PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia school system is facing an $81 million operational deficit for the upcoming school year, and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is threatening to delay the start of classes in order to extract more revenue from state lawmakers.
According to Philly.com, Hite’s threat is just one of the district’s bargaining chips with the Republican Gov. Tom Corbett who is up for re-election in November.
The superintendent’s other threats include extra-large class sizes of 40 students, mass employee layoffs, and a school year that falls short of the 180-day state requirement.
Hite and the other adults running the nation’s eighth-largest school system are banking on the fact that a major disruption to student learning will hurt Gov. Corbett’s chances for re-election in November. They’re using the threats to muscle the Republican-controlled legislature into approving a $2-a-pack cigarette tax for the city that would generate tens of millions for the near-bankrupt and academically dysfunctional school system.
But even if the cigarette tax passes, supporters acknowledge it’s not a long-term solution for the district’s chronic financial woes.
The unpleasant reality is that Philly school leaders have to demand financial givebacks from their school employee unions if the district is ever going to climb out of its deep money pit. But to pull that off would require a hellacious fight, and frankly, politicians in the labor-friendly state just don’t have the stomach for such a fight.
Watchdog.org reported earlier this year about how school employees unions have seized control of the district’s purse strings to enrich their members. According to the news site, nearly 400 school employees receive salaries in excess of $100,000. And when the cost of benefits is added in, a great many Philadelphia teachers receive six-figure compensation.
According to Watchdog.org, elementary teachers and librarians average $112,000 in salary and benefits. An average Philadelphia high school principal – working a 10-month year – takes home $176,600 in salary and benefits. And those at the top do even better: The 56 employees who populate the Office of the Superintendent make a combined $7 million in salaries and benefits.
What makes this even more scandalous is how little Pennsylvania taxpayers are getting in return for all their “investment.” Just two of three Philly students will graduate on time and just one in five eighth graders have math skills that are considered proficient or better.
Let’s be blunt: Philadelphia’s adult school employees – as represented by their labor unions – have put their selfish financial interests so far ahead of the students that the entire school system is about to collapse. All this talk about a new cigarette tax obscures the fact that Philadelphia schools are in the throes of a Big Labor-made disaster.
And if history is any guide, the labor unions will once again get off scott-free while students and taxpayers take it on the chin.