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District ratchets up pleas for more funds; Clarke calls request 'disturbing and unfair'

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 17, 2014 05:35 PM

Superintendent William Hite and School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green are putting on a full-court press through the media to convince City Council to approve a higher borrowing level for the School District, warning of hundreds of teacher layoffs and other dire consequences if lawmakers don't act.

In response, Council President Darrell Clarke accused the District of "dealing with a ... budget deficit of its own making" and of "disrespect" for the city's taxpayers.

“Considering City Council is the only funding authority that has consistently increased revenues for the state-controlled School District of Philadelphia over the last four years, this disrespect toward City taxpayers is disturbing and unfair," said Clarke in a response to Green's and Hite's statements.

Hite warned again of schools that, come September, will be so understaffed that they would no longer be educational institutions. For the first time, he talked about one strategy urged by advocates -- opening schools fully staffed and then closing them when the money runs out -- as something that is being seriously considered.

"All of these things have consequences. That is why we have to review each one," Hite said.

Green, who left City Council in February to become SRC chair, said he hasn't given up hope that his former colleagues will "do the right thing." And he said later in an interview that, since joining the SRC, he realizes that his own votes against giving the District additional funds in the past -- before Hite became superintendent -- were "bad votes."

It is possible, Green said, to reach a point that resources are so lacking that it is impossible "to do anything well. ... We're at a level of funding that is not sustainable." The constant, year-by-year begging for adequate resources is causing anyone who can to leave the city and is undermining the city's future, he said.

The standoff with Council is a source of growing frustration for education advocates, dozens of whom stood with Hite and Green on Tuesday in the atrium of District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. They agree with District leaders that both the city and the commonwealth need to allocate more money to the city's schools.

But the focus is now on City Council, which will vote Thursday on a bill to borrow $27 million against future sales tax revenues and give the money to the District. Under authority granted by the state, Council could have voted to borrow $55 million with minimal impact to the cty's budget and no impact on current city services.

Green said that because Council is "leaving $28 million on the table," the District will be forced to cut about $40 million in personnel and programs. The higher amount is due to the costs of layoffs in one-time termination payments and outlays.

"It's time to place politics and oneupsmanship aside," Hite said. City and state lawmakers, he said, are playing a "dangerous game of chicken" at the expense of the city's kids.

"These are our children. These are not somebody else's children," Hite said.

It is still possible to amend the bill, though City Council would have to come back on June 26 for final passage.

The SRC has no taxing power of its own and is dependent on city and state funding to stay open. Since Gov. Corbett took office, the state has made decisions that drastically cut back the amount of money sent to school districts across the state. For Philadelphia, it was a combination of the end of federal stimulus funds that weren't replaced by the state and decisions like ending a partial state reimbursement for charter school spending. Elimination of that budget line item alone cost Philadelphia $110 million a year.

City Council has stepped in to fill some of the shortfall. Local funding for the schools has increased about $290 million annually since Mayor Nutter took office, according to a letter he sent to Hite yesterday. This has not been nearly enough to stave off thousands of layoffs and other drastic cuts.

Council feels put upon, especially because it had been eyeing the extension of Philadelphia's 1 percent sales tax surcharge to help shore up the city's ailing pension fund. The General Assembly, while declining to increase state aid to the District, told the city to apply $120 million a year from those funds to the schools starting in 2014-15.

It then gave Council the authority to borrow $50 million against the future tax revenue to fill the hole in this year's budget.

But Clarke has resisted doing that. Instead, he proposed to fill the hole this year by giving the District $50 million in return for its vacant properties, which the city would then sell. 

The District nixed that offer. Its leaders have consistently said they should have the full amount possible from the state-authorized borrowing as well as all the proceeds from the building sales.

Officials say they need $96 million more in funds just to reach this year's spotty level of services. The $28 million would go toward closing that gap, said spokesman Fernando Gallard. 

Hite and Green say they need $440 million to fully staff schools and make a start on Hite's reform plans. For that, they are asking for $195 million from the city, $150 million from the state, and $95 million in labor concessions.

City Council wants to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2 to raise money for the schools -- which would bring in about $80 million a year -- but it needs authorization from the state legislature. And as the state faces its own funding shortfall, it is considering some revenue increases, which could make it possible to get approval for the cigarette tax.

The state doesn't finalize its budget until the end of June, while City Council's last scheduled session is Thursday. Hite, Green, and the mayor have made multiple trips to Harrisburg to see if there is any deal that could bring more state money to the city schools. Green said they are advocating for restoration of the charter school reimbursement line item as one way to raise needed funds.

But Hite said that Council's continued reluctance to adopt the measures that the legislature approved last year -- the $120 million sales tax extension and the $50 million in borrowing for this year -- is making it harder to get Harrisburg to act.

"All of those things become distractions," he said.

Clarke, however, says that it is the state's responsibility to fund schools and the city has done its share. The District's needs are draining money from the city and slowing its recovery, he said.

"While other large cities are enhancing services and infrastructure following the Great Recession," he wrote in his response, "the City of Philadelphia remains in perpetual recession thanks to the School District’s ongoing fiscal challenges. Instead of improving core City functions like public safety, we are looking for more ways to squeeze money from our residents to send to a School District that feels it is not accountable to us."

His former colleague, Green, takes the opposite view. A good school system is essential to economic health, he said.

"We're here to transform our schools to transform our city," said Green.

Nutter has largely backed the District's position. He sent a letter to Hite that didn't specifically endorse the additional $28 million in borrowing, although he has said he supports that option. He said that on a "listening tour" of schools over the past several weeks, he has asked students and teachers what they need and would like to have.

"Their requests were so heartbreakingly meager," he said. "Workbooks they can write in. Someone to help them apply for financial aid. Supplies so they can have biology and chemistry labs. Current textbooks. More adults so they can feel safe in the hallways. A couple of clubs after school. Sports equipment. These requests from our students should shame us as a city and a state."

For the workers in the schools, the problem is obvious.

"We're seeing a deterioration in what we can offer students," said Marjorie Neff, the principal of Masterman middle and high school, who is retiring this year. The elite magnet school has been forced to increase class size, cut some courses, and scrimp for supplies and other basics.

"Masterman has been a great equalizer for academically talented kids regardless of their income," she said. "If the opportunities are not here, parents will make up the gaps if they can afford it. If parents can't afford it, kids will be denied those opportunities. That's wrong."

Hite and Green said they remained optimistic. Green tweeted about thanking his former colleagues in advance for approving the additional $28 million in borrowing. 

"I'm certainly not conceding defeat," said Hite. "We hear it all the time, we're not going to give you one more dime. But I'm not going to concede. The stakes are too high."


Video by Dorian Geiger

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Comments (30)

Submitted by Sue K (not verified) on June 17, 2014 6:53 pm
No labor concessions. None. There is money and it has been mismanaged. The money that has been saved from not giving PFT members raises for years and money diverted to charter schools should more than make up for this deficit. Use that money to repay PFT members cost-of-living increases and fund our kids' schools properly. Slash the number of 440 administrators and their salaries. That should be about $28 millions right there.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 17, 2014 7:14 pm
Yes, the money was mismanaged. But it is rich to hear so from a beneficiary of the mismanagement. Funding per pupil doubled since then. Inflation was up 32%. At the same time, the number of admin positions was cut by over 1000. Where did all that money go? (hint: look in the mirror). Retroactively jacking up your pension benefits by 35% in 2001-2 caused the current problem. Using stimulus and borrowing money to give raises in the last contract compounded the problem. You are right, that IS mismanagement. But no, another retroactive raise is not the answer.
Submitted by Sue K (not verified) on June 17, 2014 7:53 pm
I looked in the mirror, but I didn't see the money. Stimulus money was used for many things (I think of the all-day summer school (SLAM!)). You make generalizations based on assumptions. It's unwise. Rhetoric doesn't make you the winner, but you are welcome to think it does. It is difficult to take you seriously when you make such erroneous statements, though. You don't know me or where I was working in 2001-2 (hint: it wasn't Philadelphia). I've every right to expect to be paid fairly for a difficult job where I work hard. I shan't apologize for it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:08 am
Pretty much everyone always wants more money no matter how much they have. Your request for retroactive raises fits into that category. A unicorn that poops gold bars might make that happen. I don't make generalizations. I pointed to two examples of mismanagement that you benefited from. There are obvious many other sources of mismanagement in the school system that don't benefit you or the children. And there is an absurd level of gross waste and mismanagement across the city government. It is a fact that much current funding crisis is attributable to the irresponsible, fraudulent multi-BILLION dollar increase of pension benefits in 2001, followed by underfunding (undefunding that was supported by your union so as to free up more operating money for raises). It is also a fact that as the district was running deficits it gave out unsupportable raises in the last contract. How does one DOUBLE spending per pupil, lay off 1000 administrators, shut schools and still have a chronic deficit? The employees did very well over the last 15 years.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 17, 2014 7:41 pm
There have already been labor concessions. We didn't get step raises. We didn't get Master's bumps. We have 38 kids in our classrooms instead of 33. We are now the counselors and nurses. We bring supplies for our students. We write more curriculum and make up more activities since our schools lost their teacher editions years ago. Unless you quit--and I wouldn't blame you--you've made concessions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 17, 2014 6:32 pm
Outsource all the SEIU workers. Then council will step up and deliver more money. That is all they care about- Maximizing the number of public sector workers beholden to their machine. The more waste the better. Being able to turn people with no skills and limited work ethic into an $85k a year employee (cost of salary health and pension, or more with overtime) is godly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:28 am
yeah sure
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 12:57 pm
we gave back 100,000,000 million already bub
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 19, 2014 9:03 am
And amazingly you still cost $10 million more a year than a private sector alternative. So congrats for your many years of completely screwing the district out of $100's of millions.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on June 17, 2014 6:47 pm
The City Council refuses to enact measures that the Legislature authorized last summer. Now the Genius Elected for Life Democrat Darrell Clarke says the deficit is the work of the schools not his fault. You have to laugh at the stupid inconsistency of this man. Yet he does not give a damn about the schools. Yet he expects the State Legislature to ride to the rescue of the schools after the Council told its own schools to drop dead. What goes on in this man's mind???
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:52 am
I agree with you Poogie, but there's a lot of compartmentalized thinking going all around. Start with the SRC, and the SDP. Despite all the intelligent analysis, BCG's, and Helen's article found in the Notebook's archives about the effect of the charter funding formula, not a single proposal to Harrisburg has been made to change this. Instead it's "we need more money"..."we don't have more money"... redundant and ineffective... redundant...
Submitted by anon (not verified) on June 17, 2014 6:25 pm
as a teacher and philadelphian, i have to agree that clarke makes a valid point here. until they fix the hole in the bucket that is charter school funding, the district's demand for $ will always run ahead of the supply. as fast as they raise taxes to steer more money to the district, the money is drained out of the system and into charter owner's pockets. a dual school system is not sustainable. this is a problem created by the state that can only be solved by the state. witness the $100 million they siphoned off in the past year just from special education services.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:58 am
It would be interesting using the data on the State's website to add the charter surpluses (difference between income and expenditures) in Philadelphia. A funding formula that was supposed to ensure equity is leaving the home district with a huge deficit and the charters with surpluses. What more evidence is needed that that formula needs to be changed?
Submitted by Dave (not verified) on June 17, 2014 7:28 pm
Green admits that he made bad decisions in the past? How disgusting! Throw a comment out there like that and expect forgiveness.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:51 am
green is a bad decision.hes a loser
Submitted by Lisa Haver on June 17, 2014 10:08 pm
"Hite and Green say they need $440 million to fully staff schools and make a start on Hite's reform plans. For that, they are asking for $195 million from the city, $150 million from the state, and $95 million in labor concessions." What are Hite's reform plans? What does Green mean when he repeatedly talks about the "transformation" of the school district? Based on the actions of the district toward teachers and parents, especially after what has transpired with Steel, Munoz-Marin, Blaine and Kelley, it sounds like they want union members to help fund the Hite/Kihn/Green/Gleason plan to privatize schools, take away collective bargaining rights, recruit TFA rather than bring back laid off teachers, and slash salary and benefits. Can't blame people for wanting to take a pass on that one. Teachers are not a funding source. It makes no sense at all to ask public employees to pay for the mismanagement and disastrous political decisions of those who created this situation. Green’s continued attacks on Council, and his position that Council should pass more regressive taxes on Philadelphians, serve to protect the Governor who appointed him. Has he asked Corbett to accept the Medicaid expansion from the federal government? That alone would put close to $200 million in state coffers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:09 am
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on June 17, 2014 10:17 pm
Good to see that Jerry Jordon was at the John Dougherty sponsored fund raiser for the Darrell Clarke for mayor. Glad to see PFT dues going to the mayoral campaign of the man who is burying Public Education. I for for one an thrilled to pay those dues.
Submitted by sparky (not verified) on June 18, 2014 7:36 am
Union dues are not used for partisan political purposes. Only money which members donate to a separate PAC fund can be used to support a candidate. And it's not Clarke who is burying education. That would be Corbett.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on June 18, 2014 8:37 am
Are you insane or duplicitous? Was it Corbett who refused to authorize the 1% sales tax last year and instead use that money for things like DROP PAyments to city council members which not other city except Philadelphia allows elected officals to steal. Was it Corbett who refused to borrow the $50 million that the legislature authorized or was that Clarke? Is it Clarke or Corbett who is blaming the deficit on the schools and calling them disrespectful??? Jerry get your facts right.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 8:07 am
ACTUALLY... I know the PFT rhetoric "please support the Committee to Support Public Education because we can't use your dues for political purposes..." It is true that direct political contributions have to come from PAC's like this. However, if you research how the PFT accounts for their spending, you will find money spent under categories like "Political Activity & Lobbying" so PFT does use some of its operating funds for political purposes. That being said, I am a PFT Building Rep., a supporter of the PFT's PAC, and I do agree that we need to expect more from the political leaders that we support!
Submitted by sparky (not verified) on June 18, 2014 8:18 am
That would mean something like paying for a liaison to Harrisburg or Washington to testify about or lobby for education funding or passage of an education bill. Political activity on issues which affect union members is not banned. Contributing to the campaign of a candidate or potential candidate is.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 10:32 am
No, your dues also fund independent expenditures designed to support a candidate, or promote an issue. TV ads run during campaign season attacking your candidates opponents. Get out the vote efforts to support a specific candidate. That is the way campaigns are funded nowadays. Same category as the Koch's. Your dues fund most political activity, that is everything except direct contributions to the candidate's fund.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 11:38 am
Jerry Jordan is following the lead of his mentor Randi Weingarten AFT’s Weingarten Supports Malloy, and Likely, Cuomo
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 17, 2014 10:01 pm
I'm torn with the decision to continue funding the SDP. I have been an employee of the district for 15years, and it's and embarrassment I've watched teachers being beat by students,I've sat in classes no academic performance on the students part. Its photo sessions, rap sessions so much vulgar language. I've witnesses teachers break down and cry, I've witnessed Special Education teachers verbally insult children telling "one child his mother sucked her brothers d***". I've witnessed teachers/principals trying to set children up for stealing laptops, instigating fights, to the point of one child finger being broken. No consequences to the teacher, or Principal whom had knowledge to all this information @ one N.Philly school.The students are in the hall more than class, smoking setting fires, having sex, The SDP seems to be a joke; I feel bad for the teachers some of them care, but with no real support what do you do.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 8:56 am
Please be aware that your outlying experience is not acceptable and is not the norm for most schools across the district. I have taught in Northeast, West, and South Philadelphia, and have never experiences. We need to take back control of the schools that are out of control, but most importantly we should not be blasting each other for our failures, but supporting each other as we try to improve.
Submitted by anyone (not verified) on June 18, 2014 9:47 am
Bottom line: the district's budget has been cut in half. Do that type of cuts to any business operating pretty much at capacity (certainly there is waste, and certainly accountability matters, but that is actually pretty typical). Arguing with each other about the quality of school under these conditions or how political donations MIGHT be poorly allocated is pitting Philadelphians against each other when in fact the major source of this problem resides in Harrisburg. This is sad. I want to send my children to SDP schools one day. I want to see our city thrive and have a world class education system. It is possible. If we do not collectively understand that raising taxes both locally and statewide, demanding transparency across the board, holding public officials accountable, and requiring a more equitable funding formula is necessary to get the ball rolling then we will all sink. Seriously, what other options are there? Hand all schools over to private companies to reduce labor costs? Seems logical when you know nothing about education. You go into many of these schools and see that they are not well run. Some are. Same for traditional schools. So, one could argue, if the conditions are pretty much the same (which they aren't), why not go with charters? Simple: this level of reform has not made significant improvements to the schooling experience (minus a few outliers). One thing we are finding in charter schools (again hard to use that word monolithically) is that teacher turnover is quite high. Nothing could be more destabilizing to a child's education than this factor. These teachers are leaving because many of these schools are no good, and run like ignorant dictatorships. Do NOT be fooled by rising test scores either--that is often a result of having students and teachers focus solely on the test all year instead of delivering a sound, well-rounded education. Studies are illustrating a lack of instruction in non-tested subjects. What does this rant mean? We ain't gonna get a better school system by being cheap. After getting funding levels back to a pre-Ackerman levels, we have to support real capacity building in schools. These issues have gone on long enough and we have enough data, research, practice and day-to-day knowledge on how to do this better. School improvement is not a secret. Of course, the one route this district took to look better was to teach to the test and bully administrators and teachers into that regime. HUGE MISTAKE for a number of really clear reasons pedagogically, reasons that would have netted better testing outcomes and be educationally sound (again not much different than charter). If we continue to have a emotionally-driven public policy debate, continue to look at narrow test scores as the barometer of success rather than a data point, and refuse to work together politically then we are done. Sorry, long post, which could have been much longer.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 11:36 am
Why does no one address the fact that while Bill Greene was on city Council he voted against any funding ideas for the Philadelphia Public Schools, so much so, that Mayor Nutter opposed his appointment to the SRC. Yet now he is pleading for all the funding ideas that he voted against. Also, in the last month Hite has hired at least two new executives at the district headquarters at 6 figure salaries and given raises to at least six current employees making their already 6 figure salaries even higher. These employees do not work directly with students. One employee was hired to recruit new staff and is a former employee of Teach for America, who is she meant to hire if there will be more drastic layoffs? Is she to hire more top executives at 440 at 6 figure salaries? There is money in the PSD if Hite can give his 440 staff raises and hire new 440 staff. Also, the PSD has money from the 3000 plus teachers/counselors etc still laid off, as the PSD is saving money by not having to pay these salaries and their health care.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 11:40 am
Don't forget that Green recently accepted a lucrative offer to join a major Philadelphia law firm. He will likely earn six figures simply to whine about how tough it is if Hite to not get what he wants. Green and Hite make a mint while demanding that the PFT make a sacrifice.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 18, 2014 3:38 pm
While they threaten layoffs, they advertise for new teachers......

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