PHILADELPHIA Schools Superintendent William Hite got another promise yesterday that state lawmakers would continue to push for cigarette-tax approval to help fund the district, but he said a Friday deadline to decide whether to shorten the school year or make massive layoffs still looms.
Hite met privately with state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai at the district's headquarters for about an hour yesterday afternoon. After the meeting, Hite said Turzai assured him that the House would work to pass "a clean bill," but that it did not change the district's grim reality - an $81 million shortfall.
"We're still moving towards Friday as a [day] on which we decide what to do about the beginning of school," Hite said.
He added that the commitment from Turzai, along with Gov. Corbett's support, "provides us with some information as we work towards a Friday announcement."
The House passed the cigarette-tax legislation July 2, but canceled a scheduled session last week to vote on the bill after changes by the Senate, which frustrated local officials.
"We want to do it without the pork," Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican, said after the meeting, which he described as "a goodwill mission." "We want to focus on the kids."
The House is scheduled to return to session Sept. 15. Turzai would not say whether lawmakers would take action before Friday or on Sept. 8, the scheduled opening of school. He said Corbett's announcement to advance $265 million to the distressed district should allow schools to open on time, despite Hite's public comments.
"We're going to continue to work with [Hite] and his staff to get this done, and I think it's going to get done," he said.
The Senate amended the bill, which includes the $2-per-pack levy, adding a five-year expiration date along with unrelated hotel taxes and improvement zones in other parts of the state.
If the House strips away other parts of bill, it would have to go back to the Senate for approval before heading to Corbett's desk.