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Philly officials want Corbett to release $45M to open schools

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — City and state officials called on the governor on Tuesday to release $45 million in promised aid so that public schools can start on time, but Pennsylvania's budget secretary said the money would be disbursed only if the district can extract major concessions from the teachers union.

The stalemate comes as the clock ticks down on a deadline imposed by Superintendent William Hite, who said the cash-strapped district needs $50 million by Friday in order to open buildings with sufficient staffing.

More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers held a news conference at City Hall to demand that Republican officials turn over the funding, which was contingent on the district making financial, academic and operational changes.

Those reforms are being made, the Philadelphia legislators said, adding there was any never any stipulation about union givebacks.

“The conditions have been met. Release the money,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

The state's largest district laid off nearly 20 percent of its staff in the face of rising costs and a $304 million deficit. Hite said he cannot safely begin classes on Sept. 9 without hiring back some of those employees.

Yet Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said the schools must first negotiate a teachers contract with substantial savings and educational reforms. The state needs assurances that the district will be financially viable before making additional investments, Zogby said in a statement.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said his members already make 19 percent less than their peers in neighboring suburbs and pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for school supplies. Now, the district has asked for pay cuts of up to 13 percent, he said.

“Expecting school district employees to pay for funding the schools is absolutely unacceptable,” Jordan said. “That is the responsibility of the commonwealth.”

The $45 million was essentially a windfall of federal funds given to the state through a deal brokered by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia. The money was earmarked for Philadelphia schools, said Brady, who blamed state House Republicans — not Gov. Tom Corbett — for the holdup.

“Now it looks like they're holding the kids hostage again, and they're holding the unions hostage, and that wasn't the deal I made with them,” he said.

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