Philly Schools Teeter On Brink Of Layoffs, Struggling For Funding

Philadelphia's school district once again needs tens of millions of dollars to avoid layoffs. With just a few weeks left before the district approves a new budget, school leaders are asking the city, the state and labor unions for help filling a $96 million budget hole.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Once again, one of the most troubled school districts in the country is sounding alarm bells over funding. The head of the Philadelphia school district says he needs almost $100 million, and even that, he says, would just maintain a status quo he calls inadequate. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: After years of declining enrollment and legacy costs, the call to raise more money for the school district of Philadelphia has become familiar. Superintendent William Hite says the minimum amount this year is $96 million.

WILLIAM HITE: The sad reality is that $96 million only helps us to maintain a woefully inadequate status quo.

BRADY: But to improve Philadelphia schools, he says the district needs much more than that - $320 million. Hite is asking for concessions from labor unions, and he wants the city to borrow more money. Without help, he says the district may have to increase class sizes, lay off more people and consider drastic actions.

HITE: Do we not open? Do we open for a period of time and then go until we run out of revenue?

BRADY: The district is asking for the most help from the state of Pennsylvania - $150 million. School leaders suggest a severance tax on natural gas drilling, but Gov. Tom Corbett says he doesn't like the idea of a severance tax.

GOVERNOR TOM CORBETT: The companies have paid, just like any other company in Pennsylvania has paid - they paid their corporate taxes.

BRADY: And he points out drillers already pay fees for each well drilled. The school district also wants a $2 a pack tax on cigarettes in Philadelphia, but a similar request failed to pass the Republican-controlled state legislature last year. Meantime, a June 30 deadline for passing a new school budget looms. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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