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Ear to the Ground

Philadelphia Takes a Loan to Open Its Schools

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Posted on Aug 16, 2013
It's Our City (CC BY 2.0)

In a jarring example of the institutional failure sweeping the country, Philadelphia, a former manufacturing behemoth, agreed to borrow $50 million so it could open its public schools on time this fall. Even with the loan, campuses will open with a minimum of staffing and “sharply curtailed extracurricular activities and other programs,” The New York Times reports.

“The concept is just jaw-dropping,” said Helen Gym, who has three children in the city’s public schools. “Nobody is talking about what it takes to get a child educated. It’s just about what the lowest number is needed to get the bare minimum. That’s what we’re talking about here: the deliberate starvation of one of the nation’s biggest school districts.”

The emergency comes as other major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, the latter of which filed for bankruptcy last month, do not have enough money to run their full range of public services. Philadelphia’s tax base withered as middle-class people left the city, raising the overall poverty rate of the population that remains. Heavier tax burdens have been shifted onto people who need public services but are unable to pay for them.

The shortfall has driven some Philadelphia school administrators to desperate ends. Daniel Lazar, principal of Greenfield Elementary School in central Philadelphia, sent a letter to parents last week asking for a $613-per-student donation to fill a $355,000 budget gap at his school.

Parent Tomika Anglin said she was so stunned by the request that she decided to home school her 12-year-old daughter.

“I couldn’t think when I got the letter,” she said. “It was just amazing to me that a public school was charging tuition. They couldn’t put that in a movie because no one would believe it.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. had been threatening to delay opening schools if the city did not come through with the $50 million, which he said was necessary to provide the minimum staffing needed for the basic safety of the district’s 136,000 students. In June, the district closed 24 schools and laid off 3,783 employees, including 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides, leaving no one even to answer phones.

… Now Thursday’s announcement by Mayor Nutter that he would take out general obligation bonds to come up with the $50 million for the schools risks the city’s own hard-won credit rating by taking on medium-term debt to pay for day-to-day operations — a practice that is widely seen by municipal analysts as a sign of desperation.

Mr. Nutter said that he hoped to be able to pay back the debt by using future sales tax revenues, though that will require an agreement with the City Council, whose president, Darrell L. Clarke, wanted to use some of that money for city workers’ pensions.

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