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School's open in Philadelphia — but just barely

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The city's struggling public schools opened a new term on Monday with larger classes and smaller staffs, leaving many to wonder how the nearly broke district will fare over the full school year.

Superintendent William Hite made the rounds at several buildings to greet students and employees. While contending that Philadelphia's schools were prepared to open, he acknowledged how much they are missing.

“We still want guidance services in every school,” Hite said. “We need a lot more assistant principals. We need a lot more teachers. ... We need music the full year. We need sports the full year.”

The morning bell capped off weeks of turmoil in one of the nation's largest districts, as school supporters spent the summer staging rallies and pleading with city and state officials for badly needed funds. Hite even threatened to delay opening day if he didn't get $50 million to rehire sufficient staff.

This year, the cash-strapped system laid off nearly 3,800 workers — from assistant principals to secretaries — as rising labor costs, cuts in state aid and charter school growth helped create a $304 million spending gap.

The district recouped $33 million in costs and, with the mayor's promise last month of an extra $50 million, was able to rehire about 1,650 employees. Even so, students will get music and sports programs only for the fall semester.

One of the biggest issues is the reduction in guidance counselors. More than half remain laid off, a major concern in a system filled with immigrants, low-income students and children from unstable homes.

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