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Philadelphia School Year Begins Amid Uncertainties

Mike DeNardo Mike DeNardo
Mike DeNardo, a veteran of KYW Newsradio for more than 25 years,...
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By Mike DeNardo, Jenn Bernstein

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia public schools opened today for students, with reduced staffs and no new teacher contract.

It’s day one of a year with unprecedented challenges (see related story). With four thousand staffers laid off, many classrooms are starting out with 35, even 40 students.

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite says the district is in the process of what’s called “leveling” — to get to the contractual maximum of 33 per class.

“We have now identified schools that have high numbers on their rosters, and they will have teachers in them today to help them absorb some of those numbers,” he tells KYW Newsradio.

Dr. Hite said every classroom has a teacher, every school a principal.

“Is it the number and amount of resources we want? No, but we will continue to work to get those,” said Dr. Hite.

At Beeber Middle School, special education teacher Vanessa McElwee said she knows it will be a difficult year.

“Some of the support staff has not been hired back. It’s going to be very stressful, but we’ll try to make it work.”

Beeber Middle School was originally slated to close. District officials announced in April, it would remain open.

City leaders are still working on getting more cash flow to ensure schools, like Beeber, can add resources this year.

“We hope to look for help at the Harrisburg level, but at the city level, we have done $74 million dollars worth of heavy lifting,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

The district says that without teacher contract concessions, it can’t hire more staffers back.

In the meantime, talks will continue between the district and the teacher’s union, where the district is hoping to get more than $100 million in concessions.

Even with the budget crisis, seventh grader Dawsia Dawson was anticipating a good year.

“The first thing that everyone’s looking forward to is seeing their friends and their teachers and their new classes and new rosters,” she says. “So everybody’s pretty nervous, and they’re kind of excited about the first day of school.”

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