By Mike Dunn and Mike DeNardo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett came to Philadelphia today to announce that he was allowing an early release of funds to the Philadelphia school district after the state legislature failed to take action on a city cigarette tax authorization.
Hear the full press conference in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 18:58)…
But the school district says that without assurances of new money, the advance does not ensure that schools will open on time or that there will not be layoffs August 15th.
The governor also called on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to make contract concessions to help the district balance its budget.
Outside the governor’s office at the Bellevue Hotel, on Broad Street, students who weren’t allowed into the press conference made their feelings known.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Governor Corbett’s go to go!” they chanted.
Schools superintendent William Hite, standing next to the governor for this morning’s announcement, stressed that this early disbursement does not resolve the $81-million funding gap the school district needs to close in order to avoid layoffs and other serious cuts.
Hite thanked the governor for releasing the funds and said it helps in terms of planning for the start of the school year, but he added that it doesn’t solve the budget problem.
“It does not resolve the $81-million budget gap,” Hite said. “That will require additional revenue. A lot of that revenue comes from the cigarette tax. So there’s still work to be done. We still need 81 million dollars. And so it changes nothing about what we are considering, although it adds significant information in the decisionmaking process.”
Hite said he is still unable to say whether schools will open on time.
Meantime, school officials are hoping the Pennsylvania legislature will reconvene this month and vote to approve the $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes in Philadelphia, with that money earmarked for the school district.
Last week the Pennsylvania House opted not to return and vote on that tax; GOP leadership cited a lack of votes to get the measure passed.
Also this morning, Mayor Nutter voiced disappointment about the governor’s announcement. He said what’s needed is more leadership to prod the legislature to return to work.
“This is about demanding action,” Nutter said. “This is about putting your full weight and authority of the office behind this kind of effort. The need is for the General Assembly to come back for one hour on one day and take one vote to ensure that the cigarette tax dollars are safe and secure for the school district, so that children can start on time and safely. William Penn would be ashamed to see what’s going on with regard to the education of school children in his own City of Philadelphia.”
Teachers’ Union Head Reacts
Later in the afternoon, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers‘ president Jerry Jordan, responding to Gov. Corbett’s call for more teacher contract concessions, said his union has already “stepped up” by offering a year ago to accept a wage freeze and to begin making contributions to their health care premiums.
Negotiations with the district over the last year have failed to yield a new agreement.
Jordan reiterated that the governor’s advance of money to the school district doesn’t help restore any programs or services because it’s not additional funding. And he says his members contribute every day by buying classroom supplies out of their own pockets.
In a statement, Jordan said a cash advance and passage of the cigarette tax are “not enough to fix the damage done by Governor Corbett’s cuts to public education.”
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