The Philadelphia schools are staring down a budget with a $600 million hole in it. So district leaders went to City Council today, hoping for some help.
“Are you going to make a direct request or not?” asked Councilman Wilson Goode Jr’s. His patience seemed worn after listening to an hour of testimony without a direct request for money. District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch finally got to the point.
“The priority list we identified is $180 million worth of cuts we would certainly welcome the council’s support to provide us, um ah, at least 50 to 75 percent of that,” said Masch.
After a lunch break and a meeting with the Mayor, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman returned to council and asked for a little less.
“It would be 75 to 110 million that would include restoration of full-day kindergarten, restoration of all the transportation cuts, restoration of the reduction of class size going back to what it is this year,” said Ackerman.
Council President Anna Verna says there is no extra money to give the schools.
“We could just raise taxes, and I don’t think there’s just much inclination for councilmembers to do that or then we would have to cut the city’s budget and I don’t know how we do that either,” Verna said.
The school budget counts on $75 million worth of union givebacks, even though teachers have not agreed to them. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers head Jerry Jordan says his union won’t even talk about concessions.
“No, we are not going to reopen our contract,” said Jordan. “We negotiated it in good faith a few years ago and the district did the same.”
City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell says she’s frustrated. Even though the mayor supported the district’s request, she says he gave no way to fund it.
“There are no decisions, we do not know what any of this means,” said Blackwell. “Council will not make hasty decisions about something so important during these hard times for anyone.”