The Philadelphia School District, faced with at least $98.5 million in proposed budget cuts for the next school year, yesterday began deliberating the elimination of 100 teaching positions starting this fall.
Cutting the 100 jobs would save about $9 million, district chief Paul Vallas told the School Reform Commission at a budget hearing yesterday.
The positions could be saved if the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers agreed to let the district push back $9.5 million in health-and-welfare fund payments from this fall to next summer, Vallas said. The district would pay interest to make up any loss in health-and-welfare fund income, and the shift would allow the payment to be made next school year, when the district expects not to face as severe a cash crunch, he added.
"This sounds to me like blackmail," union president Ted Kirsch said in a telephone interview last night. "My blood is boiling. He's trying to shift the blame from his mismanagement of the district's funds, and instead is trying to blame the union."
Kirsch said that the health-and-welfare fund needed the money to make payments, so the union could not agree to the district's proposal.
District officials said at yesterday's hearing that this school year, 75 of the district's neediest elementary and middle schools and 25 high schools each got one extra teacher. Those are the jobs targeted for elimination unless the district finds other ways of funding them.
The district now has 10,392 teachers.
Yesterday also saw the last of two School Reform Commission hearings on the future of 41 schools that are run by private managers, including Edison Schools Inc., Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The district's administration is calling for the number of privately managed schools to be cut to 14, and their payments from $18.6 million to $12 million. The managers now get $450 to $750 extra per student from the district. Dozens of parents showed up yesterday to ask that the schools stay in private hands. But some parents and community activists told the commission that the private managers had failed to produce better results than the district and said their funding should be cut.
Commission chairman James Nevels said he had not yet made up his mind about private management funding.
"We've heard from the public. We've heard from the providers," he said. "We'll be looking to see if anything we heard will influence the administration's recommendations."
The proposed elimination of 100 jobs comes on top of a plan to cut an additional 150 teachers because of a projected loss in student enrollment of 4,275.
Vallas said most of that decline - 3,300 students - is because of increasing charter-school enrollment. Last year, district officials said, more than 200 teaching jobs were lost because enrollment declined by about 6,000. Kirsch said that the district was already in violation of its union agreement, which mandates one teacher for every 30 students through grade three and one for every 33 students in the upper grades, so Vallas could not cut 250 more. "If he does, he will violate the contract again," Kirsch said.