In 2013 Tom Wolf announced his intention to run for Governor of Pennsylvania on the Democratic Party ticket.
While campaigning, the businessman let voters know that once elected governor he would access money through public and private means to expand the state’s universal pre-k program, lower school property taxes and increase education funding by $1 billion dollars which was the same amount that Republican Governor Tom Corbett had cut even though some of it had already been restored.
Once he was elected to the position of governor, Tom Wolf was determined to hold to what he had promised, but he didn’t count on the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House and Senate throwing up roadblocks every step of the way which is what they do because, well, their politicians.
On June 30 and again on July 1 of 2015 Governor Wolf vetoed the budget and other bills that the Republicans put forth for his signature. At that time the governor said that the budget wasn’t enough that was needed for educational spending.
It’s been over five months and there is still no signed budget.
So what happens when a state doesn’t pass a budget?
It’s not just the 500 public school districts across the state that depend on a state budget for their funding.
Programs such as WIC, medical assistance, daycare facilities, unemployment assistance, and agencies that help rape, domestic abuse or child abuse victims are also affected.
Many non-essential state workers are usually furloughed and even more may be laid-off.
In Pennsylvania many of the agencies were able to tap into their reserves- money they hadn’t spent yet-in order to continue doing business.
Most of the public school districts, all of whom have witnessed their budgets slashed through the Corbett administration, didn’t have those reserves.
By not signing the budget the state was withholding $2 billion to the districts in September and by the end of November that amount was expected to be $3 billion.
All the school districts were able to open their doors in September, but by October they were in real trouble.
By October of 2015 Pennsylvania’s school districts had to borrow $346 million just to make payroll and to keep other services going which creates an additional problem for them – having to make the payments as well as interest rates being tacked onto the initial loans.
Philadelphia School District had to borrow $250 million and they will end up pay over $2 million in interest and fees.
The school district spends roughly $10 million a day so $250 million isn’t going to take them too far and it’s just not this loan that they have to worry about.
In July the district borrowed, as it does every yea,r $550 million until the money from the city and state came through. The problem they now face is that they never got the money from the state.
So on top of the $550 million they now owe an additional $250 million.
One should also wonder how that $10 million is being spent. If the school district is telling the truth about layoffs, school closings and reduction in administrator salaries, where is the $10 million going?
Regardless of any of that, all the money has to be paid back by the end of the fiscal year which is June 30, 2016.
The state has suggested that they may be able to pay some of the interest and fines, but with 75% of the school districts having to borrow money that most likely won’t happen, which is probably why no promises were made to that effect.
City Council members also suspect that by showing lawmakers in the state capitol that the school district can stay afloat by borrowing money is only making matters worse by permitting Harrisburg to continue to drag its feet because there is no real emergency.
Recently Dr. William Hite stated that unless the budget is signed the Philadelphia School District may not be able to open their doors to the students after January 29.
He also stated that borrowing more money probably won’t be an option because of the number of school districts that are applying for these short-term loans.
Perhaps Hite should have been even more blunt by pointing out that they have already borrowed $800 million and can’t borrow anymore.
Philly schools also have to actually use all the money that was borrowed and due to their financial responsibilities it was probably pretty easy to blow through the cash.
They can’t save any of it for a rainy day or to use it to pay on the interest or fees either.
Fortunately for the school district, spending money has never been a problem for them.
Although Philadelphia’s City Council is usually all for helping the district out, it’s not expected that they’ll be able to come through with even a quarter of what the schools need.
In June of 2015 members of council passed a package of tax increases that was going to give the school district $70 million, but decided to hold onto $25 million of that.
Because City Council, along with taxpaying residents, don’t care for how shamelessly the district spends its money and then beats around the bush when asked to explain everything.
In June of 2015 the school district announced that it had signed a $34 million- two-year contract with a New Jersey company, Source4Teachers, to manage the district’s substitute teaching staff.
In order to secure that contract the company had to guarantee that they would staff about 75% of the schools on the first day and 90% of the schools by January of 2016.
The district had hoped that they could save a little bit of money by outsourcing. Their projections were to spend only $15.9 million instead of $18 million.
So was the paltry $3 million worth it?
On the first day of school the New Jersey firm only filled 11% of their vacancies.
On any given day the district may need substitute teachers to fill 1,000 vacancies.
At the time of the contract signing the company only had 300 working teachers and with 500 more going through the application process.
If Dr. Hite and the SRC had done their due diligence, they wouldn’t have signed a contract with Source4Teachers.
Other school districts in other states have had problems with the company and even going as far as cancelling contracts.
Many of these school districts call the company a scam.
Several of them complained about the company’s failure to do adequate background checks on potential hires, but all of them stated that Source4Teachers were unable to fulfill their contract and none of these districts were as big as the Philadelphia School District.
In the Wayne School District, located in New Jersey, they opted not to renew the sourcing company’s contract due to parents complaining that one of the substitute teachers had hit two students in the head.
City Council President Darrell Clarke also took umbrage with the fact that Superintendent Dr. William Hite hired eight new assistant superintendents who salaries would have cost the district $1 million.
Apparently Hite didn’t see a problem with that, but along with the salaries came the health benefits as well which is figured into to budget spending.
Hite also made it seem that the money wasn’t a lot, but when you divide by eight it means that each superintendent was going to earn $125,000 per year.
This is a lot of money to most Philly residents especially if you look at the median income of the city is $37,000.
Perhaps Hite should have prove that these superintendents are really worth that; that the type of work they’ll be doing will have a serious impact on the children in the school district.
Clarke is understandably upset that this money didn’t go directly into the classrooms, but Hite had told City Council during the budget meetings that money would be spent on nurses and counselors in addition to the classrooms.
Clarke should have seen this one coming and could have dealt with it in 2012 when Hite gave salary increases to 25 employees –all central office administrators- despite requesting members of other unions to take pay cuts (which they did).
It was also in 2012 when Hite announced that he wanted to hire eight more administrators, eventually hiring four of that eight and in September of 2015 actually hired six more.
Two of these employees came all the way from Hite’s former place of employment, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, to work for the school district.
The superintendent, when asked for an explanation for these hirings, countered saying that these administrators oversee programs that are for the students and that many of the raises were because some of the employees had been working multiple job titles doing extra work.
Since the district’s layoff of thousands of people, employees who actually work in the schools serve multiple job titles as well.
- Principals do the work of nurses, counselors, lunchroom aides, crossing guards and secretaries.
- Teachers do the work of a personal shopper, babysitter, counselor, and referee.
- School police officers often work as babysitters, escorts and security guards.
- Noon-time aides and classroom assistants often work as babysitters, tutors, custodians, and escorts.
None of these people are given more money to do these extra jobs.
It is important to note that none of the school district’s assistant administrators work out of individual schools and most principals wouldn’t know what any of them looked like if their lives depended on it.
Perhaps if Hite was more in tune with what these individual schools actually need acts of violence against teachers, as was the case at Germantown High School, Bartram High School and Washington High School, wouldn’t have occurred.
He may want to consider outsourcing for assistant superintendents to save some money.
It has also become obvious that the school district only cares about wringing as much as they can out of the Philly taxpayer without taking care or valuing what assets they already have.
In the beginning of 2015 thousands of usable school books were found in the basement of the administration building and they were put there under Hite’s watch.
Even more were found in the now-closed Bok High School.
These books should have gone to the schools that are in short supply of text books.
There were also musical instruments including five pianos that even if the school district had no use for them, they could have gotten sold.
The school district also claimed that there were so many books and no one to go through them.
So what did Hite do?
He hired an outside auditor to come in and assess what they actually had.
Instead of spending unnecessary money, Hite could have put a call out to retired librarians or even parents who would have been more than happy to sort through the books if it meant putting them in the hands of a teacher or student.
The superintendent could have also used some employees to sort through the books.
Hmmm. Sounds like a job for an assistant superintendent.
Recently, Hite’s contract was extended for another five years, but he needs to remember the cautionary tale of his predecessor, Arlene Ackerman.
She too got a five year contract extension and then a month or so later she got the boot from Mayor Nutter.
If he continues to poke the bear, aka Darrell Clarke, he too may find himself out of a job.
Because that’s the way the Democratic leaders work in this city.
Good luck with that.
Wolf’s campaign promises: http://special.ydr.com/wolftracker/
Philly schools borrow money: http://articles.philly.com/2015-11-04/news/67990370_1_state-budget-capit…
$70 million to school district: http://articles.philly.com/2015-06-20/news/63621659_1_city-council-use-a…
Wayne School District: http://patch.com/new-jersey/wayne/district-won-t-renew-contract-with-sub…
Rate increase: http://articles.philly.com/2012-12-03/news/35572622_1_school-police-asso…