Philadelphia's public schools will open on time amid a severe budget crisis. But officials say doing so will come at a cost: more cuts.
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite made the announcement on Friday morning as he outlined a number of new budget cuts ahead of the Sept. 8 opening of schools. It's his hope that the reductions are temporary.
Hite said the district still faces a $81 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year which make the cuts necessary. He said a delay would hurt students and could cause more to leave the district for charter schools.
"To delay school opening during which time we would be required to continue paying employees, make our charter school payments and meet our other contractual obligations all while students are not being educated punishes students for the failure of adults," Hite said.
Among the new changes will be the scaling back of transportation for students, reduction of sanitation services and less school police.
Some 7,500 high schoolers who live within two miles of their school will have to find their own way to get there, Hite said. A change that not only affects district school students, but also children that attend charter and private schools.
Schools will be cleaned less frequently and the district will be scaling back on the purchase of cleaning supplies.
The district will not fill vacant police officer positions, as well. A decision that Hite says will reduce safety in the city's 214 schools.
Additional layoffs are also coming, according to Hite. The superintendent says administrative staff will be further scaled back. The details of how many people will lose their jobs will be released at a later time, he said.
Local and state leaders and the district have been fighting to get additional funding for the country's eighth largest school district. They were hoping to get additional money from a $2 a pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia. But the bill never passed the state legislature before lawmakers went on summer vacation.
Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett advanced the district $265 million with the hope of avoiding a delayed opening.
Still, the future of the 2014-2015 school year remained a question. Hite threatened to not open schools on time last year. The city then provided $50 million in funding averting a delay. But budget issues remained for the district, which is controlled by a state-appointed reform board.
Hite hopes the district will be able to save money this year by renegotiating vendor contracts and receive concessions from the teacher's union.
"We are no longer seeking across the board wage reductions from the [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers]. But rather benefits changes that would enable us to restore essential services to schools," Hite said.
The superintendent said if the concessions are not made by October, the district will have to make a new round of cuts to core budgets.
Speaking at an event in Langhorne, Bucks County, Corbett also placed pressure on the teacher's union.
"The leadership of the union needs to come to the table and make the concessions that are absolutely necessary in order to move forward," he said.
The union plans to comment at an afternoon press conference, a spokesperson said.