More than 200 Philadelphia schools may not open for the first day of classes next month, unless the district receives an additional $50 million in city funding by next Friday, Superintendent William Hite announced Thursday.
The district started the fiscal year with a $304 million shortfall and was forced to cut about 3,800 employee positions in June to compensate. But officials say it would be unsafe to open the district's 212 schools, which serve more than 130,000 students, with significantly fewer guidance counselors, assistant principals, lunch aides and other support staff who help monitor children throughout the day.
"I am deeply dismayed that we are here today, facing these circumstances," Hite said. "Our students are the most important part of this equation and it is both saddening and frustrating to be in the position of telling them and their families that I do not know when their education will resume."
"They did not create these circumstances, yet they will be most impacted by any delay," he added. Hite said that unless the district receives an additional $50 million in funding to hire back some of the staff, it is a possibility that no schools will open for the first day of classes on Sept. 9. Other options the district is considering include opening only a certain number of schools, or opening all schools for a half day.
"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.
To supplement the additional funding the district has requested from the city and state, officials have asked teachers unions to agree to more than $130 million in concessions, including wage reductions, higher health care costs and increased workdays.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said in a statement that the contract proposals were "disturbing" and that district officials should not seek to repair the budget on the backs of its teachers and school staff.
"The district's current contract proposals will not create better schools," Jordan said. "Rather, they will cause a mass exodus of high quality educators and a deterioration of teaching and learning conditions in our schools for years to come."
At a city council meeting on Thursday, President Darrell Clarke proposed raising the necessary funds by selling extra property, including closed schools, that he said could yield as much as $200 million, The Associated Press reported.
School officials have also proposed redirecting 1 percent of the city's sales tax to the school district.
Still, Hite said the extra $50 million will only make it possible for schools to open safely this fall, and that the district would still face an uphill battle in its budget crisis.
"In a broader sense, $50 million really only allows us to open the doors of the school," Hite said. "It does not do enough for what goes on behind those doors."