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Council holds hearing on funding for public schools

By the Notebook on Nov 20, 2013 06:07 PM
Photo: Isaac Riddle

City Council members (from left) Mark Squilla, David Oh, and Jannie Blackwell at a hearing Wednesday about education funding.

by Isaac Riddle

Matthew E. Stanski, the Philadelphia School District's chief financial adviser, and Lori Shorr, chief education officer for the mayor’s office, told the City Council Education Committee on Wednesday that the District doesn’t have enough revenue to adequately educate students.

In response, however, City Council members were surly, questioning the relationship between money and achievement and expressing their irritation that Stanski couldn’t tell them exactly how much money the District will be asking for next year from either the city or the state.

Shorr and Stanski argued that a predictable state funding formula would help the District become financially stable. 

A state funding formula based on districts' needs and student enrollments was created under the Rendell administration, but was abandoned when Gov. Corbett took office in 2011.

“We need a funding formula so it isn’t a year-to-year begging,” said Shorr. “There’s got to be a predictability. You have to be able to know so that it is not an every-year drama.”

Part of the purpose of the hearing was to weigh a Council resolution that would call for the Education Committee to begin a series of meetings to address the state’s approach to education funding.

Council members voiced their frustration and skepticism of the District’s fiscal needs and use of current resources.

“We are not sure how money impacts learning,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. She said that her constituents think that $11,000 per student, even though it is less than many affluent suburbs, is "a lot of money" that doesn't seem to be producing good results.

Councilman David Oh especially questioned whether more funding was the solution to the problem of high-quality public education in Philadelphia. He said that other districts and countries with similar per-student spending amounts produce higher student achievement than Philadelphia.

Though he doesn’t agree that more money is the only solution, Oh acknowledged that creating equity in how state funds are distributed is important. The disparity, he suggested, is that state funding is a constitutional issue, violating the state constitution’s requirement for providing a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”

Some Council members showed frustration over how late in the school year the District releases the details of its budget.

Wilson Goode Jr. repeatedly asked Stanski how early Council could be told the amount of money the District would need from the state. Legally, the District does not need to report on the coming year’s budget until March 31.

Shorr promised to inform City Council on the amount as soon as that information is made available to her. Stanski said that the numbers were still too fluid to give a definitive answer. But he noted that the District sought funds to close a $304 million budget shortfall this year, and so far has fallen far short in raising that amount from the city, state, and through labor concessions.

Next year, he said, the need will be even greater.

"At the start of this school year, we needed an additional $304 million in savings and new revenue just to get back to last year's spending levels," he said. "In future years, our major expenses are expected to increase, despite the drastic cuts. ... Next year, our costs are expected to increase by $75 million to $100 million, due to higher pension and health benefits, utility expenses, charter school payments, and salaries."

Neither Oh nor Goode was satisfied.

“We really need to know ahead of time of how much money is necessary if we are going to advocate to the state,” said Oh.  “We are trying to understand what kind of funding does the School District need.”

Stanski defended how the District has made use of its current budget.

“We have done a good job, with as little resources we have, of getting it into the classroom,” said Stanski.

The District will again have the opportunity to argue for a state-funding model and the need for more resources, but Council wants to make sure that any extra revenue to the School District is warranted.

“We hear you but we still don’t understand,” said Blackwell.


Isaac Riddle is an intern at the Notebook.

Dale Mezzacappa contributed to this report. 

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Comments (31)

Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on November 20, 2013 9:57 pm
That Philadelphia city council members can't make an argument for full funding for its own city schools is just unbelievable and demoralizing. Are they just stupid?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 20, 2013 9:42 pm
No amount of money is enough for the SDP. The budget is already double what it was in 2001 despite declining enrollment. Inflation adjusted it should only be up by 30%. If they have higher healthcare costs, pass those on to the PFT. If they have higher pension costs, require higher contributions from the PFT to cover for it. It's that simple.
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on November 20, 2013 9:10 pm
Not stupid - just selfish and greedy. Anyone question their DROP payments in this manner???? I think not. I mean, they all but stole the 1% sales tax that was supposed to be allocated to the district for THEIR pension funds. I honestly believe they have no respect for those of us who have elected many of them and who are here to be served BY them! I hope and pray that change is coming and we will have some type of revolution. The state of politics in this country is deplorable.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 21, 2013 6:53 am
You have identified the problem. None of these sleazy officials has offered to sacrifice a penny of his own generous pension, health plans, or salary, but they are strongly hinting that the budget can be balanced if only the teachers and other school workers would sacrifice their salaries and benefits. And while we are at it, increase class size, hire fewer nurses and counselors, and basically do more with less. While I do agree that the real costs of daily instruction, including support staff, need to be totally transparent, we have an SRC that is not transparent about its own dealings. The true cost of charter schools, for example, can never be calculated with all the shady dealings in that department. Isn't it time to admit that the experiment in state control has failed (after 12 struggling years) and that the local school district must be controlled and monitored by a local elected board accountable to the taxpayers and under the eye of a dedicated auditor.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:46 am
Your middle paragraph is true, the other 2 not so much. I don't care about the pensions of City Council as long as they don't care about mine. There's much more to it that that but that sums it up. In the third paragraph, you give the state far too much credibility. They know what they're doing and it's about money and power not mistakes on their part. Charter Schools have NOTHING to do with education but everything to do with making money for the already rich. Until WE stop this and by any means necessary, it will only continue and big Billy Hite and The Rooster Nutter will want to close another 30 real Public Schools in April for 'Failing the Kids" after setting them up to fail. In GENERAL, we need to stop making excuses for their corruption and blatant discrimination and raise holy hell about it, not just here but in all the poor, urban areas.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 21, 2013 11:26 am
Joe, we really do not disagree. The state takeover was indeed a deliberate act of sabotage of the district schools. They used the NCLB Trojan Horse to gain control of a huge urban area where they could install their privatization plan. I have been protesting all this since day one. Democrats and Republican are in cahoots. But Corbett is the worst so far. You need to read the two books by Diane Ravitch on this subject: "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" and "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools". Perhaps I was just being too the mattresses!!!!!!!
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 2:13 pm
Yes, Corbett gives "scumbag" a bad name. The coldbloodedness of this is stunning and yet, Obama et al just watch, and yes, their silence is code for approval. I read the first book but..........................that ship has sailed. It's now up to people to stop it and YES, by any means necessary. We ALL get it but reading more and filing complaints etc. ain't gettin it done so we need to step it up several hundred notches and use whatever we have at our disposal to fight a big way. Obama may be an even bigger creep than One Term Tom, afterall, he happens to be President of the U.S. as much as he would like to ignore that reality.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 21, 2013 3:55 pm
Obama has been a huge disappointment. Instead of appointing Linda Darling-Hammond to be his Sec.Ed. he chose Arne Duncan who is in cahoots with the privateers. His "Race to the Top" is no different than NCLB. A race means there are "winners" and losers". I do not know what we can do when members of both parties are working against public education. The SCOTUS has been no help with its decisions that favor the rich campaign contributors. There is a vote pending on SB1085. We must lobby unceasingly for its failure. I already called my senator. Getting the state takeover law overturned must also be a priority.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 3:02 pm
I must assume you are either joking or playing Devil's Advocate. Jefferson, not George but rather Tom once said, "When the people fear the government, that's tyranny; When the government fears the people, that's liberty." Even Aquinas said we had no obligation to follow unjust laws but HAD an obligation to fight against them. How far can the government push, abuse and disrespect before we have had enough??
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 21, 2013 3:47 pm
Joe, I am not joking. I am also not advocating revolution. We can work legally to restore confidence in our schools and thwart the edu-entrepreneurs. This is still a democracy, last time I checked. I am not afraid of governement. I am angry at those who abuse it for personal gain.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 5:41 pm
I think that ship has also sailed. The strategies you've mentioned have done zero so why continue to go there?? It may make some feel warm and fuzzy deluding themselves into a false sense of hope but the facts are pesky little things that keep showing up and they ain't good. Your, yourself, said that both political parties are united against us so.................................................??
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 21, 2013 4:00 pm
Good question. Probably until most of us get uncomfortable enough to be willing to fight. Right now everybody seems to be stuck on "call your representative" and "make Corbett a one term governor", if that. Union leadership is sold out, is very comfortable, and bent on defending status quo. The system is designed to deceive you into thinking that your participation makes difference: it does not. I agree with Russell Brand on that one. I am glad to see your posts. May be you'll succeed in opening some eyes.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 5:14 pm
Thank You. Great Minds think alike although Jefferson also said, "in a place where everybody thinks the same, nobody is thinking very much."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 10:11 pm
The PFT leaders sold their members out long ago and sit complacent about every violation the SDP does. They have no plan, tactic, strategy or negotiating power. It is an ugly enviroment already and mark my words will get uglier and guess what the inept PFT officers will do-NOTHING. The top tier of the PFT are awful and totally disregard their members. Name one member focused thing they did recently or for that fact in the last 6-7 years. I don't want to hear about solidarity, I am all for that but the leaders have turned many members away by their inaction, disrespect towards members, lack of transparency, communication, failure to fight for their members when appropriate, execute grievances, lay off and restore members properly, let the District erase seniority without even a challenge, (except empty words) Until members demand and replace the leaders at the PFT and for that fact the AFT all are doomed. None of them were voting for their high paid jobs by members and represent them very little. Act 46 is there because the PFT officers and apparently their high paid legal team are weak, uninformed and just seem to want to ride this out-wherever that is leading at the expense of their members. But they all will all make out fine since many of the PFT loafers could retire and will make out just great after they give members the shaft. Email them and tell them to stop the lame excuses why the District does stuff (sometimes you don't know if you're talking to the PFT or District since they sound the same), enabling, complaceny, the inaction attitude and actual take action fast not next month or year but NOW. Phone- 215 587 6738
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 22, 2013 5:39 am
I agree with everything you said, except for the last part: there is no point in "contacting them". They will not listen. The only way is to kick them out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 22, 2013 9:27 am
We're Happy to return control to Philly voters as long as the state will no longer guaranty all of your debts. Of course that would make this crisis look benign... Financial irresponsibility has consequences. - pa taxpayer living in Philly.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 8:08 am
Headstart---------------------Bingo. I have plenty of pitchforks and torches and YES, it is coming and the sooner the better.
Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on November 21, 2013 12:30 pm
I'm in! It just galls me how the city council dares to throw stones when they live in DROP funded glass houses!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 4:57 am
Very few City Council members even participated. Those who did show up trashed on the schools. (Too much money????) Public schools apparently are not important to those in power. Don't they realize they "run" a city with entrenched poverty and problems? Don't they realize nothing will change until they prioritize funding and supporting public schools? Apparently not.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:23 am
AGAIN, they KNOW what they're doing. They REALIZE it. They don't care about you. They don't care about the kids. They have a larger, POLITICAL agenda. Please stop wondering about the obvious. You know the real answers !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 22, 2013 9:18 am
Yet the slugs at the SEIU show up looking for something and they are all ears... Why do you think that is? Taking care of the politically connected is the Democrat machines only concern. Children are maybe the only group behind middle class taxpayers in the machines feeding hierarchy.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 8:00 am
I watched most of the Council hearings on the internet. The level of indifference by Council members is astounding. All you have to do is read the comments to the article about the fiscal crisis getting worse next year in the Inquirer to see we face a catastrophe. Some of the Council members were still singing the "bad teacher' song which has been so disastrous. The know nothings in the rest of Pennsylvania hear this and their attitude is let the School District collapse. No one will escape the consequences, including the charter sector, if the politicians in Philadelphia keep trashing their own city.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 10:11 am
What about "bad Council members?" We certainly don't get the cream of the crop. Their attitude toward public education is irresponsible and reprehensible.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:34 am
Some of us our all TALK and no ACTION, BINGO !!!!
Submitted by Christa (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:40 am
If the school district would replace ALL nurses, ALL assistant principals, ALL non-teaching assistants, ALL school operations officers, provide enough counselors for every school you would see a drastic change. We were doing decently for a time because we had all of these supports. The schools are not functioning properly and there is no true learning going on. As a middle school teacher, my colleagues and I spend the first 10 minutes of every period rounding up our students from the hallway because there are no hall monitors. The lunchroom is insane because we do not have enough staff to make it run smoothly. The enrollment of students has not declined, it has simply shifted to charter which the SDP pays for. The students are still here they are just attending charter schools. The state of Pennsylvania is paying for a double school system, charter and public...There should only be 1 school system. There is a plethora of evidence that shows how charters are no better than public schools academically. The only thing they do better is environment because they are able to get rid of the students who are disruptive. If public schools got rid of the students who cause disruptions you would see our score jump as well. Stop believing the lies that charters are better. Do the research for yourself.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 22, 2013 9:48 am
Why can't public schools separate out disruptive kids into separate programs? That is a choice the Ed establishment has made, to the detriment of all. inventing 'rights' to be disruptive without consequence. Then complaining/wondering why educated parents who care flee the chaos factories their policies obviously led to in urban districts.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:01 am
Christa, Charters are not better, they are ONLY perceived as safer. Parents want to know their child is safe first, and then educated second. The SRC or a Board should not have to go each year to a council that doesn't really care about the school district. The SRC or a Board should be elected and be able to raise their own taxes as the other 499 districts do. The city will fight this in order to control the pocketbook. An elected Board will have to control the spending or they are voted out. Now they have no need to because they are appointed. Finally the ineptness of the city to collect pass due taxes is ridiculous. Imagine how just a third of the $500 mill plus owed to the city could help the SDP.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 12:32 pm
Kids don't send Jannie campaign contributions so screw 'em. What a shameful attitude for a former teacher. She wouldn't even be in City Council had she not taught Lucien's kids. As it is, her number one priority is making sure MCIC gets paid.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 9:00 pm
damn ouch truth hurts
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2013 10:06 pm
Honestly Mayor Nutter and City Council are disgraceful and have made Philadelphia worse and will make it worse than anyone seen because they obviously are too dumb to realize education and a decent public school system is the pillar of a municipality,businesses,community standards,housing,jobs, and many other events that revolve around an education system that works. All Phila Council and Nutter do is fight against and agree with the greedy rich and Corbett destroying their own city. Get rid of those bums.
Submitted by tom-104 on November 21, 2013 10:40 pm
City Council should listen to these two reports from NPR and then try and sing their "bad teachers" song. Kids Pay The Price In Fight Over Fixing Philadelphia Schools Unrelenting Poverty Leads To 'Desperation' In Philly Schools

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