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270 more layoff notices to go out this week

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by Katie McCabe and Benjamin Herold

PFT president Jerry Jordan said Tuesday that 270 of his members are receiving layoff notices, including 39 counselors, 85 people in the category covering parent ombudsmen and student advisers, 22 non-teaching assistants, and 97 supportive services assistants.

Other categories hit include secretaries, school operations officers, full-time class assistants, and six vocational teachers – two in home economics and three in industrial arts, he said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed that 270 layoff notices would be sent out Friday, effective June 30, in time for the next fiscal year.

He said they were largely the result of school-based budget decisions.

"Principals are making decisions to use their staff in different ways," he said, adding that this doesn't reflect a reduction in the amount of money allocated directly to schools.

He added that the District has not reduced school budgets for next year. Officials have promised to put a "firewall" around school budgets.

Some of the layoffs are the result of central office decisions and changes in grants, Gallard said. He would not confirm the positions affected until the individual employees are notified.

Jordan said, "The District is saying it's focused on safety. However, the layoffs do not support their emphasis on school safety. These are the people that make a school climate safe for our children."

Jordan made an appearance at the City Council hearing on several revenue bills, including some that would raise additional money for the School District. The District is seeking $94 million from the so-called Actual Value Initiative, which would bring in extra revenues by bringing property tax assessments more up to date.

He did not speak at the hearing, but mentioned the layoffs in response to a reporter's question.

Council is considering several bills, besides AVI, that would direct money to the District. There is opposition to AVI among some council members, or at least enacting it in time for next year's school budget.

If the city does provide $94 million, the District still faces a more than $218 million shortfall, which District leaders said they intend to borrow.

At the hearing, several speakers urged Council to attach conditions to any increased funding, particularly to restore school nurses and police. The District pays for nurses that also serve private and parochial schools.

"We need to get accountable funding, and we need to get the funding now. There are tens of thousands of kids whose chance depends on your vote for this," said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Council did not intend to send any of the bills out of committee Tuesday.

District leaders were in Harrisburg yesterday talking to legislators about the District's budget situation.

According to State Sen. Vincent Hughes, Mayor Nutter was also there, discussing bills needed from the legislature to move the District's revenue bills forward in City Council.

One is Senate Bill 1303, which would allow the city to reduce the millage rate to minimize the impact of property tax increases. The city is seeking that legislation so it can phase in AVI and is considering other bills that would make up the difference that the District says it needs.

"The most important thing is making sure the [Philadelphia City] Council and the mayor have the tools they've requested to try to fix a problem, recognizing that this governor is walking away from his responsibility to fund public education," Hughes said.

He added that his first priority is to restore state funding for public school districts. He said the Senate has already passed a budget that would restore $11 million to the School District of Philadelphia in the form of educational accountability block grants.

 Additional reporting by Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa.

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