Sadly, drama and finances are at the heart of the Philadelphia school system’s back-to-school efforts this year. The school district is deep in debt — $304 million — and has pressured the cash-strapped city of Philadelphia into obtaining a $50 million loan before the schools could open this year, according to the New York Times. That loan was needed in spite of closing 24 schools and laying off more than 3,700 employees this summer.
The situation is so dire that one elementary school principal took measures into his own hands and reportedly sent a letter to students’ parents requesting a “$613-per student donation to fill a $355,000 budget gap at his school.” The funds apparently would be used to rehire staff members, such as counselors and teachers’ aides, needed to operate the school appropriately.
The school district’s financial situation reportedly was brought on by “the Republican-controlled state government” cutting aid to the 136,000-student district as well as a reduction in federal aid and other financial and structural problems arising from erosion in the population and subsequently the tax base.
Mounting health care obligations and unfunded pensions to retirees are a major part of the school district’s financial problems, which has led to the district’s credit being downgraded to junk status. No district wants to be in that situation and should take whatever steps necessary to ensure the district simultaneously maintains a quality education as well as strong financial footing.
Philadelphia’s circumstances should serve as a warning to all school districts not to promise more than what they can deliver, lest they create an uncertain and dramatic future for the district as a whole down the line.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher