By Kristen Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s public schools will open on time, Superintendent William R. Hite said Friday.
To not open on Sept. 8 as scheduled “punishes students for the failure of adults,” Hite said.
He said assurances from politicians that a cigarette tax the city wants to help fund schools is priority one helped him make the decision to open on time. The disruption to families would have been too great, and opening late could cause more students to flee to charters.
He also outlined some temporary cuts. Under one cut, 7,500 high school students who live within two miles of school will not get transportation. Some open school police jobs will not be filled, forcing 27 elementary schools that have had their own officers to share police.
Schools will be cleaned less frequently, and repairs will be delayed.
There will also be fewer spots in alternative programs for students at risk of dropping out or who have dropped out. Professional development for teachers in Promise Academies will be cut, and additional reductions will be made in “direct support to schools and families.” News of those specific cuts will be forthcoming, officials said.
Still, “the schools that are opening will look very much like the ones that we had last year,” Hite said — noting that that school conditions last year were poor.
The threat of 1,000-plus layoffs, while temporarily banished, is not fully gone. If the cigarette tax does not pass quickly after legislators return on Sept. 15, layoffs could occur in October, Hite said, and the cuts outlined above would be made permanent.
No cigarette tax could also mean further school budget cuts, increased class sizes and combined or “split” classes, with students from multiple grades educated by one teacher in a single classroom.
“Adults have the power to make right the wrong being done to our students and schools,” Hite said. “Providing all children with a rich, high-quality education is not only a basic right, but a moral obligation.”
Hite and School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green also made plain their frustration with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. They said that while they are taking calls for across-the-board wage reductions for teachers off the table, teachers must agree to significant benefits savings.
PFT President Jerry Jordan has said that he offered benefits concessions, but they were not accepted by the district. Green and Hite said Friday that the concessions offered by the PFT, whose contract expired last year, were not enough.
If PFT doesn’t concede, the SRC will use its special powers to impose terms, Green said.
“That is not a threat, just a statement of fact. We will be forced to act,” said Green.
Both Green and Hite sounded somber notes, emphasizing that the district was banking on several things that were not assured.
“We are on the precipice,” Green said, “with the fate of not just the school district but the city and the greater region at stake.”
Photo via WikiCommons
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