Editorial: Erase this mess

If For­rest Gump were ob­serving the latest mess in­volving Phil­adelphia pub­lic schools, he might sum it up this way: “Life is just a box of erasers.”

With that sen­ti­ment, he would be de­scrib­ing what is van­ish­ing be­fore our very eyes.

Let’s start with the 3,800 school em­ploy­ees who were laid off on Ju­ly 1 be­cause the city school dis­trict is $304 mil­lion short of the money it needs to run the state’s largest dis­trict. You can bet that those as­sist­ant prin­cipals, young teach­ers, school sec­ret­ar­ies and lun­ch­room aides are out look­ing for work right now be­cause no one knows how many of them will be called back to work if and when the money is found.

Then there is the $45 mil­lion the state prom­ised the school dis­trict to help it out of the fin­an­cial mess. That one-time al­loc­a­tion was part of a fisc­al code, but it got hung up in Har­ris­burg when law­makers didn’t like oth­er parts of the le­gis­la­tion. 

And while fail­ing to de­liv­er much in new state money to help Philly schools re­store their staff­ing, state law­makers also nixed Coun­cil’s plan to add $45 mil­lion to school cof­fers by in­sti­tut­ing a $2-dol­lar-a-pack ci­gar­ette tax. 

Both the Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil and the Gen­er­al As­sembly in Har­ris­burg have re­cessed for the sum­mer. The Com­mit­tee of Sev­enty last week urged the City Coun­cil to hold an un­usu­al sum­mer ses­sion and work with May­or Nut­ter on spend­ing cuts to help bail out the dis­trict. That ses­sion’s not go­ing to hap­pen, though we’re told work is quietly un­der way on a fin­an­cial solu­tion. There is talk, too, that law­makers in Har­ris­burg will re­turn to ses­sion for a few days soon to pass the fisc­al code and free up that prom­ised $45 mil­lion. 

The Phil­adelphia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers has been asked to share the pain by eras­ing $133 mil­lion in wages, be­ne­fits and seni­or­ity rules. Fa­cing an Aug. 31 dead­line for a new con­tract, the teach­ers have been asked for pay cuts of 5 to 13 per­cent. The shrink­ing paychecks would likely mean a big­ger drain on the tal­ent pool, the teach­ers’ uni­on says, be­cause their coun­ter­parts in Bucks and Mont­gomery counties already make 19 per­cent more.

As Arne Duncan, the U.S. Sec­ret­ary of Edu­ca­tion, said last week, “There’s no ex­cuse for a pub­lic school sys­tem any­where in the U.S. to be in this situ­ation in the 21st cen­tury.”

We urge city and state law­makers and the teach­ers’ uni­on to pick up their No. 2 pen­cils, fig­ure out the an­swers and rub out this pending griev­ous harm to our chil­dren. ••

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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