Pa. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai met with Philly Schools Superintendent William Hite Monday to discuss the city’s proposed cigarette tax to fund local schools. No resolution to the ongoing standoff was reached, however.
If you are involved in Philadelphia Public Schools — an administrator, a teacher, a parent, a city official trying to find funding — you are most likely angry this morning. Thursday’s decision by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to cancel a vote on a cigarette tax that would help fund city schools has left the community reeling.
School may not open on time. And activists are planning protests.
Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is now playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the state.
By unanimous vote, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission passed a budget Monday night that includes a $93 million placeholder for money that it hopes comes through if a political logjam in Harrisburg breaks.
Short of that, district leaders say they’d have to choose between laying off 1,300 employees, or shortening the school year.
The district can still avoid the bulk of these cuts if lawmakers in Harrisburg find a way to agree on a few key issues, chiefly, allowing Philadelphia to create a new $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold within city limits.
The Pennsylvania Senate did pass the cigarette bill on Monday but there’s apparently no current plans to bring it forward in the House.
Mayor Nutter and School Superintendent Hite announced a revised plan to get all those closed schools sold on the real estate market. The new, improved Philadelphia Schools Repurposing Initiative, which has approval from the School Reform Commission (SRC), will allow “highly marketable properties to be identified for expedited sale in order to generate much-needed funds for the School District.” (It’s a good idea to separate the wheat from the chaff; there are some schools that simply don’t have a viable commercial future, unfortunately, and others that have great potential.)
In a statement, Nutter said he and Hite are looking for ways to repurpose the schools “as quickly as possible.” Hite emphasized speed as well, “The School District of Philadelphia recognizes the importance of moving quickly to ensure appropriate reuse of the buildings that became vacant as a result of the Facilities Master Plan.”
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who will be involved in the project, was a bit more cautious: “This is a complicated, sometimes lengthy process as other school districts across America have experienced,” he said, perhaps so that in a few months he can point back to that very quote.
Facing a more than $300 million budget deficit–without the guarantee of any new revenues from the city or the state–the School Reform Commission last night approved a so-called “doomsday budget” that would lop off all arts, sports, and music programs next year. Assistant principals, teacher’s aides, and other staff would be fired too, starting this summer. If no new money comes in, that is.
The upshot of the vote is that it may light a fire under the collectives rear ends of a Harrisburg legislature and City Council reluctant to approve Mayor Nutter’s $95 million liquor and cigarette tax proposal, revenues from which would go toward the school district. Whether teachers unions and state legislators can pony up the rest of the $300 million is also an open question. [6 ABC]
Today, the School Reform Commission is essentially voting on whether to doom the Philadelphia Public School District as we know it. The school district is facing a $300 million deficit, and in order to make up that money, a proposal on the table is to eliminate all arts, music, and athletics programs, and would result in the termination of all assistant principles and guidance counselors too. As many as 3,000 layoffs could occur, according to Superintendent William Hite.
Here’s hoping that if the SRC does vote ‘yea’ on the budget, it motivates Harrisburg, City Hall, and the teachers’ union to pony up the necessary funding and concessions, respectively, that would close the gap. The most concrete plan so far is Michael Nutter’s $95 million proposal to raise liquor and cigarette taxes. [AP]
Pennsylvania’s two biggest cyber charter school operators–Agora and PA Cyber–are involved in federal corruption allegations. So depending on how you look at it, the news that the Philadelphia Public School District is getting in the cyber school business is either really good or really bad news. On the one hand, there seem to be systemic problems with the way cyber schools operate, and their efficacy is dubious. On the other hand, William Hite and the PPSD project 75% of the new cyber school students will have been wrested away from those schools. In addition, they say these schools will cost less and provide more classroom assistance than typically allowed. Wonder what ole cyber charter expert Rick Santorum thinks of this. Perhaps we should expect column in World Net Daily? [Newsworks]
One would hope that if 37 public schools in Philadelphia were being shut down, the replacement schools into which students will be flowing performed significantly better than the original ones. Not so. According to an analysis by the Public School Notebook:
Among the receiving schools identified by the District in the closings plan, the median reading proficiency rate is 32 percent. Among the schools that are closing, the proficiency rate is almost identical at 31 percent. Both groups of schools, on balance, are significantly below the district-wide reading proficiency rate of 45 percent.