure right now if he is comfortable sending his child to a city public school.
“Everything else depends on knowing that your child can go through the day safely and be able to learn and be able to feel strong,” said Mullins.