Public Meetings on Cash-Strapped Philly Schools

The public is about to find out how dire the situation is for the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District.

Two public meetings are being held Wednesday to discuss the School Reform Commission’s plan to close holes in the school district’s budget. The first meeting is at 10 a.m. and the second is at 1 p.m. inside Room 400 in City Hall.

Everyone seems to agree that there needs to be more money for schools but there are disagreements over where to get those funds.

Earlier, district officials and the School Reform Commission told the Philadelphia City Council they need hundreds of millions of dollars to avoid insolvency, again.

The outlook is grim.

Superintendent William Hite said Philly schools need $216 million in order to continue functioning at a bare minimum level for the 2014-2015 school year.

"Unfortunately, the reality is that we are still trying to get the $216 million that we need to keep the level of insufficient funding that we currently have this year," Hite said.

"Short of the $216 [million] our schools will go from insufficient to just empty shells that do not represent what I would consider a functioning school."

Last year, the district faced a $304 million spending gap that led to nearly 4,000 employee layoffs.

If the PSD does not receive the requested funding for the upcoming school year, chief financial officer Matthew Stanski said the District will have to make even more reductions to an already bare bone operation.

According to Stanski, without the $216 million, the District would have to layoff more than 1,000 employees, and would see reductions in transportation, health and school police services, as well as an across-the-board increase in class sizes. In first through third grade, class sizes in District schools would grow from 30 to 36 students. Middle and high school class sizes in the District would have as many as 40 to 41 students.

While Hite vowed to remain "agnostic" as to where the funding should come from, he and Stanski discussed potential sources of revenue including, $75 million from the City's proposed cigarette tax, profits from closed school building sales, and funding from other private sources.

Beyond the minimum funding needed, Hite said the District is anticipating $120 million in recurring revenue from the city's 1 percent sales tax, and $96.2 million from the City, the State, and labor partners for a total of nearly $440 million.

"It's extremely frustrating. We feel like we have some exciting things that we should be doing in  schools but instead we're talking about what we're gonna have to reduce or take away from schools, and from classrooms, and from families that have already seen a lot of things taken away over the past several years," Hite said.

The PSD 2015 fiscal year budget can be viewed on the District's website.

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