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. ••