In Which the New York Times Reminds Us Our Schools Are Screwed

The New York Times only comes around these parts where something serious is a foot. Last time we read a Trip Gabriel piece about Pennsylvania, the New York Times reporter was chronicling the age-old rivalry between Sheetz and Wawa. This time, he’s hanging out in the Philadelphia school district, reminding us what truly disastrous fate awaits it the budget passed this month actually…well, takes effect.

Under a draconian budget passed by the Philadelphia School District last month, none of [Andrew Jackson School’s] supporting players — aide, counselor, secretary, security monitor — will remain at the school by September, nor will there be money for books, paper, a nurse or the school’s locally celebrated rock band.

And why did this have to happen?

Philadelphia’s schools, whose chronic budget problems led to a state takeover in 2002, have not been this close to the abyss in memory. The troubles have many causes: rising pension costs, high debt payments for past borrowing that papered over budget gaps, a flight to charter schools and a block-grant formula for state aid that has fallen behind enrollments, which have increased 5,000 a year between charter and traditional schools, according to Mr. Hite.

What comes across in Gabriel’s piece is the confusion many of us have about where exactly to lay the blame. Should we target the teacher’s union, which says it won’t make any concessions? Or Harrisburg, where the House included just $10 million extra in the budget it just passed? Or is it the fiscal imprudence of decades past, as Superintendent William Hite suggests, that’s mostly to blame?

Regardless, now that a primetime MSNBC show and the Times have homed in on the closures and layoffs facing the school district, perhaps the various purse-string holders will feel more pressure to fill the roughly $250 million gap that remains following last week’s (tentative) cigarette tax hike.