Philly schools to lay off nearly 3,800 staffers

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AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite Jr. (above) said yesterday that the layoffs "are nothing less than catastrophic for our schools and students." Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan (at top) said the "city's educators are paying the price for a deficit we didn't create."

DOOMSDAY HAS arrived in Philadelphia.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced yesterday afternoon that 3,783 layoff notices were sent out to school personnel, part of a "harsh reality" that will help close the district's $304 million shortfall.

Beginning July 1, no guidance counselors. No secretaries. No football. No glee club.

Without these employees, "our schools will be just empty shells," Hite said. The district workforce, before layoffs, is 19,530 employees.

The layoffs "are nothing less than catastrophic for our schools and students," the superintendent said.

Yet, they represent a $215 million savings to the district. But the layoff carnage won't end there.

The district will announce next week another round of layoffs of the central office staff. About 700 people are currently employed at district headquarters, but Hite and Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn declined to say how many would get laid off.

Central office departments will also cut their budgets up to 40 percent for a total savings of $23 million, district officials said.

There are other savings that will help close the gap, but Hite, Kihn and the city are waiting for a funding request to come through from City Council and Harrisburg, $60 million and $120 million, respectively. To date, Council has discussed a tobacco and liquor-by-the-drink tax, but nothing has been passed.

Among the 3,783 employees receiving notices are 127 assistant principals, 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 307 secretaries and 1,202 noontime aides.

The teachers' union received the biggest hit - 2,409 of its members received notices.

"Today we are seeing what a 'doomsday' budget looks like for Philadelphia's schoolchildren, and how our city's educators are paying the price for a deficit we didn't create," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

"The school district will say that these layoffs are a tough but necessary part of financial rightsizing," Jordan said. "We say that these cuts are an unconscionable action that deprives children of sports, art, music, counselors, librarians, nurses and other vital programs and services."

Some who received notices cried first, then wondered out loud about the logic behind it.

"It breaks my heart that they're taking these punitive measures not only with our positions, but with the fact that they are getting rid of secretaries to the noontime aide staff," said Tami Jackson-Tillman, a guidance counselor with the Academy at Palumbo in South Philadelphia.

"It's a bare-bones budget and it's a joke. I feel like why even have school? Just close the district down if you're going to take measures like this," Jackson-Tillman said.

Donna Cooper, executive director of the Public Citizens for Children and Youth, called on City Council and the state "to work together to avert the layoffs."

Council members have made a serious effort, she said. "We're not seeing that out of the House budget that came out last week from the Republican leadership, Senate Republican leadership ... We're not seeing them do the same deliberate process," Cooper said. "They're the reason we're in this situation."

A teacher at McCall Elementary School in Society Hill, who asked to remain anonymous because of the layoff threat, said the school has already lost its secretary and both of its school counselors.

The teacher said the layoffs has educators in specialties such as gym, art and music fearful their positions will be cut.

The teacher, who worked for 14 years at several Fortune 500 companies before becoming a teacher in 2002, decided to change careers "to give something back" to children but now may be without a job.

"It's astonishing," the teacher said, "it's like cutting off our own noses to spite our face."


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