By Jan Carabeo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Now less than a month away from the start of school in Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite are scheduled to make an announcement Friday about the future of the cash-strapped school district.
Hite has said that if the district did not fill an $81 million budget gap, school may not open on time in September and 1,300 employees could face layoffs.
It’s an agonizing spot hundreds of Philadelphia school teachers, including Nefertiti White, continue to experience year after year.
“In 2011, I was on the receiving end of the layoff notice, I was fortunate enough to get called back in August,” White said. “You don’t know if you’re going to come back to your job.”
Now with another multi-million dollar deficit, possible layoffs loom and officials warn students could see class sizes up to 40 kids and cuts to programs and security.
“This has become a national embarrassment,” State Senator Vincent Hughes said.
As a decision looms at headquarters on whether schools have the funds to open safely on September 8th, Senator Hughes again called on his colleagues in Harrisburg to get back to work.
The stalled two dollars per pack cigarette tax was supposed to fill the $81 million gap. But lawmakers are not scheduled to return until September. Even then, it’s unknown if they would act.
“We need to take care of the cigarette tax, we need to get that done, but we need a fair funding formula,” Hughes said.
“It’s a formula that actually ties the needs of different school district to the funding,” Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf added.
Together, Hughes and Wolf faulted a lack of leadership in Harrisburg.
But a spokesperson for Governor Tom Corbett says the basic education funding commission was just created to explore what would constitute a fair formula.
In the meantime, parents feel caught in the middle.
“I just hope school opens on time,” Ebony Briscoe said.
Just last week, Governor Corbett advanced millions in state funds so schools could open. But Superintendent William Hite has said that just shifts money around. And if new money is not found, he’s warned he would have to start laying off close to 1,300 employees.
Governor Corbett’s campaign released the following statement in response:
“Governor Corbett recently announced that he would advance hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure the Philadelphia public school system opens on time. He is calling on the legislature to pass a cigarette tax authorization to provide more funding for Philadelphia schools. He is fighting for the future of the children of Philadelphia because they should not be held responsible for the mistakes past leaders made in mismanaging the school district. However, the Philadelphia public sector teachers union – who will not make any concessions including their refusal to contribute one penny to their taxpayer-funded Cadillac health care plans – are once again blaming someone else for the crisis they bear responsibility in creating. The children of Philadelphia would be better served if these union leaders would work together with all stakeholders involved to give their hardworking teachers the resources they need where it is needed most – in the classroom.”
Friday’s announcement is scheduled for 10 a.m. at district headquarters in Spring Garden.
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