PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 14, 2013 – State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, members of the Philadelphia delegation, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke urged the Corbett administration Tuesday to release $45 million in pre-negotiated funds to the School District of Philadelphia.
Without an immediate transfusion by Friday, schools will not open on time or at full capacity, according to officials.
“There is a responsibility to southeastern Pennsylvania to have a civilized opening of schools,” Williams said. “Funding schools is a state responsibility that is constitutionally mandated. No parent, no child, no employee should be panicking whether their schools will open on time. They should not be held hostage.”
The money in question came in part of a negotiated settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that essentially gave the state more wiggle room in its budget when past penalties were waived. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady led that negotiation so the cash-strapped school district could receive an influx of cash.
The Corbett administration agreed to direct the funds there, but now argues it will not do so until the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers makes a series of concessions during current contract talks.
Lawmakers argued that disbursing the money was part of the just-passed budget and at the discretion of the governor and his cabinet.
“The School District of Philadelphia is on life support,” said state Rep. Cherelle L. Parker, who chairs the Philadelphia delegation in the state House of Representatives. “We’re calling on the chief executive of the commonwealth to make an executive decision, and to forward the money the school district needs.”
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. last week made a public plea to lawmakers and policymakers, saying that without a guaranteed $50 million going to the district’s coffers, schools would not have the appropriate level of staffing needed to be deemed safe. That would force partial openings, if any at all, during the first slated week of the fall semester, Hite said.
The federal refund would help alleviate the anxiety now felt across the city, lawmakers said.
Speaking on behalf of children and families were Sen. Shirley M. Kitchen, chair of the state Senate’s Philadelphia delegation; Sen. Vincent Hughes, Democratic appropriations chair; Rep. James Roebuck, Democratic education committee chair; and labor leader Ryan Boyer of the Laborers District Council of Philadelphia.
Also participating in the press conference were Reps. Mark Cohen, Jordan Harris and Brian Sims and City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, who chairs the education committee in city council.
“We do not want to be at a press conference like this every year with the same set of issues because adults can’t get along,” Williams said. “What you see here are legislators from both chambers who are united in our ask. We need to get this done.”