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Philly schools: The battle for money and equal rights rages on

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For the first time in its 196 year history the Philadelphia School District and the SRC (School Reform Commission) declined to pass a budget by the May 31 deadline, but they still have until June 30 which is the end of their fiscal year.

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If they had passed the budget as it stood, the district would have been forced to lay off even more people from a situation where they just can’t afford to do so.

The school district’s budget for next year is about $2.4 billion, but without rehiring any of the school nurses or counselors, providing teachers with supplies, providing extra services to those students who need it, bringing back extra-curricular activities, or providing additional support staff to insure that every school is a safe one.

Although an extra 30 days doesn’t seem like a lot, it is. It will give SRC Chairman Bill Green and Superintendent William Hite time to get money from the government officials that is sorely needed.

Eventually all money will have to come from both Harrisburg and the city. The district wants an addition $440 million on top of the proposed budget of $216 million in order to operate as it did this year.

In order for this to happen the state, city and unions have to be willing to play ball which isn’t likely. The district would like them to step up to the plate with $195 million (city), $150 million (state) and $95 million (unions).

Meanwhile back at the asylum, also known as City Council, Council President Clarke decided to avoid any responsibility and instead chose to point out that the district hadn’t asked the state for enough money.

It was also Clarke who has been tap dancing around getting the money that was already agreed upon to the school district so it doesn’t matter how much Hite is asking the city for because Clarke doesn’t really want to give them anything.

Last year, the state passed a temporary sales tax increase with all the proceeds going to the school district. The money was expected to give the district $120 million. The only thing that Council had to do was to sign the bill. Naturally President Clarke didn’t want all that money to go to the little kids in the school district, but wanted to give half of it to lower the deficit in the city’s pension fund which is currently estimated to be underfunded by $5 billion.

The underfunded city pension fund may be important, but certainly not more important than the education of children.

Nutter and Clarke are continuing to repurpose the same bill they disagreed upon last year by agreeing to give the school the $120 million, but that won’t happen until next year. There was also the agreement to let the district to try and sell off their own school properties; that if they couldn’t the city would do it for them. So far the school district has been able to sell seven buildings even though they only netted $26 million, but it’s better than nothing.

It's also important to remember that City Council took its sweet time getting the $45 million that Governor Corbett finally released to the school district. The money that was supposed to be received in August didn't find its way to the district until December. It seems that Clarke is making a reputation for himself as someone who doesn't like to keep his promises or fulfill his obligations.

That’s not how Clarke sees it. He believes that the school district’s dragging their feet. Which brings us to…..

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell who inherited her seat from the death of her husband, Councilman Lucien Blackwell, took it upon herself to chastise an attorney representing Drexel University’s bid to purchase the old University City High School for $25 million. Selling that building would bring the school district close to its $61 million mark of course anytime you include many of the city’s political leaders is when it gets difficult.

Blackwell was upset not because the attorney was trying to low ball them. No. That would make too much sense. She was upset, mainly, because Drexel University hadn’t communicated enough to her liking with either the councilwoman herself or her staff. She also threw in the community’s residents for added sympathy votes.

The truth is that Drexel University’s representatives made the agreement with the school district two months ago and it was at that time they communicated with the residents letting them know of their plan. Now that everything was down to the wire, Blackwell decided to put a freeze on it because her feelings or ego got hurt.

Drexel University wanted the deal sealed by June 1, 2014 which was a week away from when City Council goes on vacation, but with the pending sale now on hold it also means that that money won’t get to the school district on time. It also won’t be resolved until council members return.

There’s also a chance that the university may pull their offer and walk away from the table. If they do manage to come back, it may not be for the $25 million, but less.

Nice way to do business council members.

With the concern about the school district and its financial problems rearing its ugly head again, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez couldn’t resist spotting a media opportunity. She suggested that if the district doesn’t get more money than perhaps they shouldn’t open their doors in September. Spoken like a true person who doesn’t have a child in the Philadelphia School District unless the school’s name is Masterman.

Perhaps these politicians don’t know what it’s like to work a minimum wage job or a job that offers no paid leave. What are the parents supposed to do then? Who’s going to take responsibility to watch these kids so they can work? It would beinteresting if council members could make some suggestions instead of scaring parents into thinking that their children might not be able to go to school in September.

There has been a silver lining recently that had certain parents rejoicing.

Three years ago a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the school district regarding a policy known as The Autism Shuffle. For years the school district would transfer Autistic kids from one school to another without prior notification to either the parents or the child’s present school.

The district would often make these decisions at the end of the school year, but would negate to inform the parents until weeks, if not days, before the new school year was ready to start. Many times this policy of transferring would happen every year.

A judge finally put an end to this policy and sided with the parents on June 3.

The terms of the settlement states that the district must notify the parents in January of a possible transfer and must produce official letters of transfer by June. They also have to communicate this with the school that the child presently attends. The district must now publish a list of all their Autistic Support classrooms which they never had to do before.

This policy and settlement will affect over 3,000 students and their families.

The most important piece of this settlement is now the school district has to treat their Autistic students and their families with the same respect as they do the families with normally developed students.

School officials offered up the excuse that some schools can’t accommodate these children at every grade level, but for a district who seems to be more worried about music and art programs as well as after-school programs they’ve ignored this ongoing problem; they chose to shuffle around children, spend more money on bussing them, and treating the parents as outsiders.

The district gets money from Medicaid and other programs for these children so any financial responsibility isn’t solely coming from district funds.

It’s sad that a judge had to get involved while the district’s administration has saying how important a child’s education is to them. Now this importance will extend to all the students and not just the students the district feels is worth the concern.

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