Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter responded to a new ad campaign from the city’s public school teachers blasting his handling of the city's school budget crisis.
The new ad, which is airing on several television stations, including NBC10, as well as print and radio, accuses Mayor Nutter of being too friendly with Governor Tom Corbett instead of fighting for the future of the city's children.
“Mayor Nutter, you promised to do right by my kids,” says mother Kia Henton, who stars in the commercial produced by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “But you sided with Governor Corbett. You’ve let us all down.”
Leshawna Coleman, a Philadelphia teacher trainer and member of the union, agrees with the ad’s message.
“It feels like the mayor is playing politics with the children of Philadelphia,” Coleman said.
Coleman believes Mayor Nutter should have fought harder in Harrisburg to prevent the massive budget cuts and the layoff of nearly 4,000 school district employees earlier this year.
“Parents and teachers were in Harrisburg at the end of June,” Coleman said. “We didn’t see Mayor Nutter with us.”
Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, calls the ad a “distortion of reality” and says the mayor found a way to get schools open on time. He also said he feels it’s time for the teachers to make a sacrifice in their contract negotiations.
“I think the ad is false,” McDonald said. “He has fought tooth and nail for school children and their parents in Philadelphia.”
Mayor Nutter feels the ad is a distraction from the real issues and also accused Henton of simply “reading from a script” in the commercial.
“To say that what I’m saying are lies and pretty much that I’m a puppet and that the teachers union is feeding me words is totally false,” Henton said. “What I said...was scripted because it was a commercial.”
During a press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Nutter claimed property taxes and other funds went to students.
"Use and occupancy tax was raised and parking fees and fines were raised," he said. "All of which went through in support of the district to the tune of $155 million in new funding for education for the children here in Philadelphia. We need a true funding formula for education in Pennsylvania. Any talk about a lack of support for education from city government is completely without merit.”
With the teacher's union in the last weeks of their contract negotiations, Mayor Nutter says he’s putting pressure on the union to do their part by making contract concessions to help with the budget shortfall.
Monday evening, PFT president Jerry Jordan responded to Nutter's comments.
"Mayor Nutter referenced the need for additional state funding and sustainable funding formula for schools," Jordan said. "We're happy to hear that he's now promoting the very things for which we have been advocating for months. We have publicly stated our willingness to form a coalition with the mayor and leaders from other cities to call on Harrisburg for adequate education funding. The next positive step would be for the mayor to re-direct his frustration away from Philadelphia's teachers and the parents who support them, and call out Governor Corbett, who is ultimately responsible for our schools' fiscal crisis."
For several months, the School District of Philadelphia worked to close a $304 million deficit caused in part by rising labor costs, past debts and charter school growth.
The crisis began weeks ago when pink slips went out to 3,800 workers, leaving schools staffed only by principals and teachers -- no secretaries, counselors or cafeteria aides.
Officials also cut athletics, music and extracurricular activities, even as they pleaded for help by asking for $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $133 million in union givebacks.
Earlier in August, Superintendent William Hite threatened to delay the Sept. 9 start of classes if local or state leaders did not promise $50 million by August 16. Without those funds, he said, "we cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly or provide a quality education to students.''
The monetary commitment came August 15. It's still unclear what form the $50 million will take. Mayor Nutter says the city will borrow the funds, but council members say they won't approve such a transaction. They want to purchase unused school property and pay the district ahead of their resales.
NBC10’s Daralene Jones spoke directly with Dr. Hite to find out what parents and students should expect once schools open.
Dr. Hite says he’s in the process of rehiring some of the laidoff workers now that he has assurance from the city that cash is on the way.
“We have some schools that had five assistant principals and six guidance counselors as they closed last year," he said. "They may begin this year with one assistant principal and two guidance counselors. That’s a big difference.”
Dr. Hite says 1,600 of the nearly 4,000 employees laid off are in the process of being rehired. His staff will place a secretary and principal in every school.
However, NBC10 discovered that 1,100 of the 1,600 workers who are being called back are noon-time aides who only work part-time. Only priority schools, those with larger populations and a history of violence, will get the assistant principals, guidance counselors and aides they need. There will also only be a half year of music and sports.
“We’re going to do the best we can to make sure schools have what they need,” Dr. Hite said.
As for Henton, she's happy her appearance in the ad has sparked a debate because she wants school funding issues resolved now rather than when children go back to school. She also believes asking teachers to make contract concessions is unfair.
“Our teachers are already the lowest paid in our surrounding counties,” Henton said. “I just think that it’s unfair to put that type of pressure on the teachers. The teachers are on the front lines.”
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