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."
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."
As the head of the Philadelphia School Partnership, Mark Gleason sits at the heart of the school reform movement in Philadelphia.
PSP is the conduit for tens of millions in philanthropic dollars, which it deploys to support what it calls “the transformation, expansion and startup of high-performing schools.” It measures success by “the number of students in Philadelphia who move out of failing schools to better-quality school options.”
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.
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to grant a five-year renewal to New Foundations Charter School, but postponed a decision on two others.
It also gave a $93 million, three-year contract to Maramont Corp. for school lunch services, but only after extensive questioning of company representatives and the District's food service staff.
Updated | 11:30 p.m.
The School Reform Commission declined Thursday to adopt a budget proposal that would raise class sizes as high as 41, cut 800 teachers, reduce special education services to their bare minimum, prevent all but the most basic building maintenance, and make further cuts in services like counselors and nurses.
The SRC made the decision even though failing to adopt a budget before the end of May violates the city charter.
"Rather than adopting a 'Doomsday II' budget – and give anyone the impression that the cuts it contains are feasible or acceptable – we are going to not act on the budget tonight," announced SRC Chairman Bill Green. "Instead, we will continue to focus our energy and attention on securing the needed funding for our schools."
City Council summoned School District leadership Wednesday to answer more questions on the needs of the schools and to argue over what the city can and should provide.
But after three hours of sharp verbal sparring, they seemed no closer to a breakthrough that could get the District enough money in time to avoid triggering hundreds of layoffs and planning for class sizes in September of 40 students or more.
The legal battle over whether Philadelphia's School Reform Commission has the power to unilaterally impose new work rules on the District's teachers is getting more intense with the filing of new arguments urging quick action by the Supreme Court.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) maintains that "the collective bargaining agreement ... has proven a particularly high barrier to the District effecting reforms essential to providing services in a fiscally responsible and manageable manner."
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a $2.8 billion “lump sum” budget for fiscal 2015 that counts on receiving $440 million more in revenue than it currently has secured.
It did so shortly after an unprecedented scene in City Hall, when a few dozen school principals clogged the corridors to dramatize the appalling conditions in their schools and ask Council members for more funds.
And State Sen. Vincent Hughes addressed the SRC directly after holding a rally on the District’s steps in which he called for taxing Marcellus Shale extraction – Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state in the country that doesn’t do so – to raise money for education.
The School Reform Commission approved the sales of six vacant properties Thursday night, most of them schools that were closed within the last two years.
It also ratified a contract with the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents principals and assistant principals, who will reduce their work year and see lower salaries.
The properties will be sold for a total of $37 million under the current agreements, but the District will net $25.8 million after closing costs and other costs are taken out, said Fran Burns, the District's operations manager.