The School District of Philadelphia came before City Council Tuesday morning for its budget review, with district leaders telling councilmembers they need billions of dollars to repair their crumbling infrastructure, among other things.
Superintendent Tony Wattlington said strengthening school safety, partnering with parents and community, and accelerating academic achievement are the keys to making the district better. He noted that spending on city schools has risen recently.
“When we look at two year trends, per pupil budgets are up 19% since fiscal year 2022. So we are certainly appreciative of that key budgetary note,” Wattlington said.
School Board Vice President Mallory Fix-Lopez said the district still needs much more money before it can resolve all the issues it’s facing. Those problems include half a dozen schools closing this year due to the discovery of asbestos.
“$2.4 billion is required to address building systems that are either failing, damaged, or beyond their service life due to deferred maintenance costs,” she said. “Another $430 million is required to address health hazards, risks and life safety deficiencies every year.”
Mayor Jim Kenney kicked off the hearing, saying the city is doing its part to increase funding for the city schools.
“Our proposed budget for FY 24 includes a $282 million contribution to the district. That’s 171% higher than it was the year before we took office,” he said. “I’m proud of our investments and the work we have done over the nearly eight years for our children and for our youth. And I’m excited for the conversation today about how we can continue to support the district in advancing the key priorities of safety, family and community partnership, and academic excellence.”
Three schools are still in alternative or virtual learning because of asbestos issuings. Wattlington said they are working to fix the situation as soon as possible. No definite timeline is in place for reopening of the schools.
As for rebuilding and retrofitting buildings, school board head Reginald Streater said the district is working on a long-term plan to take the district’s facilities into the next century and beyond. That includes engaging with the city to come up with ways to share spaces and a discussion on whether Pre-K should be integrated with the schools. He said the “lion’s share of the work” on how district buildings can be refurbished and how they will look is ready for implementation.
Despite the district’s struggles with fixing facilities, school leaders celebrated their success in filling staffing holes. They say about 90% of all district vacancies are filled.