Corbett releases funds to Philly schools, Nutter says not enough
A bit of relief is coming to the cash-strapped Philadelphia school district. Today, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced he will release $45 million dollars that the state has been withholding until the district adopts a "reform agenda."
Corbett says he made the decision after getting a letter from Philly's superintendent.
The $45 million in question came into state hands in the spring. Congressman Bob Brady convinced the Obama administration to help Philadelphia schools by forgiving a debt that Pennsylvania owed the federal government.
But once it had the money, the state said it would only release it if certain vaguely defined conditions were met.
Now, Gov. Corbett says they are.
Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite says the money will allow the district to recall 400 staff members — including 80 guidance counselors — as well as ensure sports and music programming through the end of the school year.
No additional nurses or general-education classroom teachers will be brought back to work.
So what's the difference between now and the beginning of the school year? Hite says the district will not use seniority as the predominant factor in leveling. That's the process the district uses every October to re-assign teachers based on actual student enrollment, not summer projections.
But the fact that the district already departed from a strict seniority rule when it recalled staff in August has many saying the state could have given the money up months ago.
State Senator Vince Hughes, a Democrat representing Philadelphia, said, "Our kids have been in a disrupted academic environment: Not enough counselors, not enough teachers. And we're at the point where we should have been a long time ago. If you read Dr. Hite's letter, most of the stuff was dealt with months ago."
Meanwhile, the school district and the teachers union continue to negotiate a contract to replace the one that expired at the end of August.
Mayor Nutter says the $45 million coming from the state is a good thing, but not enough to plug the Philadelphia School District's budget gap.
"Let's not get distracted by the smaller numbers," Nutter said. "It was a $304 million dollar hole. These dollars, as large as they sound, are parts of filling the $304 million hole, and there is still a component sitting out there, which is savings from the ongoing contract negotiation.
"Filling that budget gap is still the primary objective now and into the future," Nutter said. "So the cigarette tax is still sitting in Harrisburg, and if passed by the General Assembly, the Governor's signature on that particular measure. Here at home we still have a sales tax measure that needs to be passed by City Council."
Nutter says education funding is a problem statewide.
"What we really need to focus our attention on longer term is in a stable regular and recurring funding formula, a new funding formula that takes into account student population and other challenges."
There's still work to do in Philadelphia as well, since the mayor and City Council have different ideas for how to provide more funding for the schools.
WHYY's Tom MacDonald contributed to this report.