Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 26, 2006 · Page 11
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Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · Page 11

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Page 11
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School cuts at $73 M; g Street blames Val las i PROTESTING PLAN TO MOVE COLLECTION DEMONSTRATORS turn out at noon yesterday (above) on the Temple University campus to support Dr. Charles Blockson (left), curator of the Blockson Collection, and to protest Temple's plans to move the eclectic collection of African- American historical items, memorabilia and writings from Sullivan Hall to a corner of the Paley Library. Photos: JULIAN BAUERDaily News Word gets out on deseg busing Daily News staff report As Philadelphia school officials pushed back a decision on cuts to deal with a burgeoning budget shortfall, Mayor Street stepped up his war of words and called on the school district to fire its financial planner s. "It can't happen," said Street of the shortfall, now estimated at more than $73 million. "How can that happen ? I've never seen anything like that happen in all my years of watching municipal governments and financing and budgets." The mayor also laid the blame at the feet of schools CEO Paul Vallas. "It's hard for me to imagine that he can divorce himself from this," Street said. Vallas and other schools officials refused to fire back. "I have no comment," Vallas said. "We're all under a lot of stress these days." School officials continued to work on defining the nature of the budget hole, even as it grew from a $70 million figure last week to $73.3 million in a new calculation. Officials previously had said the cuts would cover a $21 million deficit from last year and restore $50 million to a reserve fund. But yesterday they said the cuts would cover a $23 million deficit from last year, help balance the current year's budget, and restore part of the reserve fund. "We've got to pay off last year's bills and keep this year's budget balanced," said Vallas. Without the cuts, increasing financial obligations tied to things like charter schools and teacher-retirement payouts would out strip revenues and lead to another round of cuts in the spring, he said. District officials had planned to announc e where cuts would be made on Nov. 1. But School Reform Commis sion Chairman James Nevels now said more time is needed to brief the financial staffs of Gov. Rendell, Street and legislative leaders. He also said he wanted to hear from parents and other member s of the public at the Nov. 8 SRC meeting when cuts will be made public, and at a special Nov. 10 meeting when the budget will be amended to reflect the cuts. Nevels confirmed that the reform commission, aided by a fi-nancial-mana gement firm, has identified $90 million in possible cuts in a host of areas, including art-and-music instruction, the contracts of school-mana gement organizations and the ranks of librarians, counselor s, nurses and truancy officers. "They are on the table," Nevels said. To people who believe such cuts should not be made, he added: "This is still very much a distressed school district. ... So, my response to that entreaty is, under stand it, feel it. But the only way that we will continue to derive the support of the taxpayers, of the mayor, of the governor, of the General Assembly, is to be fiscally responsible ." Nevels reiterated that teachers would not be cut. "I don't support those reductions," responded Street. "It seems to me that almost every reform that this district has been talking about is potentially on the chopping block, and I think that is the wrong way to go." Street said plans to potentially cut truancy officers flies in the face of a recent report about the city's dropout crisis. And the mayor expressed concerns that the school district, in budget hearing s before City Council last spring, cited number s that are now known to be inaccurate. Said Nevels: "I welcome my friend John Street's observations, and I've also been in contact with him. The avenue is open, the exchanges have been candid, and he has talked to me about issues and concerns that he has." Mayoral Candida te and former Councilman Michael Nutter also decried the proposed school cuts saying, "They would be devastating to the educational experience." He called on Street and Vallas to work together to solve the problem. "This is a situation that requires leadership, and putting away the mas sive egos and for everyone to work together on behalf of the people who pay the bills the taxpayers." By VALERIE RUSS 215-854-5987 The school district has quietly informed parents that starting next September , it will end its decades-long policy of providing free busing for desegregation purposes. The announc ement was buried in a flier distributed to parents last week describing how parents can apply for transfers under its voluntary -transfer program. Near the bottom, under a note about transportation, the flier says, "The transfer of students no longer has the desired effect of de- segrating schools because of the change in the racial and ethnic make-up of the district's student population. "For this reason, beginning September 2007, the district will no longer provide busing for desegregation purposes." Reaction was intense . "People have died for civil rights, and this just rolls back the strides and gains people made to make sure our kids got a good education and an equal education," said Aissia Richar dson, president of the Samuel Powel Elementary Home and School Association. District spokesman Fernando Gallard said yesterday, "We're not cutting transporta tion to kids already receiving it unless they move out of the school they're already in." He said the district will not provide free transportation to students applying for transfers next year to new schools where their transfers don't improve desegregation number s. The policy of busing for deseg-ration purposes stemmed from a lawsuit in 1972 by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The district agreed to provide equal education for all students, and the suit was put on hold. A commission spokesman said the matter was under review by the commission. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2006 PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS PAGE 11

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