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Philadelphia schools may remain closed due to budget cuts, superintendent says

By Rande Iaboni
updated 12:39 PM EDT, Wed August 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The superintendent of Philadelphia public schools gives an ultimatum
  • If the district doesn't get $50 million by Friday, schools won't open on time
  • The district had to lay off 3,800 employees this summer due to a financial shortfall
  • Philadelphia's mayor call's the ultimatum "chilling"; he backs the superintendent

(CNN) -- Philadelphia's 218 public schools may not open on time in September unless the district receives $50 million from the city by Friday, Superintendent William Hite says.

Hite gave the city the ultimatum after the layoff of close to 3,800 employees this summer due to a "drastic financial shortfall." The massive layoffs included aides, assistant principals, social workers and arts teachers.

If the city doesn't pay up by Friday, Hite says, the district may not be able to open all 218 schools for a full-day program on September 9.

"Without the funds to restore crucial staff members, we cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly or provide a quality education to students," Hite said.

Mayor Michael Nutter called it one of "the most chilling" statements he had ever heard a superintendent make, but he said stands "shoulder to shoulder" with Hite and will not allow schools to open with the staff that he can currently afford.

Hite and Nutter have urged the City Council to extend a 1% sales tax to make up the difference but -- despite approval from the General Assembly and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett -- City Council President Darrell L. Clarke says he would rather focus those funds on the city's critical pension problem.

If the city does not solve the retirement fund issues, Clarke said, Philadelphia could quickly follow in the footsteps of other major cities with significant financial problems.

As an alternative, Clarke proposed the city purchase the school district's surplus vacant real estate for $50 million and sell the property to developers who could turn it into potential job producers.

Hite does not believe that will bring the district closer to financial stability, according to Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the school district.

Hite and Nutter are also negotiating a contract with the local teachers' union, hoping to save money by asking teachers to make concessions on certain benefits.

Because there has been no agreement with the union, $45 million in aid from the state previously allocated to the school district is being withheld. Once the negotiations are complete the funding will be released, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said Tuesday.

With Hite's Friday deadline looming, Mayor Nutter said he believes opening the school district without the necessary funding would be "irresponsible."

"We have what we have and we fight another day to get more," Nutter said.

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