After months of refusing to turn over $45 million in funding to the cash-strapped School District of Philadelphia, Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett says he's been convinced the district deserves the money.
Corbett said on Wednesday that a letter from district Superintendent Dr. William Hite has shown him that district officials are meeting his goals for improvement amid the worst financial crisis in the district's history.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Hite applauded the decision and said the money would be used to rehire about 400 employees.
"This is one day I get to come before all of you and speak about some good news," he told reporters from the district headquarters in the Spring Garden section of the city.
Among the rehires will be teachers, assistant principals and secretaries, as well as, 80 guidance counselors.
Dr. Hite said the district will now have one guidance counselor for the number of schools they operate. However, that doesn't mean every school will have a full-time guidance counselor. The superintendent says some schools need more than one counselor based on the size of their student population.
The rest of the money will be used to fund the district's music programs for the second half of the year and fully fund athletic programs, according to Dr. Hite.
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“We’re thrilled with these resources and that they’re coming now. We would have liked to have had them at the beginning of the year,” he said.
The Philadelphia school district faced a $304 million budget deficit at the start of this year forcing the layoffs of nearly 4,000 teachers, administrators and support staff.
Emergency funding from the city helped reduce the gap, hire back about 1,000 staff and allow the school year to begin on time, but the district is still more than $100 million in the hole. Some extracurricular activities, arts programs and sports had been sidelined.
More than 2,000 layoffs remain and, as a result, the district has been going through a more extensive 'leveling' process this year. Leveling is when the district transfers teachers to offset increased class sizes.
Among the funding offered to the district was $45 million in forgiven federal debt controlled by the state. But Corbett refused to release the money until the district met criteria, the governor felt, was appropriate.
The largest sticking point was $133 million in contract concessions from the teacher's union. The union and district are currently negotiating a new contract and the concessions have yet to be agreed upon.
Dr. Hite said should the union make the concessions asked, officials will be able to hire back about 1,000 of those laid off employees.
In a statement, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said the monies must be used immediately to reduce split grades and rehire staff.
"The release of this money is welcome news in what has been a very tough school year, but it is not a long-term fix," he said. "The PFT, along with Philadelphia's students, parents and community leaders, will continue our efforts to get Harrisburg to implement an adequate and sustainable funding formula for public education across the Commonwealth."
Asked for specifics to what the district has done to change Corbett's mind, Dr. Hite said efforts to hire back teachers based upon needs and not seniority and the current leveling process contributed to the governor's decision.
Corbett also says he and his wife are sending their sympathies to the family of Laporshia Massey.
The school district and state Department of Education is looking into the 12-year-old's apparent asthma-related death after attending a school without a nurse on site.
A spokesman for Corbett says Massey's death and the release of the money aren't connected.