For nearly three hours Thursday night, the School Reform Commission listened to harsh and bitter criticism of its move last week to cancel its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and unliaterally change health benefits for the union's 11,500 members.
In response to the District’s proposed budget cuts to subsidized public transportation, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has created a guide for high school students who want to bike to school as an alternative.
Last school year, high school students who lived more than 1.5 miles from their schools were eligible to receive free SEPTA TransPasses. But in August the District made a proposal to increase the distance to two miles, making 7,500 high school students ineligible to receive the subsidy.
Hite said during the first School Reform Commission meeting of the new school year that the District is working with several partners to avoid the transportation cuts, but many students still need assistance.
Flanked by four members of the School Reform Commission, Superintendent William Hite announced Friday morning that Philadelphia schools would open on time Sept. 8, but that another round of "difficult and hopefully temporary" cuts would be made to narrow the District's $81 million deficit.
Here are five key points about the School District's latest plan for dealing with its budget gap.
1. Temporary cuts and budget adjustments totaling $32 million were announced. These include discontinuing TransPasses for 7,500 high school students who live less than two miles from school, eliminating 300 slots in alternative programs for students at risk of dropping out, making 27 more elementary schools share police officers, reducing school cleaning and repairs, cutting extra professional development time at the District's Promise Academies, and eliminating some administrative positions. "These are cuts we want to treat as temporary," Hite said. "We want to restore them."
Amarii Simpson, 9, was sitting up front, a copy of My First Dictionary on the table before him in a room at the McVeigh Recreation Center at D and Ontario Street in Kensington.
Why was he reading a dictionary?
He gave a "duh" look in response to the question.
"So I can learn more words!"
Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and a founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), is a fixture at School Reform Commission meetings and a consistent advocate for transparency, adequate funding, and a strong union role in public education.
“Public schools must continue to be a civic enterprise where district policies and decisions are formulated in public forums,” says the APPS mission statement, “not a financial enterprise controlled by corporate interests."
Gov. Corbett is authorizing a $265 million advance to the Philadelphia School District.
This is an early disbursement of money that the district was already scheduled to receive, and thus does not erase the district's $81 million budget gap.
Updated | 3:25 p.m.
The School District announced 342 layoffs Thursday, most of them noontime aides and special-education classroom assistants.
But the total also includes eight assistant principals, three conflict-resolution specialists, and 15 assistants in Head Start classrooms.
District spokeswoman Raven Hill said that these layoffs were mostly the result of budget decisions made by principals and are not related to the 1,300 layoffs that may be necessary if the legislature fails to give final approval to a cigarette tax to raise funds for the District.
After winning a major victory in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, the proposed cigarette tax for Philly schools appears stalled in a game of legislative pingpong.
On Tuesday, the Senate sent the bill back to the House by adding amendments, and now the House isn't scheduled to reconsider the measure until Aug. 4.
School leaders say that leaves plans for opening schools in September in total disarray.
Has Pennsylvania been coming through on its constitutional requirement to provide all children with a "thorough and efficient" education? In a recent interview at WHYY studios, Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite said, flatly, "No."
"Unfortunately, we're left with a situation where we're trying to only spend what we have," said Hite, "and that provides resources that are inadequate and insufficient in order to educate children."
In one of the quieter School Reform Commission meetings in recent months, commissioners voted Thursday to revoke the charter of Mount Airy’s New Media Charter School, while renewing five-year charters for three other schools.
In its last regular meeting of the school year, it also took a series of other actions, including a vote to permanently close the former William Penn High School and sold it to Temple University for $15 million.