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Philadelphia Public School Students Return To Class Amid Budget Crisis

By Mike DeNardo, Jan Carabeo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Public schools opened today for the 131,000 students in the Philadelphia School District amid huge budget deficits, reduced staffing and cuts in programs.

It is a day that many people didn’t think was going to happen, at least on time. But with millions of dollars in reductions and cuts, the doors opened as scheduled and classes began.

The new school year promises to be a challenging one — at the very least. It will be another year in which teachers have to do more with less, still facing an $81-million budget deficit. Even if that gap is closed, funding would only reach the same level as last year’s doomsday budget, leaving schools without full-time nurses, counselors, and other resources, and more cuts if the deficit isn’t addressed by October.

The school district is still banking on the passage of the Philadelphia-specific $2-per pack cigarette tax. Superintendent William Hite says he’s gotten assurance from leaders in Harrisburg that it will pass once they get back to work this month, but nothing is for certain.

Despite it all, students and teachers returned to class, anxious to get back to work.  Claire Chappelle has been a seventh-grade reading teacher at Roberto Clemente Middle School for the last 17 years. While some of the students may have experienced butterflies on the first day back, there were none for her.

“As a senior teacher, I have a very set routine,” Chappelle says. “I’m sure I practiced it over and over again this weekend. But, I’m excited about seeing my new students and welcoming them, and, you know, preparing them.”

Even with the school district’s financial crisis, it is opening three new high schools designed for project-based learning. No new buildings. All three schools are located in re-purposed properties.

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