By Tony Romeo, Pat Loeb, Pat Ciarrocchi
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett today made a surprise announcement that the state is releasing $45 million for the School District of Philadelphia, money without which the school district said it could not operate to the end of the current school year.
The money had been approved by the state legislature this year but held up by the Corbett administration, which said the money was contingent on whether the school district obtained sufficient concessions from the Philadelphia teachers’ union (see previous story).
At a bill-signing ceremony this morning, the governor said he believes sufficient reforms have been made in the operations of Philadelphia schools staffing and the money could therefore be released.
Corbett’s budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said a short time later that the funds will be released despite a lack of concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).
“The reforms and the savings that the SRC has been seeking is integral to the long-term sustainability of the district,” Zogby said, “and I think with this $45 million it’s clear that this agreement with the PFT is the last remaining obstacle to achieving that.”
Zogby says adequate reforms that have been made include the decision by the SRC to close buildings and changes made with regard to seniority and teacher assignments.
Philadelphia public school officials and advocates applauded the release of the federal funds, but they cautioned that more money is needed to address educational and safety concerns in the district.
Schools superintendent Dr. William Hite says the money will allow the district to rehire 400 employees, including 80 counselors, support staff and some teachers, and fund music and athletics through the full year.
The district will not hire more nurses, even though pressure to release the money intensified after the recent death of a student who had an asthma attack in a school with no nurse.
“The priorities are the things that are required by law or by contract and that’s where we’re starting first,” Hite said.
Hite says more staff will be rehired if more funding comes through from the state and city and if it can win $130 million in concessions from the teachers union. Union president Jerry Jordan says that’s unlikely.
“No I don’t see them being able to close the budget deficit that way,” Jordan said.
Jordan says contract negotiations and providing a thorough and efficient education for all students are two different things.
“We would have liked to have begun the year this way, but nonetheless, we don’t have to continue through the year this way,” Jordan said.
The district will not hire more nurses. The recent death of a student after an asthma attack in a school with no nurse increased national pressure on the Governor to release the money, but Hite said the district is at the state-mandated nursing level.