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Corrected: Philly schools, Corbett administration at odds over $45 million in extra cash

By   /   August 13, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — The Philadelphia School District says kids in Pennsylvania’s biggest city will get an extended summer vacation unless the state releases another $45 million to the district.

The state says it’s not giving the district another dime until an agreement is reached for $133 million in concessions from the district’s teachers’ union.

SHUTTING THEIR DOORS: More than 30 schools in Philadelphia have been shuttered because of declining student enrollment, but the district says it needs more money from the state or it won’t be able to open at all.

Meanwhile, the first day of school – scheduled for Sept. 9 – ticks closer.

On Tuesday, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said the state would not release the additional money until the district agreed to “fiscal, educational and operational reforms,” which he said included a new collective bargaining agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

That request for concessions was made by the special School Reform Commission, appointed by Corbett last year. The Corbett administration gets the final say on when the $45 million grant is released.

Zogby called on the city’s leaders to extend a temporary 1 percent sales tax increase and use the revenue to balance the school’s books.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, on Tuesday said it was “clear and absolute” that Corbett must release the additional $45 million unconditionally.

“They’ve met more than enough of the criteria to release the funds,” Hughes said. “Release the $45 million and continue the negotiations.”

Democrats also point to staffing cuts — more than 4,000 members of the various bargaining units have been laid off recently, Hughes said Tuesday – and the closure of 31 schools because the commission found the district didn’t have enough students to justify keeping them open.

They say the additional funding was never conditional on union concessions. Republicans say it was.

It’s like a school yard debate that boils down to one group shouting “ya huh,” and the other responding “nah, uh.”

The $45 million that the school district is waiting for came to the state from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, but Corbett managed to work the money into the state’s fiscal code bill – a part of the state budget package.

But under the provisions of the fiscal code, the money cannot be released to the school district until the Education secretary decides the district has achieved reforms aimed at “fiscal stability, education improvement and operational control.”

Even without the extra cash, the Philadelphia school district will consume more than $1.3 billion of tax money this year, Zogby said.

The largest share of that comes out in the form of the Basic Education Subsidy, a pot of state tax dollars that Pennsylvania doles out to each of its 500 school districts.

This year, Philadelphia is slated to receive nearly $984 million in basic education subsidies.

That’s a significant increase in only the past few years. As recently as the 2008-09 budget year, the district received $932 million.

At the same time, the district has seen a declining student population — down to 154,000 in 2012 from 172,000 in 2008, according to the state Department of Education data.

But student enrollment on the first day of school will be zero unless the state kicks in the extra money, district officials said this week. An agreement has to be in place by Friday, or the opening of school is at risk.

“He needs to release the money,” Hughes said Tuesday. “Let’s help these kids know by Friday that they will have school on Sept. 9 when it starts.”

This story was updated at 2:05 p.m. on 8/14/13 to correct the funding levels for the Philadelphia School District during the 2008-09 budget year.

Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.