STATEMENT FROM SUPERINTENDENT WILLIAM HITE ON THE 2013-14 OPENING OF SCHOOLS
On June 7, The School District of Philadelphia announced that we would begin issuing layoff notices to about 3,800 employees in light of a drastic financial shortfall. These layoffs affected significant numbers of our school-based staff, including assistant principals, teachers, counselors, recess and lunch aides, secretaries, supportive services assistants and teacher assistants.
I was joined on that day by four outstanding principals, all of whom expressed grave concerns over their ability to run a school without these staff.
Since the budget process began in the spring, I have spoken repeatedly about our urgent need for additional funds. As of today – almost exactly four weeks until the scheduled first day of school for the 136,000 students in our District – we have not received the funds.
In recent weeks, we have been awaiting the outcome of $50 million in funding from the city. We can no longer wait.
I am in the unfortunate position today of having to announce that if we do not receive at least $50 million by Friday, August 16, the School District of Philadelphia will be forced to consider alternatives to starting the 2013-14 school year on Monday, September 9. This means that we may not be able to open any schools on September 9, that we may only be able to open a few, or that we might be open for a half-day. We will not be able to open all 218 schools for a full-day program. Without the funds to restore crucial staff members, we cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly or provide a quality education to students.
I am deeply dismayed that we are here today, facing these circumstances. Our students are the most important part of this equation and it is both saddening and frustrating to be in the position of telling them and their families that I do not know when their education will resume. They did not create these circumstances, yet they will be most impacted by any delay.
We started our budget process with a $304 million shortfall. We have only been promised $112 million. I want to be clear about why the $50 million matters now: $50 million allows us to tell parents that when their child is walking through the hallways, eating lunch or at recess, an adult will be supervising them. It allows us to tell parents that counselors will be available to serve children in our largest and neediest schools, and that an assistant principal will be on hand to resolve any disciplinary issues that keep children from learning. It will allow the principal to leave the office to support staff and address issues in other parts of the school. No principal can run a 3,000-student high school – much less a 400-student elementary school – on their own. They need support, and we have an obligation to provide them with the staff and resources they need. Parents also need reassurance that a school has what it needs to serve their child.
In a broader sense, $50 million really only allows us to open the doors of the school. It does not do enough for what goes on behind those doors. That is why you have heard us speak of the need for shared sacrifices through additional savings from contract negotiations with our labor partners.
Our parents and students have sacrificed. Our blue-collar union has sacrificed. And now, we need all labor partners to sacrifice.
Those savings will allow us to avoid combining grades, continue instructional supports for struggling students, implement supplemental languages that prepare our students for the global economy, provide extracurricular activities that enrich students’ educational experiences, offer Advanced Placement courses that enhance their knowledge and skills, and provide adequate counseling services to help prepare them for college.
This funding problem is real. District leadership is committed to solving it using the tools that we have at our disposal. We have a responsibility to students and families across Philadelphia, and we will not put them at risk, even if it means the first day of school may not be until after September 9.
There is a letter from me on the District website to parents and guardians that will also be distributed at tomorrow’s Family and Educational Reunion, the District’s annual back to school fair. I have also spoken to Mayor Michael A. Nutter and other stakeholders about our predicament.
I hope that we can find a swift resolution to this funding matter for the sake of our students and families.