Philly Schools Need $96M, Says Superintendent

The head of Philadelphia's public schools said Tuesday that the district needs an additional $96 million to offer students even a "wholly inadequate" education next year, and he implored city and state lawmakers to invest much more in the cash-strapped system.

Superintendent William Hite's last-minute plea for funding came two days before City Council is scheduled to break for the summer and just as legislators are struggling to hammer out a state budget before the fiscal year begins July 1.

Without the extra money, Hite said, the system could see class sizes above 40 and more than 800 teachers laid off. He has also floated the idea of not opening schools this fall.

"Stop acting like these are other people's children," Hite said. "These are our children."

The district must adopt a budget by June 30. Speaking at a news conference at district headquarters, Hite said officials can't cut their way out of the financial crisis while facing continuously increasing costs from pensions, debt service and charter schools.

Currently, the district can afford a $2.4 billion budget for 200,000 traditional and charter school students. But the state-run School Reform Commission that oversees the district refused to adopt the plan last month, calling it educationally unsound. The district's budget was $2.8 billion four years ago.

Hite sent a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday saying the schools need $320 million in recurring funds to give students "the world-class education they deserve." The figure includes $75 million from the city, $150 million from the state and $95 million in labor concessions.

Part of the money could come from a city-only cigarette tax, which must be authorized by a tax-averse Legislature already wrestling with its own massive budget shortfall.

The tobacco proposal is "certainly going to be part of the conversation," Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Tuesday.

Hite's plea does not include $120 million in city sales tax revenue that City Council voted to direct to the schools last week. Council President Darrell Clarke noted it's the fourth straight year the city has increased education funding.

Marjorie Neff, principal of the district's high-performing Masterman School, said after the news conference that she's lost nearly 10 percent of her teachers in the past two years. There is no money to replace decade-old textbooks, she said, and classes average about 33 students.

"The idea that class size could get any larger is unspeakable," said Neff, who is retiring at the end of this school year.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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