CITY COUNCIL wants new assurances from the Philadelphia School District in writing - literally.

With district officials in Council yesterday for budget testimony about the $105 million in new funding they have requested, perhaps the biggest topic of discussion was the district's stance on cursive writing. The writing style is now optional in district schools, as chronicled in a recent Daily News article, but Council members Jannie Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown said they want the skill to once again be mandatory.

Donyall Dickey, the district's chief of academic supports, said cursive is taught in many elementary schools, but mandating it would require extra professional development and take away from other core subjects required under the state's core standards. Superintendent William Hite added that he wants to review more data before making a change, so it's not another hoop for students to jump through.

"I've never seen a student left behind because of cursive writing," Blackwell replied.

District brass also faced questions about previous spending, outsourcing jobs and a perceived lack of transparency from the district.

Council President Darrell Clarke sent the district a letter late last week asking for a detailed breakdown on how it had spent $372 million in new funding approved by Council in the last three years. Clarke described the district's response as "basically nothing," pointing out Council's lack of oversight.

"Where's the money?" Clarke asked. "This is a budget hearing."

Matt Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said the money was used to offset a loss in state funding, essentially preventing larger class sizes and the elimination of services.

Clarke also voiced concern about the district potentially outsourcing jobs. The district is soliciting proposals to privatize hiring substitute teachers and providing school-based health services, but Hite claimed he does not plan to eliminate jobs. When Clarke asked if the district would be willing to make that stipulation, Hite declined.

Despite the scrutiny, Hite said after the hearing he is optimistic Council is committed to finding the money.

"What I heard through all of the questions is that Council's also struggling with creating a source of revenue. I think everyone wants to do something, so I got that," Hite said. "I got all of the other stuff too, but throughout all the questions the theme is 'We're trying to figure out a way to do something to help you,' so I'm encouraged by at least that."

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