Council hearing, round 2: public weighs in

Students, parents and others rallied outside City Hall Wednesday afternoon in support of increased school funding by the city, as more than 60 witnesses lined up to testify about the school budget in City Council. (Jeff Shields / Staff)


A City Council hearing on the Philadelphia School District's budget continues today.  Round Two is public comment, beginning at 1 p.m. in City Council chambers.  

If you're planning on attending, bring a snack.  More than 70 speakers had signed up to testify as of late Tuesday afternoon.  I know that several parent organizing groups had encouraged folks to speak out on what cuts would mean for their families - cuts to transportation, full-day kindergarten, alternative education programs, ESL services, you name it.  

As you can read here, Council spent a marathon session Tuesday listening to Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and other top district officials explain how the district came to have a $629 million budget gap for the 2011-12 budget year and what they would do about it if no more money came forward.  Then, after a lot of back and forth, confusion and drama, came the "ask" - the district would like the city to chip in between $75 and $110 million more than it's already commited to giving.  

If some or all of that money comes through, restored will be full-day kindergarten and transportation services.  Also identified as priorities are keeping class sizes low and restoring cuts to alternative education.  Council would like assurances that if it does give additional money, the district would promise to use it in a targeted way, and not just dump it into the general fund.

A $75 to $110 million funding hike would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase.  No one is willing to go there yet, but there was a lot of talk about tough decisions and hard choices.  We shall see.  The district will adopt some kind of budget next Tuesday, May 31, but Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch said it's going to be a provisional budget, and will be amended once final decisions are made in Harrisburg and City Hall.  The city will blow its budget deadline, which is also May 31, but can't go into July without a budget.

I am otherwise occupied and will not actually be covering the hearing today, but you're in excellent hands with ace education reporter Martha Woodall, who's writing for print, and crack reporter Miriam Hill, who is filling in for me, not Troy Graham as originally expected. I know I will be checking back for news.  So should you!

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