A week after Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said he was targeting seniority in the teachers' contract to win support from Republican lawmakers for more state aid for the cash-strapped district, the city's Democratic legislative delegation is scheduled to meet with him Thursday to discuss its concerns.
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) said he was notified of the meeting through an e-mail but had a scheduling conflict and could not attend. He said several of the city's two dozen representatives in the state House were not supportive of the kinds of changes Hite was pushing in negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
A lack of support could hinder the district's chances of increased state aid.
"If you don't have the Philadelphia delegation, you've got a problem," Evans said.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed that Hite was scheduled to meet with legislators at district headquarters at 11:30 a.m. "They are going to be talking about school funding," Gallard said, adding that he did not know the details.
It was unclear who organized the meeting.
PFT president Jerry Jordan said he did not know that legislators would meet with Hite Thursday.
The session is the latest development in the district's struggle to cover a $304 million budget shortfall by July 1, and could signal possible problems with the delicate negotiations over additional city and state aid.
Hite has asked for $60 million in extra funding from the city and $120 million from the state. The district seeks more than $100 million in givebacks from the teachers' union to cover the rest. Those concessions could include cutting wages and requiring contributions for benefits.
On May 15, Mayor Nutter proposed to tax cigarettes by $2 a pack and raise the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent. He also announced a strategy to crack down on tax collections.
He estimated that his plan would raise an additional $95 million for schools in 2013-14 and $135 million in the second year.
The cigarette and drink taxes would require approval from Harrisburg and City Council. Last week, officials said the plan had been endorsed by Philadelphia's legislative delegation, which has limited power in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Hite told the Inquirer Editorial Board the next day: "If we stand any chance to get money from Harrisburg, it's going to have to support something that is different from what we have now."
He said ending seniority and instituting other reforms would show wary legislators the district was serious about making improvements.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republicans, said Wednesday that Hite had taken the right approach. "He understands that changes need to occur," Miskin said. "Obviously, the same old status quo is driving a wedge, and that's got to stop."
Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson also backed Hite's stance: "There are members of our caucus who would be more likely to be open to additional funding for the Philadelphia School District if some of these changes were made."
Arneson said he was not worried that members of the Philadelphia delegation would meet with Hite.
"I don't have any concerns there is a discussion taking place," he said. But he said that if Hite modified his position, there could be a cause for concern.
Evans, though, disputed the notion that changing the teachers contract would persuade Republican legislators to give city schools more money.
"I do not believe that," he said. "You have a governor who does not believe there needs to be more money added to education."
Evans said he had not always agreed with the teachers union and believed some changes were needed. But he said those changes should be negotiated. "We do have a crisis, and I don't believe blaming the teachers is the solution," he said.
Although Jordan has been outspoken in opposing the concessions the district seeks in a new contract, he said his talks with legislators had focused on improving school finances.
Jordan said: "The only discussion I have had with them is getting additional funding for the Philadelphia schools."