Philadelphia Mayor: Schools Will Open Safely and On Time

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 15, 2013 3 min read
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Education Week’s Benjamin Herold contributed to this report.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter this morning announced that the city government would borrow $50 million to help the beleaguered school district rehire 1,000 laid-off educators and staff members so that schools can open safely and on time for the new academic year.

The borrowing plan seemed to avert the threat that the 136,000-student district will not open on Sept. 9—an ultimatum that Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., had issued last week if the district did not receive a $50 million infusion of cash. In an astonishingly stark stance for a superintendent, Hite warned that without that money in the district’s hands by Aug. 16, he would not open schools and risk putting students into chaotic and disorderly conditions.

In a news conference this morning, Nutter said he would not “risk a catastrophe” or “let this crisis ruin the start of what is certainly a promising school year.”

The mayor’s borrowing plan—while dealing with the immediate crisis of rehiring enough employees to open the city’s schools on time—does not provide a longer-term solution to the Philadelphia district’s perennial funding woes. Mired in a $304 million budget shortfall, the district has made deep cuts that included many of the non-teaching staff members in schools: assistant principals, counselors, and nurses.

[UPDATE (6:40 p.m.): Shortly after Nutter’s announcement, however, Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke announced that the borrowing plan would require Council approval, which Clarke said would not be granted.

Clarke said council was committed to coming up with $50 million for schools, but reiterated his support for an alternative plan that would involve the city purchasing from the district dozens of recently shuttered school buildings. It remains unclear when and how the political impasse between Philadelphia’s two most powerful leaders will be resolved.]

A “bailout” package of $112 million from the state of Pennslyvania earlier this summer has not erased the shortfall either, and some of those dollars have never even reached the district because of conditions—such as pay concessions from the city’s teachers’ union—that haven’t been met. For more on the ongoing standoff between Gov. Tom Corbett and the city and district over school funding, read Andrew Ujifusa’s write up at StateEdwatch.

Later today, the School Reform Commission, the school district’s appointed governing body, is meeting to consider a proposal from Hite to suspend some rules that would allow the district to circumvent seniority as it re-hires laid-off staff members. Hite also wants to be able to temporarily halt automatic pay increases for some staff members that are based on length of services.

[UPDATE (6:40 p.m.): Late Thursday afternoon, the SRC voted unanimously to suspend the school code as per Hite’s request. The commissioners, who were harangued by an overflow crowd chanting “Shame!” quickly left the auditorium behind a police escort.

Hite put out a statement shortly after the mayor’s announcement thanking him for the loan and said the district would immediately get to work re-hiring staff members.

UPDATE (8:00 p.m.): Parents United for Public Education, a local advocacy group, released a statement saying that the $50 million may get schools open on time but falls woefully short of being enough to provide a fair and equitable amount of funding to schools across the city.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.