Pastor Urges Parents to Boycott School if District Doesn't Receive Full Funding

Officials have until Friday, superintendent says, to provide $50 million in funding or else schools may not open on-time

By David Chang and Vince Lattanzio
|  Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013  |  Updated 11:22 AM EDT
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Don’t send your kids to school if the district doesn’t receive $180 million. That’s the message Reverend Dr. Kevin R. Johnson sent to parents Monday night during a town hall meeting on the Philadelphia School budget crisis.

Dr. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, organized a rally outside the School District of Philadelphia headquarters along North Broad Street earlier on Monday in which around three dozen church leaders, parents, students and school activists demanded more funding.

A $304 million budget deficit forced the district to cut programs and extra-curricular activities, as well as, lay off nearly 4,000 employees. As a result of the layoffs, schools are set to go without assistant principals, secretaries, aides and guidance counselors as well as instruct with fewer teachers.

On Thursday, Superintendent Dr. William Hite issued an ultimatum to city and state officials: give the district an additional $50 million by Friday, August 16 or school may not open on time.

Chanting "it's not enough," the group -- led by POWER, a coalition of 41 local church congregations -- said $50 million will not provide the quality education students deserve. They want city and state officials to come up with $180 million, which is what the district originally requested earlier in the year.

"This is just the beginning. If they come back with less than $180 million, then we are calling on every parent not to send your child to an unsafe school," Dr. Johnson said.

During a town hall event at Mother Bethel African Episcopal Church Monday night, Johnson took his message a step further, asking parents to boycott school on September 9 if the district doesn’t receive the full $180 million.

"Will you support a boycott of Philadelphia public schools if city and state officials don't come up with $180 million by September?" Reverend Johnson asked.

While protesters want the full amount, Dr. Hite says there’s no guarantee they’ll receive any money.
Before heading into the district's annual leadership conference for principals Monday morning, Dr. Hite said no deals had been made over the weekend to provide $50 million in additional funding for the city's 218 schools.

Dr. Hite was at the week-long conference, which provides training for the school system's principals, to update his administrators about where the current funding issue stands and discuss the preparations that need to be made for the beginning of the school year on September 9.

"We're going to talk about where we are fiscally, what we want our schools to look like next year, and the fact that they're going to be safe," Dr. Hite told NBC10 before heading into the conference.
Whether school doors will actually open as planned is still a mystery, however.

Dr. Hite says he'll use that $50 million to hire back around 1,000 staff, but the district has not elaborated as to who will be rehired.

Analyzing laid off employee payroll data obtained by NBC10.com, the district could cover the salaries of all 95 assistant principals, 267 school counselors, 290 secretaries and most of the 1,173 noon time aides who lost their jobs this summer with an infusion of $50 million.

After Dr. Hite's demand, members of Philadelphia City Council outlined a plan that includes making the current 1-percent sales tax increase permanent and raising funds by purchasing the district's real estate liens and mothballed properties.

A spokesperson for Council President Darrell Clarke says under this plan, the city will be able to purchase $50 million worth of surplus properties through the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID). The revenues generated by the building sales would then go back to the city.

Clarke's office says the purchase will eliminate the need to borrow cash and pay an additional $15 million in debt service every year for the next four years. Governor Corbett's previous funding plan for Philadelphia schools called for the city to borrow $50 million from future tax revenue raised by the higher sales tax.

Clarke expects to send a guarantee of $50 million to the school district by Friday, according to his office.

But Dr. Hite has yet to receive a firm assurance, in his eyes, that the money will actually be available when the school year begins. He said last Friday, without a guarantee that's been legally vetted, he cannot hire back the staff.

The School District of Philadelphia is the eighth-largest school system in the nation with 136,000 students. The district is controlled by a state reform commission led by three state-appointed officials and two city appointed officials.

Dr. Hite also wanted to assure parents and staff, while school may not open on time, they will open eventually.

"We still plan to open at some point. Still very important for our students to get ready for the beginning of school," he said.

But as indicated by Pastor Johnson and other protesters, students and parents might not want schools open ever if they’re not properly funded.

"We have not come here just to give speeches but to light a fire," Reverend Johnson said. "We will fan this fire until the money comes from city hall and from Harrisburg to adequately fund our schools. We will not stop fanning this fire until city and state officials come up with $180 million this week."

The 300 participants of Monday night's meeting made phone calls to Governor Corbett, Mayor Nutter and city councilmembers. They stated the following: "Find 180 million for Philadelphia schools right now."

A spokesman for POWER says the group plans to undergo a statewide coalition, contacting and mobilizing voters in key districts and races in the coming year to promote a permanent funding formala for Pennsylvania public schools.

NBC10's Katy Zachry and Rosemary Connors contributed to this report.


Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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