Beleagured school district approves $2.5 budget

Amid chants of “no confidence” from angry parents, workers and community members, the School Reform Commission unanimously approved a $2.5 billion budget Thursday for the Philadelphia School District which relies on $94 million from a proposed property-tax assessment being debated in City Council.

The district’s Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen called the additional funds from the city “vital” to the spending plan, which still projects a $218 million shortfall. It also includes massive staff layoffs and more borrowing just to maintain what officials called “bare bones” service.

The continued cuts and fiscal mismanagement have generated strong opposition from community members, who filled the auditorium at district headquarters and a viewing area on the first floor and constantly interrupted commissioners with shouts of “save our schools.”

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told commission members that so-called reform has resulted in “fads and gimmicks.” “After a decade of state control … We are saying ‘Enough, stop experimenting on our children.'”

Despite some concern, the budget does not include controversial changes to the district’s organizational structure or the closure of up to 40 schools. The SRC expects to take public comment on those changes over the next year.

School officials acknowledge the dire circumstances, but say their hands are tied without more resources from the state.

“We still do not have enough nurses, counselors, libraries, arts and music programs, sports and support. Indeed, we lack the appropriate funding to provide our students with the support they deserve,” Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon said.

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