Philadelphia School District Struggles To Avoid Doomsday Budget - New York News

Philadelphia School District Struggles To Avoid Doomsday Budget

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Under a "doomsday" budget now being enacted, schools and students in the city of Philadelphia are facing devastating losses.

At the same time, Philadelphia is trying to convince the state not to let it happen.

The city is ponying up some money.

But mostly it's lobbing the budget ball back to Harrisburg.

As the fiscal deadline nears for the next school year, it will be up to state lawmakers to decide whether they will help the school district financially, or allow that doomsday budget to go through.

Schools closings; sports, music, and other programs cut; and nearly 4,000 layoff notices given out. The message to Harrisburg:

"I'm trying to distinguish this from other years, where we are trying to spend only what we have. The distinction is we have made some very hard decisions," said Dr. William Hite, the Philadelphia School District Superintendent.

City and school district officials are trying to convince state lawmakers they are controlling spending, and do deserve the $120-million they've asked for, to close a giant budget shortfall.

According to Darrell Clarke, the Philadelphia City Council President, "All sorts of people are up there working with the general assembly to try to get their support. I understand in Harrisburg there are certain levels of horse-trading, and I like to think optimistically, and I know that everybody cares about public education."

For its part, city council says it can cover the $60-million the school district has requested, and then some. A proposal to raise the tax on bar drinks stalled, but Council did sign off on a two-dollar tax per pack of cigarettes. State lawmakers still have to approve that as well.

According to Clarke, "The Chamber of Commerce has been on board with the cigarette tax, very aggressively, and the liquor tax, so all of our apples pretty much have been put in that cart."

Council President Clarke insisted the cigarette tax and other measures would keep raising money for the school district in the years to come, a longer-term solution that everyone hopes will make the massive layoffs and budget cuts we're seeing now-- unnecessary in the future. And if state lawmakers don't come through?

"I can promise upwards of $30 million today," remarked Clarke.

It sounds like a lot of money, but it's only a very small fraction of what the district needs from the state.

The district is asking for $250-million more in state money and union concessions.

If the district does get the help it's asking for, that means programs will be restored, and teachers won't have to be laid off.

And if it doesn't get the money, then people like Jamie Weaver will suffer badly.

He's already packed his boxes, and taken down the college pennants that help inspire his high school students to achieve. Because he's not sure he'll be coming back to his counseling job at Academy Palumbo, a magnet school in South Philly. And to think, Jamie Weaver gave up a similar, more comfortable position in the Pittsburgh suburbs, so he could be here.

According to Jamie Weaver, "I chose to come here on my own. I left that job of my own free will because I wanted, I believed in the mission of working in an impoverished district."

Now, Weaver is one of nearly four-thousand Philadelphia School District employees who is being laid off. Casualties of a massive hole in the district's budget, brought on in part by years of funding cuts from the state.

"There doesn't seem to be a fair, equitable system of education within the state. The students that I left in Pittsburgh next year, they're still going to have a counselor. They're still going to have a librarian, all these things and so much more," says Weaver

But the public school students in Philadelphia will not. The district is cutting thousands of teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff. All three counselors at his school are being let go.

"If a teacher were to be faced with a mental health crisis, what they know to do to respond is to refer the student to the counselor. So who are they going to talk to next year, if there's no counselors in the school," says Weaver.

"My wife and I, we have a beautiful family. We have a two-year-old and we just had twins."

A family he doesn't know how he will support financially.

"My family's going to suffer, many families are going to suffer. And there's a ripple effect. This will affect the state economics, you put this many people out of work."

It's up to state lawmakers to decide whether they'll give the district the 120 million dollars it's asking for.

Even then, Jamie Weaver doesn't know if he'll be able to return to the same school, or if he'll have to take a pay cut.

Again, he's just one of nearly 4,000 people affected by what's happening, not including the students.

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