PHILADELPHIA – On Thursday, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite Jr. presented a “catastrophic” budget scenario to school officials and community members that requires massive spending cuts and employees concessions to close the district’s $300 million deficit for the upcoming school year.
The school district has been hemorrhaging money and students for years, and Hite made it clear the district will not continue to run deficits to meet basic expenses.
“To continue to borrow just would continue to put the district on the path to bankruptcy,” Hite said, according to Philly.com.
Central to Hite’s budget plan is $133 million in concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – the local teachers union – that would amount to 10 percent across-the-board cuts in compensation, Philly reports.
The superintendent is also asking City Hall and the state legislature for a combined $180 million to help the district avoid a budget that Philly.com describes as a “doomsday scenario.”
Without the union concessions and the extra aid, Hite said school principals could see their 2013-14 budgets reduced by 25 percent.
That would be “only enough money to fund a principal and teachers based on the contractual class-size maximum: 33 for older grades and 30 for kindergarten through third grade,” the news site reports.
In short, there will be mass teacher layoffs, maxed-out class sizes, and wholesale cancellations of extracurricular programs.
“We can’t afford anything else,” Hite said, according to Philly.com. “Schools will not be able to offer everything that’s mandated, both by statute or contract. We’re making a judgment call.”
Philly.com speculates that Hite’s apocalyptic budget might be strategic, mostly meant to “shake up money from” state lawmakers and serve as “a chip in negotiations with the teachers’ union.” The PFT’s contract with the district expires over the summer.
But Hite insists, “We are not crying wolf. Our budget situation is dire.”
Regardless, teacher union leaders don’t seem interested in making any significant wage and benefit concessions that would help the district stave off financial disaster.
Put it all together and it seems Philadelphia has all the ingredients necessary for an ugly teachers’ strike: a cash-challenged school district, a selfish teachers union, and a state that has the most permissive strike laws in the nation.
Looks like it might be a long, hot summer in the City of Brotherly Love.