Financial crisis could disrupt Philadelphia school openings

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 08, 2013 6:41 PM
Financial crisis could disrupt Philadelphia school openings

(Reuters) - Philadelphia's cash-strapped public schools may not open on time in September unless they get $50 million from the city to rehire some of the 3,800 teachers and staffers laid off because of the district's financial crisis.

If the district doesn't receive the money by next Friday, its 218 schools might not open on September 9 as scheduled, or they might open only for half a day, or only some schools might open, Superintendent William Hite said on Thursday.

"Without the funds to restore crucial staff members, we cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly or provide a quality education to students," Hite said in a statement, adding that he was "deeply dismayed."

The public school funding crisis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's biggest city, appears to be reaching a critical point.

Last minute action from state lawmakers in June helped whittle down a $304 million budget gap by about $120 million. The city pledged an additional $60 million.

The remainder was supposed to come through labor contract concessions from the teachers' union, Mayor Michael Nutter said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

"Time is running out," Nutter said.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said the union had publicly voiced concerns about on-time openings for months, and that educators have already made personal and financial sacrifices.

"The district's current contract proposals will not create better schools," Jordan said in a statement. "They will cause a mass exodus of high quality educators and a deterioration of teaching and learning conditions in our schools for years to come."

The teachers' current contract expires on August 31.

On Thursday, Nutter pledged to back a plan to borrow $50 million for the schools, a loan that would be backed by extending a city sales tax increase that was supposed to be temporary.

State lawmakers signed off on the extension, but the city council left for the summer without approving it. City lawmakers aren't set to return until later in September, after school is set to begin.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Ken Wills)