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Shorter school year is off the table; District offers cuts to close budget gap

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Philadelphia's public schools will open on time and – for the time being – mass layoffs will be averted.

Superintendent William Hite made the announcement Friday morning after a month during which he offered both options as a way to cover the District's $81 million budget gap.

The District is banking on the assurance of top Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg that Pennsylvania will pass legislation authorizing the $2-per-pack Philadelphia cigarette tax in mid-September.

If so, the District expects revenue collections will begin Oct. 1 and generate $49 million for the District this school year.

This, of course, is no slam dunk. The House and Senate haven't been able to find consensus on the measure since City Council endorsed it in early 2013, but House Majority Leader Mike Turzai came to Philadelphia this week to assure Hite that it will pass this fall.

Although Hite says there's reason to doubt passage, he's willing to count on that funding to open schools on time.

In order to close the remaining $32 million gap, the District will count on an assortment of "hopes" and "cuts."

Flanked by four members of the School Reform Commission at a press conference in the atrium of the District's North Broad Street headquarters, Hite explained the District's rationale.

"For the sake of minimizing disruptions for families, and for the sake of educating children, we've made the decision to make a series of additional difficult and, hopefully, temporary cuts in order to open schools on time," he said.

The cuts

  • High school students at District, charter and nonpublic schools who live within 2 miles of school will not receive transportation, which means 7,500 fewer students.

  • Reductions to funding for the multiple pathways to graduation program, which the District said will affect 300 students.

  • Elimination of preparation and professional development time for teachers at the District's Promise Academies.

  • Schools will be cleaned less frequently and have access to fewer cleaning supplies.

  • School police officer vacancies will be left unfilled, leaving an additional 27 elementary schools to share an officer. High schools would be unaffected.

  • Cuts to additional central office departmental positions, resulting in 20 layoffs.

The hopes

  • Lower prices can be associated with some of the District's vendors.

  • Sales will close on more of the District's unused properties.

  • The state Department of Education will stop making payments to charters for students enrolled above and beyond agreed-to caps.

 

Hite, who believes schools will be safe despite the cuts, said this plan makes sense academically for students and fiscally for the District.

Delaying the school opening, he said, "potentially could further exacerbate our deficit if, for example, additional students exited our schools for charter schools."

Imploring teachers' union for concessions

A District spokesman confirmed that the idea of shortening the school year is now off the table.

Beyond academic concerns, Hite said, shortening the year would be troublesome because many salaries and contracts still would need to be paid and the state would deduct its subsidy for days missed.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Kevin McCorry

Kevin is WHYY/NewsWorks' senior education writer.

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