Philly Principals Are Hungry for Money

How some would use cash from the SRC fight with teachers — despite their discomfort with its source.

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If you want to get a better idea of the financial squeeze Philly’s public schools operate under, just take a look at how some of them were going to use money freed up by the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of the teachers’ contract.

Central High School was going to hire teachers.

Commodore John Barry School was contemplating the same.

And Greenfield Elementary? More paper and pencils.

Those plans are on hold now that a judge has halted the School Reform Commission’s decision this week. Before that happened, though, the SRC announced that the cancellation had freed up $15 million — money that had previously been spent on health insurance premiums for teachers — to give directly back to schools, to be used as they choose. (A spreadsheet of each school’s cash expected disbursement can be found here.) And the principals were happy to choose.

The officials who spoke about those decisions welcomed the extra cash even though the source of the money created unhappiness among their teaching staff. Perhaps on a related note, however, the vast majority of schools contacted by Philly Mag for this story didn’t respond to our inquiries.

“We’re not looking at where it came from,” said Robin McCoy-Wilkins, principal of Commodore Barry, an elementary school in West Philly. ” It came from the district for us. As long as you stay focused on the children, you get away from that other stuff.”

Central High School, one of the city’s more venerable institutions, was due to receive $222,900, based primarily on its large student population. President Timothy McKenna said he would use the money to buy 1.2 teaching positions, with the remainder going to buy math, language, and health textbooks.

“We’ve lost many positions over the last several years, so to bring teachers back into the fold is important,” McKenna said.

McCoy-Wilkins hadn’t decided how to use the money when Philly Mag contacted her, but she said personnel and teaching materials were both possibilities. Her school was scheduled to receive $99,000.

“Any additional funding will support the work the teachers and myself do here.”

And at Greenfield in Center City, Dan Lazar said he’d buy some instructional materials, as well as paper and pencils to get students through the school year. His school was intended to receive $57,000.

Papers, pencils, textbooks and teachers aren’t exactly luxuries in a public school. The principals who spoke to Philly Mag made it clear the money being wrung from teachers was going to buy things they’d needed since the start of school.

“We didn’t purchase any more than what we absolutely needed at the start of the year,” Lazar said. But getting extra money from the cancellation of the teachers contract, he said, is “like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

McKenna also acknowledged discomfort. “My hope is that both sides get back together and get a settlement,” he said.

The school’s needs, however, are great enough that he can’t turn down money.

“It’s exciting” to get new resources and new teachers, McKenna said. “I feel like it’s going to benefit the students, and in the end, that’s the critical piece.”

Now the principals must wait and see how the legal fight proceeds between the teachers and the SRC. There’s a possibility the money they expected won’t end up in their budgets after all. The money is needed, however, no  matter who wins.

“I’m out of that part of it,” McCoy-Wilkins said of the fight. She added: “Any additional funding is valuable.”

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