City, State at Stalemate Over School Funds

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013  |  Updated 5:37 PM EDT
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There are just days left for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania leaders to come up with the $50 million that Superintendent William Hite says is needed to open Philadelphia schools. NBC10's Matt DeLucia reports.

NBC10 - Matt DeLucia

There are just days left for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania leaders to come up with the $50 million that Superintendent William Hite says is needed to open Philadelphia schools. NBC10's Matt DeLucia reports.

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Philadelphia officials are calling on the governor to release $45 million in promised aid so that city schools can open on time.

City and state lawmakers including Mayor Michael Nutter and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, held a news conference Tuesday urging Gov. Tom Corbett to release the money.

They say the district is making major reforms and has met every criteria for the funds to be released.

But Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Charles Zogby says the funds will only be disbursed after the district has negotiated a new teacher’s contract with major concessions.

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"This year, Pennsylvania taxpayers are slated to invest more than $1.3 billion into the district.  Before making any additional state investments, it is critical that the fiscal savings and academic reforms CEO Hite and the SRC have said are essential to the long-term sustainability and viability of the district be in place," Zogby said in a statement. "As required by the law that was duly enacted by the General Assembly, any additional state funding, including the $45 million in one-time state funds included in the 2013-14 state budget, is only to be released to the district when the Secretary of Education certifies the district has begun to implement fiscal, educational and operational reforms."

"A new collective bargaining agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that makes substantial progress toward achieving the fiscal savings and academic reforms set out by CEO William Hite and the School Reform Commission must be in place before any new funding is released."

At a press conference this morning, a visibly angry state senator Anthony Williams criticized the governor for "holding the city hostage" by giving it additional "hoops" to jump through before the funding its district's schools.

"I understand the difference between practical fair and appropriate and aggressive reform, and holding someone hostage for an ideological position. To turn around and put another hoop, which was not presented to me personally, is not truthful. I think Mr. Zogby needs to point to a direction that would be supported if we sued the Commonwealth because there's nothing in the fiscal code that says PFT," Williams said.

In a statement released today, senate democratic leader Jay Costa echoed Williams' complaint.

“In the context of our discussions with the governor’s top aides there were no additional labor concessions discussed regarding the state grant," the statement said. "The Corbett administration needs to honor the commitment that it made and release the grant funding.”

PFT president Jerry Jordan also pointed to the governor's office to act.

"It is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's obligation to fully fund public education. Yet the budget office seems to be employing any and every means to avoid living up to this responsibility," Jordan said in a statement.

"PFT members for years have reached into their own pockets to fill in the gaps left by cuts to public education funding. The Budget Secretary's stance reflects Governor Corbett's disrespectful attitude to Philadelphia's educators and a disregard for our children's futures."

The state's largest district is broke and has lain off nearly 20 percent of its staff. Superintendent William Hite says he needs $50 million by Friday in order to start classes next month.

As the deadline nears, one local organization says they're not waiting for a solution to come down from the city or the state; they're taking matters into their own hands.

Urban Angel Foundation, a local nonprofit organization has put out a call for volunteers to assist in providing services to Philadelphia School District students for the coming school year.

"I'm praying, hoping, and wishing that other individuals do what they need to do to fix what's broken in our district,  but our position is not to focus on what other individuals can do, it's to do what we can do ourselves," executive director William Cobb said.

According to Cobb, nearly 100 volunteers have signed-up over the last 72 hours. At minimum, Cobb says recruited volunteers would serve under the District’s safe corridors program, providing additional supervision for students as they travel to and from school. This role, Cobb says, will be critical now that many students will have to travel farther to get to new schools due to recent closings.

Long-term, Urban Angel hopes district officials will embrace what Cobb referred to as “the power of volunteerism.”

“We feel like this solution is one of the most viable solutions being offered,” he said. “Unfortunately the SDP has never had a person dedicated solely to promoting, gathering, and disbursing volunteers and I can’t imagine why not. But we've done our homework and we know how volunteering can impact the quality of life in our communities. We simply felt it was time to do something, so that’s what we’re doing.”

 


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