Corbett Unveils Pa. Plan To Rescue Philly Schools

Associated Press

Gov. Tom Corbett said he has completed negotiations with state lawmakers on a rescue package for Philadelphia public schools as the district tries to reverse a $304 million deficit and avoid laying off 20 percent of its workforce and eliminating programs from art to athletics, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

In an online report from the Inquirer, Corbett said portions of the aid package will have strings attached, including contract concessions from unionized employees in the state’s largest school district.

He also said that an earlier proposal from city and school officials to allow a cigarette tax increase in Philadelphia worth $45 million a year lacked support in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Instead, the Philadelphia schools will be given the power by the state to collect taxes more aggressively, changes that are worth an estimated $30 million a year, the Inquirer reported.

The district will also get $45 million in one-time cash from a now-forgiven debt that Pennsylvania owed to the federal government. In the proposed state budget for the fiscal year beginning Monday, the schools will get nearly $16 million extra in aid, according to information from the state Senate. The Senate had released information Saturday saying the district would get $14 million.

The city also will be able to borrow $50 million from future sales tax revenue that goes to it.

Originally, school officials had sought about $130 million in unionized employee concessions, $120 million in additional state aid and $60 million from increased taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic drinks. However, City Council opposed the drinks tax increase.

After Republicans who control state government suggested that the district might not get the help it sought, a group of Philadelphia parents and school employees began a hunger strike in mid-June in an effort to press for additional money.

The school district has already sent layoff notices to 20 percent of its district employees, leaving little more than teachers and principals in schools, as a result of both a $304 million deficit in the district’s operating budget and more than $134 million in federal grant reductions. Without financial help, Philadelphia school officials also say they need to eliminate all art, music and athletics programs.