Senate Bill 1

Budget Ax Falls in Philadelphia; Pink Slips Could Go to 3,820 School District Employees

Late Wednesday, the Philadelphia School District announced that 16% of the district’s 24,000 employees . . . or 3,820 positions might be eliminated.  The district has a shortfall of $629 million and estimates they will need to severely reduce the work force to meet the deficit. A budget for the district must be approved by the end of May and the clock is ticking.

If Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget is passed, Philadelphia School District stands to lose $292 million in state funding – representing close to a 10% reduction in the District’s overall funding.  As a result, pink slips could go to hundreds of aides, custodians and central office staff, plus about 12 percent of the teachers. The school district will be forced to cut the workforce by 3,820, which includes 400 members of Central Office staff, 1,260 teachers, 650 aides, 430 custodians, 180 counselors and 51 nurses. The district also plans to increase class sizes and curb spending on transportation, special education, summer school, arts, music and sports.

Some are forecasting that teacher cuts will be on the newer and probably younger teachers. On hearing the District announcement of massive teacher cuts, a friend forwarded me an email from a young Philly teacher.  Sad words from a dedicated teacher:

This whole thing is so terribly sad. I am a new teacher in fear of being laid off. In view of the circumstances, it may be likely that I will not ever be called back for my job.

Like many other teachers, I put my heart and soul into my job. No expense was ever too great for my students. I feel like I did not even get a chance to prove myself in becoming an even better teacher. My heart goes out to all teachers in fear of losing their jobs. I wish they would let us know so that we can try to make sense out of this and try to cope with this.

I feel like my heart has been ripped out, and I have been robbed of true happiness in doing what I love. I wish everyone the best—including the new teachers who probably will be the first to go.

In addition to the major reduction in the workforce, the District is looking for $75 million in budget help to come from teacher union concessions. As to be expected, union membership feels that they have given enough . . . collectively, the teacher’s are saying, “they do feel the pain!”

We learned this week from Harrisburg that the state school voucher program is inching forward again and discussions are continuing on proposed legislation that permits furloughing of teachers for ‘economic reasons’.. The teacher pension crisis continues to underscore the severity of the current economic situation.  In the morning news, it is reported that New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability stands at $53.8 billion, the fourth highest in the country.

Does this news from Philadelphia School District have any significance for local school districts?

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School Voucher (Senate Bill 1) Vote on Bill Delayed . . . What Does this Mean?

The proposed legislation to create a school voucher program for Pennsylvania (Senate Bill 1) was approved by the Senate Appropriation Committee on Monday, April 11 with a vote of 15-11 but a scheduled Tuesday, April 12 vote on the bill was delayed until April 26 at the earliest . . . what does this mean for the future of SB 1?  Sometimes, a delay can mean that a bill is in trouble, is that the case here?

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Gov. Corbett is not letting go of the proposed school voucher plan, or at least not easily. Apparently, in an unusual move (and rarely done by governors), Corbett appeared before the closed-door caucus of the Senate GOP to argue in favor of the school choice legislation.  I guess it was thought that by bringing in the ‘big guns’ the bill could be pushed through the Senate but it appears that idea didn’t work as planned.

SB 1 would allow students (based on family income eligibility) to attend private or parochial schools of their choice with state-paid vouchers. The projected costs associated with the implementation of a school voucher program are estimated by Senate Republicans to be at least $328 million by 2013.  However, there is pushback on that number by the Democrats, who estimate the annual costs are actually higher, their estimate is $385 million by 2013.

The stated reason for delaying the Senate vote to April 26 is that one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), is ill. However, that does not make sense because Williams could vote by proxy from his home.  My guess is that even with Corbett’s encouragement (arm-twisting?) it was determined that there were not enough votes for the SB 1 to pass the Senate on April 12 and the administration is hoping the delay to April 26 will provide persuasion opportunities. 

Guess we will have to wait until April 26 and see if there is a Senate vote on SB 1.  If the 26th comes and goes, it would appear that the proposed school choice bill is dead in the water. On the other hand, is it possible that the school voucher bill could fail in the Senate and be reincarnated in the House?

The outcome of SB 1 could prove interesting for Corbett, since this is the first major legislation that he has pushed since taking office.  Facing pressure in regards to his proposed funding cuts to public education, maybe the Governor will decide against further pushing of the school choice legislation.

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