Parents, students demand more aid from City Hall for Philly schools

 Students rally for additional school funding outside of City Hall in Philadelphia on Tuesday.  (Holly Otterbein/WHYY)

Students rally for additional school funding outside of City Hall in Philadelphia on Tuesday. (Holly Otterbein/WHYY)

Philadelphia teacher Erica McClain is stark when she talks about what schools will look like in September without more funding.

McClain was one of a few dozen teachers, students and parents who rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday. They want City Council and Mayor Michael Nutter to find additional dollars for Philly’s schools.

Philadelphia teacher Erica McClain is stark when she talks about what schools will look like in September without more funding.

“We are facing doomsday devastation,” said McClain, a special education teacher at Strawberry Mansion High School. “We are talking about multiple safety issues.”

McClain was one of a few dozen teachers, students and parents who rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday. They want City Council and Mayor Michael Nutter to find additional dollars for Philly’s schools.

“Direct that money back to our public schools so that our kids can be stable,” said public-school parent Robert Choice. “It’s not a safe city as it is.”

Some of the protesters said they also want the state to cough up more money. But they believe that scenario is unlikely, so they’re focusing attention on the city government.

Earlier this year, school district officials said they needed an additional $60 million from the city, an extra $120 million from the state, and $133 million in labor concessions. Otherwise schools would open in the fall without thousands of employees, including assistant principals, teachers, secretaries and counselors, they said.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s funding plan for Philadelphia’s schools, which is not completely finalized, falls short of that request. It provides about $127 million in extra city and state aid. 

In June, Council approved a cigarette tax that was expected to generate about $45 million for the schools this budget year. But state lawmakers did not OK legislation authorizing the tax, so it is dead for the time being. Both the city and state have passed their respective budgets for 2013-14.

Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for City Council President Darrell Clarke, said he will propose “alternative funding strategies” for the district this week.

“[Clarke and Council members] will work to build consensus with the governor, the leadership of the General Assembly, and the mayor’s office in the coming weeks,” she said.

As for whether Nutter is willing to dedicate more city funding to the schools, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said: “Before we can talk about anything new, we need to see the school district’s current plan to fruition. We now have more clarity about what we can expect from Harrisburg … next, the school district must engage in negotiations with its union representatives.”

McDonald said the city is also reviewing legislation passed by the Pennsylvania legislature, which allows Philadelphia to eventually extend its 1 percent sales tax, in order to determine how much money it can borrow for the district this year against that future revenue.

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