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Lump sum budget counts on $440 million not yet secured; principals storm Council

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 27, 2014 09:27 PM

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.

District Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski’s presentation to the SRC said that the District needs $120 million from a 1 percent city sales tax extension plus $100 million in funds that are as yet uncommitted just to maintain current levels of “inadequate” service.

SRC Chair Bill Green said that, with so many unknowns, the District’s current financial situation remains “dire.”

"No one would submit that the status quo is sufficient for the education of children in Philadelphia,” said Superintendent William Hite.

Stanski said that $220 million above that would get the District back to providing adequate services in schools and make a start on the “transformation” and innovation agenda described in Hite’s reform agenda, called Action Plan 2.0.

The District will end this year with a $29 million deficit instead of the $14 million projected earlier, only adding to the District’s woes. That is due primarily to higher costs for utilities during the cold winter and additional special education expenditures to place more severely disabled students in private school placements, Stanski said. Also, city real estate tax revenues have dipped.

The City Council visits and Hughes’ push for a shale tax are part of the building drama in the attempt to get the people who hold the District’s purse strings -- City Council and the state legislature -- to recognize how urgent the schools’ situation is.

Principal Otis Hackney of South Philadelphia High School said he told Council members that principals are being run ragged and that students don’t have what they need.

“We just don’t have the people. I don’t know how long we can sustain this pace,” he said.

The 2015 school budgets sent to principals this week include only enough to get them to the level of services they have now. Those budgets assume that the District will get $120 million in additional sales tax revenue, plus  $100 million in new dollars.

The sales tax extension, authorized by Pennsylvania's General Assembly last year, has been stalled by City Council President Darrell Clarke's insistence on splitting the revenues "equitably" between the District and the city’s struggling pension fund. Mayor Nutter has said he agrees with Clarke that the funds should be used for both the District and pensions, which would require new legislation from the state. 

Clarke and Nutter want a new city cigarette tax to send money to schools, but that requires legislative authorization from Harrisburg as well. 

The principals asked City Council to approve Harrisburg's version of the sales tax extension pronto and met with 10 of the 16 Council members – but not Clarke, who said his schedule didn’t permit it.

“We need sustainability. We need stability,” said Hildebrand Pelzer III of Carnell Elementary School in Oxford Circle, one of the principals who met with Council members. “I need to be able to tell my teachers and my school community that we’re going to grow from where we are. Every morning my children say, ‘We’re going to become a high-performing school.’ Well, to become a high-performing school, I need those resources in place.”

Green, who left his seat on City Council to take the SRC chairmanship, made reference to an actuarial study showing that while the schools do without, diverting money from the sales tax to the pension fund won’t significantly accelerate the process of fully funding pension obligations

Instead of the city reaching its goal of having pension obligations 80 percent funded by 2028, it would reach that point by 2030 if the first $120 million raised each year in sales tax revenues goes to schools, the study found.

Plus, he said, “The city’s five-year plan has funding for the pension in it, but we don’t have enough money for our five-year plan.” 

Clarke has disputed the findings of that study, saying they are based on overly optimistic projections.

Despite Clarke's insistence on splitting sales tax revenues, Stanski said he was confident in getting the $120 million from Council, although it would be better to get it now instead of at the last minute in June as Council exhausts other options.

Officials familiar with the Harrisburg scene say that the legislature is unlikely to direct new state funds to Philadelphia if the city hasn't made use of the authorization already given for the sales tax extension.

Hughes said that his Marcellus Shale plan is not as far-fetched as it may seem politically because so many districts in the state have seen their state aid shrivel over the last several years and have been forced to raise local taxes. Gov. Corbett, who is running for reelection, has pledged not to raise taxes and has repeatedly rejected the idea of a shale tax.

“I say it with some sense of optimism,” Hughes said, citing "bipartisan" interest in his proposal.

“In conversation with colleagues, I’m not telling you everyone is rushing towards it, but a number of important people are not running away.”

Districts across the state need to band together and make their hardships known, he said.

A 5 percent extraction tax would yield about $375 million for public education statewide this year, Hughes said. Under his plan, more than $100 million of that would come to Philadelphia by reinstating a budget line item that reimburses school districts for part of the costs they incur due to charter schools.

Since 2010-11, Stanski said, charter school costs have grown from 18 percent to 29 percent of the District’s total budget, while money spent directly in District schools has shrunk from 63 percent to 54 percent. Now, nearly one in three city students who attend a publicly funded school is a charter student.

Speakers at the meeting pressed the SRC and Hite to explain why they are pursuing policies that would make life harder for teachers, such as reducing the role of seniority in teacher placement and layoffs and eliminating contract provisions that ensure the presence of counselors and librarians in schools.

“To be honest here, there is no way to right the financial ship of the District as long as it continues to bleed money and children to charter schools,” said South Philadelphia High School teacher Mark Wilkins. “You can get your pound of flesh from teachers, but it will only slow, and not stop, the bleeding.”

West Philadelphia parent Terrilyn McCormick said in testimony that even though parents have been busy raising money for everything from teachers and librarians to art supplies, “you leave us out of discussions. ... We deserve a place at the table." 

Green, who in his first few SRC meetings has been confronted with anger and frustration, tried to set a conciliatory tone.

“I hope everyone, whether you agree with the choices we make, will help us advocate at the state and city levels for resources we need,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kevin McCorry of WHYY.

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Comments (40)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 6:17 am
Does this assume wage concessions from PFT?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 3:07 pm
While I share Barry Bennett's concern for the growing inequity in this country (Corporations or People? Restoring the Common Good" J/F 2012), I didn't see any workable solutions in his article. First, he argues under the delusion that we can somehow return to the boom time of the 1950s, when wages began their historic rise. The reality is that we are now competing globally with workers who are glad to get wages far below our expected levels. Productivity increased faster than wages not only because of improved labor skills, but because of technological enhancements. We can't abandon those, and we aren't going to increase real wages again for a very long time, even in high-tech jobs. In fact, the only way to improve U.S. employment security and lower unemployment is to lower the minimum wage to compete with foreign workers! Individuals and unions, which are still essential to the preservation of workers' rights and safe working conditions, must offer increasingly greater wage concessions. (We have already seen these in the automotive and steel industries.) The good news in such a wage race--not to the bottom, but to the middle of future global averages--is that our standard of living won't decline greatly, since prices will generally decline, too. The heads of U.S. corporations, on the other hand, have been able to grow their companies, their revenues, and their personal incomes by operating globally. Contrary to Bennett's assumption, businesses have never operated for the purpose of improving "the public good," and I don't think they can be forced to do so. But that is one of the roles of governments, at least as envisioned by most of us, and there is precedent for progressive taxation. So, yes, we can demand that governments tax the wealthy more heavily for "the common good"--better public education, lower crime, a cleaner environment, reliable infrastructure, national defense, and social programs for the elderly and others in need. We can demand that they redistribute the wealth over any objections, not because it's ethical (which it may be), but because it is essential to preserving the middle class and a stable society for the benefit of all Americans. I hope no rich American wants us to become a "third-world" country with poverty, disease, and crime everywhere but certain gated enclaves. There have been many wealthy U.S. leaders who have represented the middle class out of a sense of responsibility, and there are many today who are willing to do so by accepting higher taxes and supporting a social agenda (which is NOT socialism). After reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, it's clear to me that this country has always been led by the wealthy, and the few leaders who were not rich were forced to honor most requests by their wealthy supporters. Our responsibility as "the people" is to support those leaders who have demonstrated that they have the interests of the whole country--corporations and the American people--at heart. It can't be either-or. Members of PFT give many out of pocket concessions in and outside of the classroom. Unless you are working within the classroom and see what I see as a parent everyday, you cannot possibly believe they are not.
Submitted by DAVE (not verified) on March 28, 2014 6:33 am
I'd like to know how much money the District throws away on Test Prep; Common Core and it's related testing. Real education goes on in the classroom -- the best tests are teacher made tests. Throw out the standardized tests!! PARENTS: OPT OUT!! YOU HAVE THE RIGHT! ALL THIS STANDARDIZED TESTING IS ABUSE! TEACHERS: DON'T GIVE IN TO WAGE CONCESSIONS WHILE THE DISTRICT WASTES MONEY ON THE COMMON CORE!
Submitted by DAVE (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:01 am
How can teachers even think about wage concessions while Charter Schools bleed the District with NO ACCOUNTABILITY and NO TRANSPARENCY!! Charter Schools are NOT PUBLIC SCHOOLS!
Submitted by anon (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:08 am
if parents and the press could walk around our schools and see all the classroom walls and halls that have been covered up and will remain covered up with sheets and construction paper for the next two months, perhaps it'd hit home what a sham this testing movement is and how completely the testing companies have hijacked the school agenda. what a shameful state of affairs is public education in 2014. imagine that.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 28, 2014 11:13 am
Yes it is true. There is plenty of money which is wasted on things which provide absolutely no benefit to children and are, in reality, impediments to teaching students well. That is why the Opt Out movement is growing. People are beginning to realize these tests are not being given to help students at all and the inordinate pressure being put on children is hurting many of them emotionally. They are being given to justify the turning of schools over to private entities. There is plenty of money for efforts to "privatize the Philadelphia schoolhouse," but no money to support students or to ensure that teachers are treated as professionals and not factory workers. It is all part of the "privatization game" and the corporate raid on our public schools to marketize our schools. As we all know at the next SRC meeting or the next after that, the SRC will "roll out" the next turnovers to the favored "charter operators." Those decisions are being made behind closed doors without any input from the community or advance notice of which schools will be "turned over." That is the "next step" in the Walmartization of our schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 4:52 pm
I have opted out. I think this whole standardized testing reeks of dog$#!% plain and simple. My son is a public school student, has Asperger's and is mainstreamed. However, he has never, I repeat has never passed a standardized test in his life. This is an email I sent to my son's teacher. Dear Ms. K, What exactly is Keystone Testing. I'm tired of subjecting my child to meaningless testing done by the district to prove who has the smartest or dumbest children because of mandates put in place by the government, who in turn use those numbers to decide how many jails they will create based on who can pass a standardized test and who cannot. Just because a child cannot pass standardized tests does not mean they cannot be successful. Suppose I decide I do not want my child to participate in this nonsense of testing experiments that you need to do to receive federal funding? Then what? My son, has NEVER in his school career, since being a student, has NEVER passed this or ANY other standardized tests. I don't believe this test will make any difference. These tests and mandates were also put into place to undermine and prostitute the teaching profession, to put monies into politician's and their friend's pockets, to create fear in parents minds that charter schools are the greatest inventions since sliced bread when many of us have common sense to know they are not, and to label and justify an unjustifiable take over of our district as a class one distressed district that has wreaked major havoc upon the self esteem of many children, the closing of numerous schools, the loss of careers of educators, and the weakening of teacher unions. From my research, I think this is the test that says if your child doesn't pass this while in 12th grade they are not given a diploma. So, now my child will have to become a criminal in order to live?? So far, I don't see any point of my child taking this or any other tests. All parents aren't idiots. Also, why have an IEP put in place when he will be tested on the level in school he is in? The whole thing is assed backwards and sets these children up for failure and no successes anyways. As a parent, you, your colleagues, your principals, superintendents, and anyone else can believe in this abuse. I don't. It's a bunch of bullshit that stinks to high heaven. Thank you very much Ms. K. I am very disappointed in what is happening with this whole standardized testing nonsense. In short, I do not want N. to participate in the standardized testing. It's not on his level of capability. He has in previous years been stressed out about the whole thing and it doesn't prove anything. Be blessed #Ihatestandardizedtesting!! We have opted out!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 6:11 pm
I am a teacher and I love your letter. I wish more parents would advocate for their children like you have. I wish I could opt out of giving this test as well. Thank you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 6:58 pm
Thank you. I have been very active during various times of my son's educational career. If I were to hit the lottery for millions of dollars, I'd set up a war chest for the teachers of Philadelphia. Everyone, including the SRC, seems to be puppets to the high paying politicians. They have no balls or any intention of doing right by the students, parents, teachers, teacher assistants, security workers, nor the principals that are under them. Too bad the principals and teachers, along with their unions, did not come together to figure out how to beat these monsters at their own game. Instead, they have allowed the SRC and their cronies to further divide them because the SRC already know these unions and members do not care for one another. There is a history of bad blood between these members. It shows when you are in the building and see how the principals talk to their teachers like trash but rarely say anything to the students when they are clearly out of line. They even allow parents to be disrespectful and not show up when a student is supposed to be reinstated after a suspension. All they did was do the classic divide and conquer techniques and it is working to the members's detriment.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:16 am
I'd have been pressed with the Principal's if their Union had held out and stood with the PFT, rather than caving (by 83%) to SRC demands. Kind of hurt their credibility here. Their demands would have carried more weight.
Submitted by good speller (not verified) on March 28, 2014 8:32 am
How is that conciliatory? Did he apologize for refusing to answer questions? It's nothing but a self-serving statement. Did he say what they are doing to try to raise money that people could help them with? Did he say We're going to Harrisburg next week, please come with us? Did he say Please come with us next week to City Council? Did Green or Hite say they would fight for the gas tax?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 8:06 am
Senator Hughes was the first to testify at the SRC meeting. Hite and Green listened to him talk about his natural gas tax bill they nodded in agreement but said nothing about fighting for it.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 8:34 am
And did you hear him speak about getting the money for good use such as charter school reimbursements. We are living in dismal times. Do we who value public education ever have any intention to waking to the reality before us and fighting back???
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 6:07 pm
Neither one said $#!& about anything. All I saw was shaking of heads and heard no comments.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 9:14 am
Does that budget include the top people's give backs? Remember only Hite gave back.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 9:28 am
Does that budget include the top people's give backs? Remember only Hite gave back.
Submitted by union member (not verified) on March 28, 2014 9:25 am
Principals storm Council? By standing in the hallway? Let us know when the principals have the guts to show up at an SRC meeting to speak publicly about the devastation being wrought by Hite.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 28, 2014 9:25 am
Yada,Yada, Yada.....................It's all part of the sham. Don't feed into it and several of the poster above have. Tyrants only stop from force coming back at them. Get used to it.
Submitted by Steph G (not verified) on March 28, 2014 10:03 am
Anyone know how much this Dependent Eligibility audit is costing the school district?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 5:11 pm
Google Secova. In an Ohio proposal the cost was about half a million. They claimed to be able to save $17.5 million in healthcare costs in that proposal.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 11:00 am
If they want smooth sailing when the Pope arrives or intend to host the 2016 Democratic convention I'd suggest that they get busy. We know how the Pope feels about inequality and believe it or not he's accessible for discussion. I'm tired of watching Corbett and Nutter grandstanding.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 11:56 am
If Philadelphia expects to welcome the Pope and host the 2016 Democratic Convention I'd suggest that they get busy with this funding. We know how the Pope feels about inequality and believe it or not he is accessible for discussion. Nutter and Corbett's obsequious behavior hasn't gone unnoticed.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 28, 2014 11:46 am

Perhaps we should put together a delegation of students, parents, teachers and concerned community members to go to Rome and ask the Pope to come to our schools and weigh in.    


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 11:19 am might want to keep the kids out of harm's way.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 2:20 pm
Maybe the Pope should have a talk with Mark Gleason who is undermining public schools by channeling "philanthropy" money to parochial schools instead of public schools and encouraging businesses to get a tax write off with vouchers lite.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 3:28 pm
LOL, that was a good and thoughtful remark, given the stories we are hearing in the media. LOL!!
Submitted by union member (not verified) on March 28, 2014 2:41 pm
Right. We can't fill up the room when the SRC meets but we'll get people to go to Rome.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 2:49 pm
About filling the room when the SRC meets, there were hundreds of people outside 440 yesterday for the tax the Marcellus Shale companies demonstration. Why didn't the PFT leadership encourage them to go to the SRC meeting? The state Supreme Court is considering the SRC suit to take away collective bargaining of working conditions and the union leadership does nothing to fight is as can be so clearly seen with their failure of leadership yesterday.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 3:39 pm
I agree with what you say. However, as a member of PFT, I was there. But I do get disappointed when I don't see members who should be there when these types of things are happening and are happening across the country. It saddens me when there are so many members but no one showing up.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:58 pm
It saddens me that PFT members that don't agree 100% with everything the PFT Ieadership is doing is shunned, shouted down and told to get with the program. I didn't realize we were communist Russia. Respectful dissent is good for an organization. There are people who agree with 98% with the PFT, but are basically told to shit up and sit down on the other 2%. This doesn't build a strong, activist union, it destroys it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 6:44 pm
I was there too. It's a damned shame.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:08 pm
so who stopped you from going in? What are you 2? Need Mommy's permission?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 6:35 pm
Trust me. Nobody stopped me because like I said in my previous statement, I was there. And I was there until the end. So, do not try attacking me and trying to put me down.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 7:13 pm
The PFT leadership does not want us tweeting or face booking anything that sounds like it's not 100% in agreement with the leadership. What are they scared of?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 8:23 pm
It seems odd that the district is opening three new high schools instead of using those funds to support hard-working, struggling students at existing schools. What is the point of continuing to chase 'good schools' by opening new ones? Students are good people, teachers, parents and principals are good people. Work with the current situation to improve it - stop trashing our schools by implying they aren't good enough. Chronically underfunded schools aren't going to perform at their best - do you have some extra money, for these new schools, that will make them workable? If so, why can't we have some of it?!! Or is the idea that you're going to use the new work rules to fill those schools with cheap teachers, then drain the current schools of students, thus having a reason to close them and lay off those expensive teachers? Oh, okay. Mission accomplished.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 28, 2014 10:16 pm
Heh you don't have to trek to Rome Pope Francis has a Twitter account (seriously). Also when the Chicago teachers union was on strike during the 2012 election season Obama put in a call to Rahm to wrap things up (it looked bad for his home town to be at odds with labor.) This is all to say there is more than one way to skin a cat. If this looks bad for Nutter and Corbett then maybe it is AND WITH GOOD REASON..Opting out is an important issue as outlined in your coments but it's not the only weapon in our arsenal in PA. Do not give up on fair funding for staff and programs, and highlight the inequity and demoralizaton involved in what's going on. Make use of the media before these momentous occasions are upon us, and put our two papal envoys in the spotlight
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 8:43 am
One way to save money or created money for the PSD would be to require that all charter schools, when they kick out students for negative behavior, attendance or grades, have to give the monies the charter school received for that student back to the PSD. This is something that happens every year and is NOT discussed or addressed. Charter schools except many new students each September, they wait until they get the check from the PSD for the student and then if the student is a behavioral problem or is failing, the charter school kicks the student out. The student usually returns to their neighborhood school and THE MONEY GIVEN TO THE CHARTER SCHOOL FOR THAT STUDENT STAYS WITH THE CHARTER SCHOOL, it is NOT returned to the PSD as it should be.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 29, 2014 9:18 am
*accept* not except
Submitted by Dave M (not verified) on March 29, 2014 5:46 pm
I am deeply troubled by the movement to privatize public education, to turn it over to corporations more concerned with making a profit than they are in educating the next generation. It is not the role of government to pass the buck. We are not good stewards of taxpayer money if we hand it over to profit-making ventures who's accountability is based on standardized tests. We have failed our society if we defund or underfund students in an existing system to subsidize corporations and Wall Street.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 29, 2014 6:08 pm
I was glad to see the Principals put the District on blast about their working conditions. Being a principal is in so many ways a thankless job. As for the deficit, "That is due primarily to higher costs for utilities during the cold winter and additional special education expenditures to place more severely disabled students in private school placements, Stanski said." First, how about Mr. Stanski use PEOPLE-FIRST language, "students with severe disabilities." I wonder how much Michael Basch is making off of all these lawsuits from parents. The District makes all of these cuts and then special education teachers have ridiculously high caseloads and cannot properly service the students according to their IEPs. SELs are asked to teach and handle SEL duties. Some schools do have full-release SELs, but most or all schools used to have SELs in full release positions.

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