Butkovitz: Philly Schools Should Open Up Long-Hidden Works of Art

City Controller Alan Butkovitz just issued a press release calling on the Philadelphia School District to stop bogarting all its great art.

He said more than 200 pieces of art, with a total value of $4 million, have been concealed in a storage facility for the last decade. The schools should partner with the city’s art institutions to display those works to the public, Butkovitz said.

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District Makes Ominous Announcement About School Year

Screenshot via 6 ABC's live press conference feed

Screenshot via 6 ABC’s press conference feed

Protesters chanting “No education, no life!” ended a depressing press conference from Philadelphia School District superintentendent William Hite today. He didn’t announce layoffs, but said “we’re not out of the woods yet” on the school year. If Philly’s new cigarette tax is not approved by state lawmakers, Hite says the school district will have to make big cuts.

Hite said the district is no longer asking the teachers’ union to accept wage cuts, but is asking for changes to benefits. Without those reductions and/or additional money from the state in some way, the district will be forced to lay off employees in October. The school district still has an $81 million gap to reach the funding levels of last school year.

For now, 34 vacant school police officer positions will remain unfilled; 27 elementary schools will have to share police officers.

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Embattled Education Advisor to Governor Corbett Resigns

Ron Tomalis, Governor Tom Corbett’s special advisor on higher education, announced today that he will step down from his position on August 26th. It’s unclear if his $139,542-a-year job will be filled.

Tomalis has been under fire ever since a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation revealed little work coming from his office. Records obtained by the paper revealed weeks where Tomalis had little or no work activity. He averaged about a phone call a day.

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Even Pittsburgh Is Pleading for Philly Schools Now

Hey, sometimes we can make common cause in the State of Pawnsylvania Pennsylvania.

Today, the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chastises the Pennsylvania House for taking summer break without authorizing the cigarette tax that Philly schools say they need to open at full-strength and stay open all year.

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How Philly Families Will Pay for Harrisburg’s Sins

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Here’s something I’m not sure members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have considered as they goof around on vacation and play games with the future of Philly schools: They’re about to hurt a lot of families in very tangible ways.

The equation goes like this:

• The House’s decision to stay on vacation next week instead of coming back to Harrisburg for a vote on a cigarette tax proposal makes it increasingly likely that Philly schools won’t start on time.

• If schools don’t open on time, tens of thousands of schoolchildren are going to need something to do.

•  Parents of many of those kids will pay to put their children in child care for the duration. But child care isn’t cheap — it can cost upward of hundreds of dollars a week, and thousands of dollars a month, to keep kids somewhere safe and occupied. This is no small concern.

• So there’s that huge expense for families that didn’t expect to bear it. But it’s also true that many of those tens of thousands of family can’t afford the daycare, or can barely afford it. Those that can’t might rely on families … or they’ll make unorthodox arrangements that please no one.

Which is to say nothing of the thousands of teachers, administrators, and classified staffers who will sit home without getting paid. Or the impact on the education of every student stuck in limbo. Philly is about to pay a terrible price.

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UPDATE: Cigarette Tax Vote Canceled

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Shutterstock

[Update 2:30 pm] The Inquirer reports that next week’s Pennsylvania House session to approve the cigarette tax has been canceled.

Instead, the chamber will return at the end of its summer break, or September 15. In the interim, House leaders are apparently attempting to work out an alternative solution to infuse cash into the schools, including possibly advancing money to the city.

Left unexplained: How they’d implement that alternative solution if they’re not back until September 15.

Still: The good news? Even the Republican House doesn’t want to see Philly public schools fail completely on their watch. The bad news? They don’t seem to think it’s especially urgent to find a solution to the problems at hand.

[Original 5:23 am] This is why nothing in Harrisburg is done until it’s done.

Members of the Pennsylvania House were expected to reconvene next week with one purpose really in mind: Pass a bill giving Philadelphia the authority to raise the cigarette tax and give the resulting revenues to a city school district that says it can’t open without the funding.

But the Inquirer today reports that anti-tax Republicans in the House are getting cold feet. Some are even saying they won’t call off vacations to come back to Harrisburg for the vote. There are questions about whether the tax can even be passed now.

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Philadelphia School District Publishes List of Employee Salaries

Interested to know what Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite makes? That one I can answer for you: $270,000 a year. Interested to know what your teacher friend makes? You’ll have to look that up yourself.

This week, the district published a full list of teacher information, complete with salaries, titles, pay rates, and representation. I just looked up a friend I went out for drinks with recently, and I decided I’ll be paying for drinks next time we hang out.

The file is available as a zipped CSV, or comma-separate values, which stores tabular data in plain text format.

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Hite Sets Aug. 15 Deadline for Cigarette Tax

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

OK: William Hite can wait to Aug. 4 to find out if Philly will get a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to fund its schools. But he can’t wait much longer.

The city’s school superintendent said Wednesday that if no tax passes by Aug. 15, he’ll begin layoffs and consider delaying the fall start of classes.

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For Schools, “A Vortex of Political Hell”

Every so often, when Mayor Nutter opens his mouth, a little gem tumbles out that captures matters perfectly. Yesterday, it was a five carat diamond.

“We are caught in a vortex of political hell with no way out,” Nutter told reporters. Later, he mentioned ping pong.

At issue is the cigarette tax for city schools, which is a questionable policy on its own, but also the closest thing the district has right now to a lifeline. Yesterday morning, it looked like a lock. But that was before the State Senate voted to put its growing feud with the House of Representatives and the tender concerns of the tobacco lobby ahead of the School District of Philadelphia and its 191,000 students, adding a five-year sunset provision to the tax and putting its final passage at risk.

How did this happen? Didn’t the Senate approve the tax sunset-free on June 30?

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Cigarette Tax Stalled; School Funding in Danger

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Shutterstock

This is why you don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched: Yes, both the Pennsylvania House and the Pennsylvania Senate have given approval to bills allowing Philly to raise its cigarette tax by $2 per pack to fund local schools — but they haven’t approved the same version of the bill so far. And that’s turning out to be a big problem.

The House version ran into a Senate buzzsaw on Tuesday — with the upper chamber balking at adding provisions in the bill that would allow some Pennsylvania cities to raise their hotel taxes. Senators began amending the House bill (it now includes a five-year sunset provision on the cigarette tax) but it’s uncertain the House will return from its break to pass the revised version — which, if not would leave Philly in limbo — or whether, in fact, it would approve those revisions: Certainly, it seems House Republicans will resist approving the additional hotel taxes. Which means getting the two chambers to back the same bill may be difficult.

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