Philadelphia schools to open on time; Mayor Nutter: 'I will not risk catastrophe'

Story highlights

  • Philadelphia's schools will receive $50 million the superintendent said is needed
  • Mayor Nutter directed city officials to take the steps needed to borrow the $50 million
  • School Superintendent Hite expresses his appreciation to the mayor
  • Philadelphia's 218 public schools will now open their doors on September 9
Philadelphia's 218 public schools will open on time in September after Mayor Michael Nutter assured the school district on Thursday it will receive $50 million that Superintendent William Hite demanded last week.
Hite gave the city an ultimatum, saying the school district would not open on time if it did not receive a funding guarantee by Friday. This came 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.
"I'm here to say I will not risk a catastrophe," Nutter said Thursday, "We will avoid this disaster."
Nutter directed the city finance director, the city treasurer, and the budget director on Thursday to begin immediately taking all steps necessary for the city to borrow $50 million on behalf of the school district, Nutter said in a written statement.
Hite said he plans to open the schools on time based on Nutter's assurance, even though Nutter has not yet cut a deal with City Council over how it will be funded.
The superintendent expressed his appreciation to the mayor in a statement released Thursday, saying that the funding promise will allow the district to immediately start recalling the necessary staff to open the schools on time.
Hite had previously said that without the money to restore crucial staff members, the district would not be able to open "functional schools, run them responsibly, or provide a quality education to students."
Nutter had called Hite's ultimatum one of "the most chilling" statements he had ever heard a school superintendent make, but promised he would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Hite and would not allow schools to open with no more staff than he could afford without the extra money.
Hite and Nutter had previously 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 said he would rather focus that money 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. A final decision on this proposal has not yet been made.
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, state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said Tuesday.
Nutter said that "as mayor, it's my duty to keep Philadelphia on track and moving forward and that's what I'm doing today."
Philadelphia's 218 public schools will now open their doors on September 9, the originally scheduled date.