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School Officials Renew Their Plea For Funding At City Council

(City Council president Darrell Clarke, during hearings on the school district's next budget.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(City Council president Darrell Clarke, during hearings on the school district’s next budget. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia school officials told city council, today, the deadline for massive lay-offs is getting close and a failure to to come up with funding will mean dire conditions in schools next year.

The district says it needs $216 million just to maintain current services, which it says are inadequate. Superintendent Bill Hite says if it doesn’t get the money in the next several weeks, it will have to begin making painful cuts.

“We are trying not to have to send out over a thousand lay-off notices. It has irreversible implications for our district and costs associated with it, separation costs.

“In addition, we have, now, many families, students and faculty members who are– rightfully so– concerned about what our schools will look like. Just a few days ago, we met with principals who are very concerned that any reduction to their current situation puts them and their schools and their staffs and more important, their students in jeopardy.

“The closer we get to a time when we have to be making decisions, by law– lay-offs have to be done in a specific time period– the more dire the situation becomes.”

Council members acknowledged the importance of funding schools and noted they’ve taken steps to increase funding but insisted the state had a greater responsibility for creating the deficit and thus should deliver more of the funding needed to close it.

Schools district Chief Financial Officer Matt Stansky agreed state support has been inadequate.

“A recent study done by the University of Pennsylvania says the district’s been shortchanged upward of $4,000 per student,” he said.

School officials said they’d been lobbying the state and would continue to do so but had little hope the state would come through. They repeatedly urged council to pass a one percent sales tax increase and let the school district keep all of the increased revenue, not split it as council has proposed.

The district has been counting on the $120 million the sales tax increase is expected to raise but the bill introduced into council, last week, reduces the amount that would go to the school district beginning next year.

Council president Darrell Clarke defended the plan to split the tax increase and called city finance director Rob Dubow to explain how putting part of the money into the pension fund would help city finances.

Dubow, however, said council’s plan would simply help the fund achieve solvency in 2028, instead of 2030.

Clarke was clearly unhappy with the analysis.

“The implication is that it’s not that big of a deal in what you reference as a two-year swing so why should we do additional money for pensions.”

Council members interviewed before the hearing said they were open to amending the bill, to give the full amount of the increase to the district.

“I think it’s going to be considered among many factors,” said councilman Curtis Jones.

“We’re still having discussions,” said councilman Bill Greenlee.

“Everything is on the table until this things is resolved,” said councilman Dennis O’Brien.

There was no agreement on how to raise the needed money.

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